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24 Sept 2002 : Column 87—continued

Mr. Dawson: Does my hon. Friend agree that a large part of that resolution should be about the removal of sanctions in the event of Iraq's compliance with a UN resolution to allow UN weapons inspectors unfettered access to destroy weapons?

Mr. Ross: That is exactly what the resolutions say, and we might have had that debate today if Saddam Hussein had complied with those Security Council resolutions. I would have hoped that all my hon. Friends would be with us tonight in our determination.

I want to make one last comment. Many hon. Members have referred to the role of international law. I am someone who has specifically argued that it is a failure of the international community and the United States to allow international law to apply to the Israel-Palestine question that has got us into the situation that we are in today in the middle east.

The action of the Israeli defence forces in Ramallah was proof positive that unless we insist that international law is brought into the middle east peace process, we will not see an end to the way in which Israel treats its neighbour. The actions of the Israeli defence forces during the weekend in pulling down the Palestinian flag and raising the Israeli flag at the centre of the Palestinian presidential compound sent a simple message to the Palestinians: they do not exist. We need to remind Israel that, if there is to be peace, it has to have a partner, and that partner has to be a Palestinian community with rights equal to those of Israel.

5.21 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): When we are in an internationally dangerous situation, our first reaction should be to hold on tightly to international law. I was therefore pleased when the Prime Minister made his remarks earlier today to hear that he is clearly grounded in respect for the UN and reference to UN resolutions. However, the same cannot be said, unfortunately, about President Bush.

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President Bush has continually said that Iraq must adhere to UN resolutions, but he has also said, without any sense of irony, that the US retains the right to take action unilaterally without UN approval if Iraq does not adhere to those resolutions. That somewhat weakens his case for enforcing resolutions on other countries. There is a further irony perhaps: if the US were able to mobilise the kind of coalition that was mobilised before the events in Afghanistan, the President may have more support around the world today, but very little effort has been made to do that.

Instead, President Bush has sought to dictate to the world what has to be done and has held a pistol to the UN, as we heard earlier, saying that unless the UN resolution is in the terms that the US wishes to have, it will block the return of weapons inspectors. That is not the behaviour of a multilateral partner in the international world today; it is the behaviour of the playground bully. It believes that it can dictate to the rest of the world because it is the only superpower. We have seen that behaviour in the contempt shown for the International Criminal Court, for Kyoto and, most recently, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) said, at the Johannesburg summit.

There is a widespread perception—in a way it does not matter whether it is a perception or a reality—that the US motives in this episode are far from pure. They are not altruistic and intended to defend; they are in the self-interest of the US. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) referred to oil. I should like to refer to a piece published in The Daily Telegraph on 17 September, which said:

I quote directly from the White House. He said:

when there is—

In other words, if we are able to deal with Saddam Hussein—no doubt, killing a few people in the process—we can keep down the price of petrol. Those are not my words; they are those of the White House, and it has set out those intentions quite openly.

There is a widespread perception—again, it is not important whether it is a perception or a reality—that the mid-term elections are a factor. There is also a widespread perception that because President Bush has sadly failed—along with coalition allies across the world, including this country—to deal with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda that he is looking for an alternative focus for military action. So we have a choice.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) rose

Norman Baker: I apologise for not giving way; I must make progress.

The most important message that we must send out is to adhere rigidly, to stick limpet-like, to the UN and its resolutions. I want the UN to deal with Iraq, and I want it to deal with a lot of other resolutions across the world that have not been dealt with. For example, the resolutions on Tibet have been gathering dust for 42 years in the UN

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and no one has bothered about enforcing them against China. The resolutions on Israel and Palestine seem to be rather further down the agenda. So, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said earlier, let us deal with the resolutions and give them equal weight, not simply pick one out, as the Americans have done.

I am extremely worried by the concept of a pre-emptive strike—a matter raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. A pre-emptive strike is not allowed under the UN charter. There may be a case, as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) put it, for saying that we would have wanted to take action if we had learned about Pearl Harbor 30 minutes in advance and that such action could have been justified, but that is an exception rather than the rule. There must be a very good reason indeed to take pre-emptive strikes. They are acts of aggression in international law, so what is the justification for such an act on this occasion?

It is certainly the case—the Prime Minister has made this very clear and I accept the evidence that he has put forward—that Saddam Hussein is accumulating really unpleasant and quite dangerous weapons of mass destruction. That is clear, but it is not clear who he is threatening or what his intentions are in respect of those weapons. I have no wish to defend him at all—he is a deeply unpleasant person—but so far as I am aware he has never threatened the United Kingdom, the European Union or the US. He has been in power for some time, which shows his political skills. He is not an irrational man. He is able to stay in power, and the last thing that he would do is to pick a fight with someone if he would lose, so I do not perceive a threat in that way to the UK at present.

I also query why we have moved away from the theory of deterrence. For 50 years, we have been told that this country has to have nuclear weapons because they are a deterrent and that, otherwise, we would be more open to attack. We are now being told that we are still open to attack from someone, even though we could respond in kind and obliterate him. Does Saddam want to be obliterated? He is a coward, who will pick on his own people and on Kuwait, but I suggest that he will not pick on the United States or the United Kingdom in that way.

Mr. Andrew Turner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker: I have only three minutes left.

We have to consider the risks of action, which were eloquently set out earlier by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), such as the humanitarian consequences and the breakdown of international law. International law is not, as the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) suggested, the UK and the US acting together. That is a ridiculous definition of international law.

We must consider the fact that there is no obvious endgame. Who will replace Saddam Hussein? We must also consider the fact that the region will be destabilised, affecting our allies and those of the US, such as Saudi Arabia; that it will give Israel carte blanche to intensify its actions against the Palestinians while US attention is turned elsewhere; and that the Muslim world will be

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united and will regard Saddam as a hero. Those who saw the reports of the Johannesburg summit will know that evidence of that is already in place, unfortunately.

We must consider the fact that oil supplies and international markets will be disrupted and, perhaps most important, that such action will provide a recruiting ground for tourism—[Interruption.] Sorry, not for tourism; I have a south-coast seat. It will provide a recruiting ground for terrorism.

The way forward is that our Prime Minister has to make a choice. He said earlier that he regards the relations between this country and the US as a bedrock and vital, and I understand exactly why he does so. He also recognises the value of the UN, and he has made that very clear in his contributions today and on other occasions. However, he may not be able to bridge the gap. He may have to jump at some point and choose either to support unilateral action by the US or to support the UN and let the US go it alone. I think that the US will go it alone whether we agree with it or not. If that happens, we should be on the side of the UN, not on that of the US.

My final point is that we should not be involved in any military action unless there is an explicit UN mandate for it. That is one bottom line. The second bottom line is that we should not be involved in any military action unless the House of Commons has seen the terms and has voted on it.

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