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24 Sept 2002 : Column 78—continued

4.42 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Although I did not agree with everything that he said, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made some important points, one of which was that, if we are ultimately forced to go to war, it is extremely important that the population of this country feel that what we are embarking on is the

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right thing to do, and that they have a clear understanding of the situation and what the consequences are likely to be. Despite some extremely informative Back-Bench contributions today and after listening to the Front-Bench spokesmen, I still feel that there will be some confusion, particularly when I think of the letters that I have received from some of my constituents. I hope that today is a beginning and that the Prime Minister will take further opportunities to spell out the Government's view and to put information in the public domain through this House.

It has been a confusing six or seven months. In December last year, when the Anglo-French summit took place in London, it was reported that the Prime Minister had given the strongest signal yet of his opposition to any prospect of widening the military campaign against terrorism to include Iraq. It was reported that he stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Chirac outside No. 10, both of them taking that view. Therefore the public are right to ask, as I have, what has led to this escalation over the past few months, to the point where American politicians are talking about pre-emptive action. It is important to get the chronology of events right and to get all the evidence into the public domain.

I have no doubt—I had no doubt even before seeing the dossier this morning—that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous and evil man. That has been shown by his attitude to the weapons inspectors and his cavalier attitude to the UN resolutions. I believe that, unlike the old guard in the Kremlin during the cold war, he would be willing to use weapons of mass destruction. During the cold war I always argued, sometimes with Labour Members, that I believed that the weapons of mass destruction held by the Soviet Union were in the hands of people who were extremely cautious and understood the consequences of their use. I do not think that Saddam Hussein is like that, and I suspect that he is not unique. If we as a nation really believe that he will use such weapons and that he is in the process of acquiring nuclear capability, we have to deal with it. The question is how we do that. How can we take it to the nth degree to try to ensure that we can remove these weapons without having to commit our troops to war?

I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and with the Prime Minister that we must deal with this through the United Nations. There must be succinct resolutions that are unambiguous in content and in the timetable set out. Clearly, time is not on our side. Another year, 18 months or two years might go by if Saddam Hussein is allowed to prevaricate, as he has in the past. I am totally behind the plan that has been set out today to try to use all possible legitimate means to ensure that we remove the weapons from him. If one of the consequences of that removal is a change of regime, which seems likely under such circumstances, so be it. I believe that that is all to the better. Removing those weapons and ensuring that there is no possibility of their being transferred to third parties—another important issue—must be our priority.

Over the past few weeks we have heard from American politicians—our friends and allies who are seeking our support—statements that give cause for concern. Like other hon. Members who approach this from different positions, I can quote Mr. Cheney, who said that even if inspectors went in, it would provide no assurance at all,

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and other such comments. It is therefore imperative that the Prime Minister use every ounce of his influence with the American Government to ensure that they fully understand that, although we are their friends, it is not a love that asks no questions. Sometimes friends are the only ones who can say what the problem is and how they should behave. If they will not take it from their friends, they will take it from no one else. It is critical that, over the next few weeks, the Government use that friendship and influence to ensure that the American Government fully understand that we are here to support them, but that actions must be taken in a structured way to try to achieve the best outcome.

The big question is: if the UN's activities do not work and there is no clear UN mandate to take action, what should be done then? That is something that we as Members of Parliament will have to ask ourselves. Each of us will have to ask that question if there is a vote. I truly believe that this crosses party lines. We answer to our consciences on this matter as well as to the people outside and to those whom we might deploy in the battlefield. In considering what the consequences will be if the UN resolutions are not successful, it is important that we ask ourselves whether we believe that military action is in the British interest, whether the British interest is threatened by weapons of mass destruction, and whether, even without a UN mandate, it is incumbent upon us to accept and support military action. The answers will depend upon how, in the next few weeks, the Government develop their argument and upon the information that they have started to put in front of us today in order to persuade Members of Parliament, and more particularly the wider public, of the facts that they have to prove that this situation is a threat to us.

We must be quite clear. We may believe that the situation is not a threat to the British interest, but is a threat to the wider international community so we must be quite up front and say that, although it may not be British subjects who will be attacked, we believe that it is our duty—and it is our wish—to support the wider international community and on that basis we will join forces with the Americans and any other allies who want to take a stand on this. Alternatively, if we believe that Britain is under threat, we must identify what that threat is.

On 8 September The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister

If that is true and if it is the Prime Minister's belief and that of the people out there that it is imperative that we support a war in order to protect Britain, we shall need a little more information than what is before us today.

I am old enough to remember the cold war, when Governments of all persuasions believed that we could be subject to a nuclear attack. There were regular briefings and information on civil defence—I remember having them at school. There are certainly important questions to be asked about what provision is being made in terms of vaccines if we are at risk from chemical attacks—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady's time is up.

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4.53 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): It is not often in a debate of this nature that I begin by congratulating an Opposition Member, but today I commend the speech by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for drawing attention to the really big issues that the House will have to address sooner rather than later. If the world is being asked to move away from a doctrine of containment and deterrence and towards a different doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, regime change, attacks and displacements of potential enemies or unsympathetic regimes, the implications for the planet are enormous.

