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24 Sept 2002 : Column 65—continued

3.46 pm

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): In the 19 years that I have been a Member of the House, I have not sought to speak in the debates that have preceded this country's military excursions. That is mostly because, like everybody else, I have a great reluctance to support causes of war, but I am sometimes persuaded that war is necessary in order to achieve peace, stability and the liberation of oppressed peoples. I hope that I remain somebody who listens to the argument and wants to hear a persuasive case.

The dossier produced and sincerely presented by the Prime Minister makes a persuasive case for the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. I share the view that we, the international community, must confront that threat, not pretend that it is not there. However, I would have grave concerns if we were drawn into a situation where the rule of international law was brought into question.

We are moving into a new era where the doctrine of deterrence is being changed to the legitimisation of pre-emptive strikes, possibly even pre-emptive nuclear strikes. At no time since the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has any of us in the western alliance ever supported pre-emptive strikes. This is a massive change of tactic and one that I reject but that, in any case, cannot be taken on the instigation of one politician in one country, however powerful that country is. That is something that we must address.

I was one of a number of British politicians—not only Ministers but members of all political parties—who attended the earth summit in Johannesburg. It is important

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to share with the House the feeling of anger and resentment felt by the 21,500 people at that summit who were trying to find ways to give the poorest people on earth the possibility of real improvements in their quality of life by the developed world agreeing to create space for them to do so. That anger was the result of the American President not being there while his civil servants were specifically there to block agreements and were successful in doing so. Not only that, but the media daily broadcast speeches from the American Administration making the case for a war against Iraq at a time when 109 nations and their Heads of Government were gathered to try to create a platform for peaceful development in the future. The juxtaposition was ironic in the extreme.

The hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) referred to the fact that the former Vice-President and presidential candidate of the United States, Al Gore, made a powerful speech yesterday, in which he said that he feared that America was squandering the good will that had been built up around the world since 11 September to defeat terrorism and the threat of terrorism, by treating the United Nations with a degree of contempt.

I give credit to the Prime Minister for the influence that he has apparently exerted on the President to go to the United Nations. I also believe that the President made an effective speech there, but it has been seriously undermined by what has been said since by other members of his Administration, using the language of a John Wayne wild west movie: "We're going to hunt him down and we're going to get him, regardless of what the United Nations does." Certain people are also apparently putting pressure on the United Nations to agree to a specific American-inspired resolution, without which they will not allow the inspectors to go back in. Clearly, there is a general view that the inspectors must be given the chance to prove that Saddam Hussein is now responding to the pressure that has been put on him.

In one of his answers, the Prime Minister really put his finger on a genuine and sincere concern of mine. He said that it was an article of faith for him that there should be the closest possible relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. I have many friends in America—I have visited the United States many times—and I completely accept that, on many occasions, American intervention has been essential for freedom and liberty. We are grateful to the Americans for that, for the resources and, indeed, for the American lives that have been laid down to secure that.

I do not believe, however, that we can accept a situation in which America is able to write its own version of international law. Nor do I believe that the United Kingdom's national interest is built solely on an article of faith about British-American relations. We also happen to have serious relationships with Europe and with the Commonwealth. My concern is that, if we found ourselves the lone supporter of the United States in pursuing international action without the sanction of the international community, not only would we have failed to stand up for the rule of international law—the point that Al Gore was making—but we would have deeply

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damaged Britain's national interests vis-a-vis the rest of the world. That is a matter to which we must give serious consideration.

Hugh Bayley (City of York): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Malcolm Bruce: I do not have time.

I am a member of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly—I shall be visiting it during the rest of this week—of which there are 44 member countries. I am frequently asked by MPs from other countries exactly what the British gain from their unequivocal and totally supportive relationship with the United States. I am also sometimes asked why our Prime Minister does not use the influence that he clearly has to persuade America that, if it wants to give moral leadership and authority to the world, it should engage with the world as a partner in international enterprises. For example, it is specifically suggested that America should support the International Criminal Court and engage in the ratification of Kyoto, and that it should not send its civil servants to world summits to block agreements on how to defeat poverty.

The point that we wish to get across to our American friends is that they risk squandering the very real reservoir of good will that exists if they treat international organisations on a pick-and-mix basis—using them if they support their interests but reviling them if they do not—and if they alone decide to write the rules in a different way from any other participant. The Prime Minister has a unique opportunity to ensure that America recognises its responsibility in that regard.

