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24 Sept 2002 : Column 55—continued

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Foulkes: I have not finished yet; I have got a few more minutes.

My support is certainly more wholehearted than the Opposition's, but I want to say one last word about media coverage. After my premature exit from the Government in May, I was approached on two or three occasions by the "Today" programme. When those involved found out that I was not critical of the Government, like some other ex-Ministers, I heard no more from them. Last week, the Financial Times asked my view on Iraq, but it never appeared in its report—too supportive of the Government, no doubt.

No doubt, once again, it will be the usual suspects who hit the headlines and, no doubt, that will delight them. Whether it is innate anti-Americanism—there is some—whether it is a grievance against the Government because of ambitions thwarted or cut short, or whether it is a love of the limelight, there is no excuse for giving comfort to the dictator and making it more likely that he uses the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. If, by their action, they halt or even delay action to stop Saddam and, as a result, he causes death and destruction once again, it must be on their consciences.

3.1 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I sympathise with the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) about his blackout from the "Today" programme. I also thought that his departure from the Government was premature, although I am not sure about that after his speech. May I tell him that there would be no dissent across the House if this debate were about Saddam Hussein's being a vile and murderous dictator? There would be complete agreement on that, and that is true across all the parties among those who have real concerns about the direction in which the Prime Minister seems to be going.

Some of us opposed Saddam Hussein's vile regime when he was the blue-eyed boy of successive United State's Administrations, supported, armed and financed in pursuing his assault on Iran. The House may also recall that British Ministers and companies did not have clean hands either. The United States may have provided Saddam Hussein with weapons, hardware and military intelligence, but as Sir Richard Scott reminded us, previous Conservative Governments misled the House about the United Kingdom's dubious record on arms sales to Iraq. Nor is the debate for most people about whether Saddam Hussein should be persuaded or forced to give up weapons of mass destruction.

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The Prime Minister's much delayed dossier describes evidence of wish, intent and enormous cruelty, although not of immediate capability in nuclear weapons or, indeed, of links with international terrorism, even though at least some people in the United States said initially that that was the pretext for action. However, the real debate in my view turns on what does or what does not constitute a United Nations mandate or sanction for action. That is why this crisis is not only hugely important for every one of us in itself, but for the future.

Those who flout the will of the international community—whether Israel in Palestine, India in Kashmir, or even the United States itself in relation to the International Criminal Court—often have recourse to the idea that international agreements, even those involving the United Nations itself, are not really worth the paper they are written on. That is a totally cynical attitude.

Unfortunately, the Prime Minister came close to describing the UN as such during his Sedgefield news conference on 3 September, when he said, rightly in my view, that it is better to take action with the broadest possible base of international support. However, he then went on to say that military action could be taken anyway. As the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) has said, those are dangerous words. That was boiled down to its essence by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) a few minutes ago, when he explicitly said that the international community could comprise the United States and the United Kingdom. I have absolutely no doubt that that is also the Prime Minister's view, but it is highly significant that he did not make that explicit in his statement earlier today.

In many ways a gung-ho campaign of regime change in Iraq, without the explicit sanction of the Security Council, would be just as foolish and just as damaging in its consequences as the west's covert but extensive support for Saddam Hussein some 20 years ago. I do not think that we should rest on the murky and self-defeating doctrine of "my enemy's enemy is my friend". For many of us, the UN still possesses real potential to give order to international affairs.

The shadow Foreign Secretary said that we must not place too much faith in the UN. Well, some of us—not just in the House, but across the world—still place enormous faith in the UN's capability. There is no reason since the end of the cold war why UN action cannot be effective, as indeed it was 12 years ago in the first Gulf war. Indeed, if the US had not taken action under article 51 last year—it was entitled to do so because its nation was under attack—but had opted for an explicit Security Council motion in relation to defeating international terrorism, I have absolutely no doubt that the international community would have given its assent to pursuing the campaign.

There is no evidence that the UN is permanently immobilised; nor does the UN Security Council consist of the five permanent members, something that I sometimes read in the press. There are 15 nations on the UN Security Council, currently including the small European nations of Ireland and Norway. Before I came to the House today, I had a quick scan through the press comments in those Security Council nations, and I should like to inform the House of what has been said in those countries and how distant it is from some of the attitudes of the United States Administration—and, indeed, some of those in the United Kingdom Cabinet.

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There is an expectation in those countries that arms inspectors will return to Iraq. There is no assumption that access will be unfettered initially or that it is all going to be easy, but there is a determination and expectation that further action will be required if that access is denied. There is, however, widespread disbelief that, even while we are going through that process, there may be the risk of unilateral action by the United States, supported by the Prime Minister, to enforce UN resolutions when the UN itself has not sanctioned that action.

In this debate so far, the issue was best expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who spoke for the Liberal Democrat party. He went through the process of legality and, in particular, unveiled the fudge, which I detected from those on the Government Benches earlier, about who should suggest the use of force if all else failed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer was clear: it should be the UN Security Council. Only it can act on behalf of the international community—the real international community, not the bilateral international community.

The worst-case scenario if that is not done is a near armageddon, unrest in the Arab world, the disruption of Saudi oil supplies and the entire world economy, and the possible extension of the conflicts in Israel and perhaps Pakistan. Even if that were avoided, on a best-case scenario, such action would be problematic, costly in human life—Iraqi civilians and our armed forces—and the stability of the world economy.

Dr. Palmer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond: I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way now.

Presumably, the Prime Minister has an eye on the stock market, the oil markets, and people's concerns about their pensions, their jobs and the lives of their sons and daughters in the armed forces.

Of course genuine multilateral action, sanctioned by the UN Security Council, also carries risks and costs in human life, but it is inherently more containable, and upholding the rule of international law has long-term dividends.

Of course it is possible that the Prime Minister and the American President are playing a game of brinkmanship—talking tough to ensure a peaceful solution. The trouble is that they could just topple over the edge, and take us all with them. The House had better acknowledge that there is substantial public scepticism and distrust of the American President's motivations—indeed even of those of the British Prime Minister. I hope that some of the base motives, some of which were referred to earlier by Labour Members, are not the real reason for the countenancing of unilateral, as opposed to genuinely international, action. However, I wish to offer another thought to the House. Might it be that in the aftermath of last year's attack on the twin towers—the atrocity—much of American opinion, but by no means all of it, is still in shock because of that atrocity? Might not many people across the world still be desperately anxious to support America, as our solidarity last year demonstrated?

I note that yesterday Mr. Rumsfeld said that Chancellor Schroeder's comments were poisoning the relationship between Germany and the United States. Is it not rather

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more possible that some of Mr. Rumsfeld's comments are poisoning the relationship between America and the rest of the world?

Might it not be true that, at this particular moment, with so much at stake for all of us, what America desperately needs is a candid friend to tell the truth, not a cheerleader willing to pay a "blood price"?

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