We have to begin the process by at least engaging with the notion presented to us today that we face a choice between greater or lesser threats from Saddam Hussein, who would seek to exploit a dishonest peace, or from George Bush, who would wish to pursue a disreputable war. My belief is that we may not be in a position to stop the United States waging such a war. If there is a war, it will have very little to do with the pursuit of human rights and everything to do with the redistribution of oil rights. We have to recognise that the international threat that we face relates to the potential collapse of the existing global order of rules-based systems.

We also have to recognise the relevance of the dossier that has been presented to the House this morning, albeit at very short notice. On the positive side, the best one can say is that the dossier can at least allow us to move on from the pursuit of press rumours and to present a document for the weapons inspectors to address, scrutinise and evaluate. However, in reality there is no smoking gun to be found in this dossier. At best it is a deeply flawed, partial and superficial document. It is heavy on supposition and light on fact. It is closer to propaganda than it is to scrutiny. If it had been produced by those on the Opposition Front Bench, I suspect that the only difference would have been that it would have appeared under the title "Saddam's Evil Eyes".

As my hon. Friends take away the document and subject it to scrutiny, they should look at some of the contradictions and flaws that scream out from its pages. A great deal is mentioned about the conduct of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and the wretched use of chemical weapons in that war and against the Kurds, but there is not a single reference to our own involvement in that process, or that of the United States. There is no mention of the fact that the United States continued to supply crop-spraying helicopters to the Iraqi regime during that period and provided technical assistance and advisers to assist with the targeting of bombings. There is reference to the fact that the UN made a presidential statement criticising Iraq, but it had to do so in default of the fact that Britain refused to support any of the resolutions that were before the UN at that time, seeking to criticise Iraq, and that America vetoed those resolutions. We ought to put ourselves accurately in the frame.

The dossier treats us to a long list of the weapons of mass destruction that we are told Saddam Hussein is in the process of acquiring. We are also told that he has been on a shopping tour in Africa. That is very interesting but it needs to be set against the fact that Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, has said within the past two weeks that he has received no evidence of Iraq acquiring new weapons of mass destruction. Had he received any such evidence, he would have brought it to the attention of the

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Security Council. So we have to move from allegations to evidence and put that evidence in the hands of the inspectors.

Great play is made of Saddam Hussein's search for weapons of mass destruction in the form of long-range missiles, but no reference made to the part of the UNSCOM inspectorate report stating that by the end of 1997, 817 out of 819 long-range weapons held by Iraq had been destroyed.

There is also talk of the inspections regime having been disrupted and a great deal on page 34 about non-co-operation and sensitive sites, but there is no mention of the specific agreements negotiated by Richard Butler and then by Kofi Annan for more extensive inspection regimes which allowed full inspection of those sites. We have to be very careful not to write those out of history as it would be very easy for the United States to demand a new inspections regime that no longer had to adhere to the memoranda of understanding negotiated by the UN.

We are also told that a compelling case for preparing for war is to be found in Iraq's intentions. This part of the dossier takes a Mystic Meg approach to international planning. There is no basis on which weapons inspectors—or even the United Nations until the beginning of this year—could say that Iraq presents a clear and present danger, or a threat internationally or to the middle east. Instead we are presented with the clear knowledge that there has been no threat from Iraq to the United States, the UK, Europe or anyone else during the past 10 years, throughout which we have systematically bombed Iraq on a daily or weekly basis during this strange, bizarre peace.

We have to ask ourselves what has changed in a year. Last year we said that this imperfect peace was not a problem, but we are now saying that it is a very real problem. Logically, we have to address the point raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough by asking what on earth would prompt Saddam—who may be a tyrant, but who is a calculating, surviving tyrant—to change his mind and say that he now feels obliged to acquire weapons of mass destruction and threaten to use them knowing that he would be destroyed as a consequence. Iraq's crime has not been to threaten anyone, but to renegotiate oil contracts; not with American companies, but with Russia and France. That is why the American Administration are demanding not just the return of the weapons inspectors, but regime change. That will mean the reallocation of oil contracts to those who support American bombing.

The Bush agenda of a pre-emptive strike would lead us into a new era of adventurism. It would be the imposition of a new set of international values; not the values of the west, but the values of the wild west. It would justify all the presumptions made by terrorist organisations about the right to take unilateral action against anyone with whom they disagree. Sadly, Bush will hit Iraq in much the same way that a drunk will hit a bottle. He needs to do that to satisfy his thirst for power and oil.

I must tell the Prime Minister that the role of a friend in such circumstances is not to pass the drunk the bottle; rather it is to divert the drunk from a path which would be as destructive to their own interests as it would be to everyone in their path. The Prime Minister must also understand that it would be perilous to take Parliament and the country down this path. Once the British public

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understood exactly what the war was about they would not support it. The Prime Minister may be able to command the support of his Cabinet in such circumstances, but not that of his country. He may even be able to get the support of Parliament, but not that of the public.

It is the duty of this House to remind the Government that there is no moral mandate to follow this path. It cannot and will not be acceptable to suggest that Britain is willing to pay a blood price for an oil contract.

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