The Prime Minister also has a duty to British interests to ensure that the United Kingdom is clearly standing up for the right kind of relationship with the United States. It should not be a relationship in which there is not a cigarette paper between our Prime Minister and the President, but one in which support is based on a coherent public debate about international interests, and on the coherent application of international agreements. In that way, the Prime Minister would earn a great deal of respect and gratitude, as well as showing strong support for the interests of the United Kingdom's long-term influence in the world. People see this country as having a contribution to make, but if we are indistinguishable from America—if we are just its proxy, its surrogate—the very leadership that we can give is undermined and qualified.

We shall not have a substantive vote at the end of this debate. We shall, however, have established a recognition—I detect it right across the House—that there is very little support for the British Government to engage in American-led unilateral action that does not have the clear, unequivocal legal backing of the Security Council of the United Nations. If the Government have not got that message, they really have not been listening.

3.56 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): Probably no hon. Member's life has been more affected by Iraq than mine. In 1995, I was sacked by my right hon. Friend, now the Prime Minister, for going to northern Iraq, which changed my life in the House somewhat. I have also been involved with the Iraqi opposition since 1979. Iraqi students were

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present at Cardiff university at that time, and they used to tell me about the atrocities that were going on in their country. I did not believe them—their allegations sounded so outrageous—but I found out subsequently that what they said was true, and that the situation was even worse than they had described.

Since 1984, I have chaired CARDRI—the campaign against repression and for democratic rights in Iraq—an organisation that has published several books on Iraq and puts out regular newsletters. During the last five years, I have chaired Indict, a campaign that started here in the House of Commons, backed by John Major—the then Prime Minister—Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, President Mitterrand, as well as the present Prime Minister, and the great and the good from all over the world.

The aim of Indict was to collect evidence on Iraqi war crimes. There is no ad hoc tribunal on Iraq, as there is on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. There ought to be, and even now I believe that the United Nations Security Council should agree to set one up. The atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime are horrific. There is not time to give details today but many are described in the Government's report and others in that produced by the American Administration.

Indict ran for two years without any funding. Everybody said that they supported us, but no one gave us any money until the US Congress gave us some. It did so because it is possible, in Europe, for individual countries to bring indictments against leading members of the Iraqi regime. Some people have scoffed at that and think that it sounds impossible. Even the Foreign Secretary told me today, in reply to my intervention, that we could not indict Saddam Hussein because it was not possible to get hold of him.

That response is incredible, given that, two years ago, on behalf of Indict, I took to the Attorney-General detailed evidence against Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz relating to the taking of hostages in Kuwait. They included more than 1,000 British hostages, some of whom were killed and some raped. Many still suffer from the trauma of their ordeal. They were British hostages, yet we are saying that we cannot indict Saddam Hussein because it is physically impossible to get hold of him. Let me remind colleagues that Milosevic was indicted while he was still head of state and, a year later, that helped to bring about the fall of his regime. He is now standing trial in The Hague. Nobody can tell me that it is impossible to indict one of the Iraqi war criminals because that simply is not true.

We have now taken evidence to five other countries. Last week, I was in Norway, where I met the Norwegian Attorney-General's staff. We took them evidence about Iraqi victims who now live in Norway, who were tortured by Uday Hussein, Saddam's eldest son. That information has now been passed to the Norwegian Attorney-General. The response of the his office, his staff and other members of the Government was totally different from that which we have had in the United Kingdom. I have to ask why we are not prepared, on the evidence that has been presented, to indict Iraqi war criminals.

Perhaps one answer comes from the former American ambassador for war crimes under the Clinton

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Administration, with whom I have had a lot of dealings over the years. Just a few weeks ago, he wrote in the New York Times:

The ambassador went on to say:

My message to the House is that that is another option. It is an option that can be considered alongside the other options. And this option is backed by international law.

I find it incredible in this country, which I thought would lead the world on this issue, how often we have heard from our leaders on the Front Bench that war criminals can no longer hide in safety anywhere in the world. Lawyers say that if other countries took the same approach as the UK, no effective prosecution would ever be mounted and the hundreds of thousands of international victims would be left without redress.

Indict's lawyer, one of the top human rights lawyers in Britain, says that, short of a confession signed in blood, it is hard to think of what else is required by the Attorney-General.

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