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25 Nov 2002 : Column 70continued
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I hope that I can be of some assistance to him. At the Prime Minister's press conference this morning, he was specifically asked about the possibility of a nil return from Saddam Husseinalbeit perhaps not using those particular words. The Prime Minister stated categorically that the British Government had evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that, if there were a nil return, it would be a material breach. The consequences of that would, of course, be a different matter.
Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear, and I think that the Foreign Secretary should have put that on record. That is certainly my interpretation of the resolution. It is better, however, that such statements should be made in the House, before elected Members, rather than to members of the media at a press conference. I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary disagrees with the interpretation that the Prime Minister gave this morning.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): May I pursue the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? It seems to me that we shall get into difficulties if the inspectors are given a free and unfettered right to search for weapons of mass destruction, if that continues without interference, and if they are unable to find any such weapons. Surely we could not, at that point, say that, because we believe that those weapons were there last September, a nil return would justify an attack on Iraq. That would be difficult to explain to the British people.
Mr. Ancram: To try to meet the realities, I mentioned not only a nil return but what I called a gratuitously irrelevant return. There have been suggestions that Saddam Hussein might fill the document with all sorts of little items such as screwdriverswhich may or may not be used in the making of weaponsand say, XNow I have fulfilled my declaration." We must be clear on this, because this uncertaintywhich has been demonstrated on both sides of the Houseis more dangerous than anything else.
I want to ask the Foreign Secretary about military preparedness. When I asked him about it earlier, he said that he would deal with the issue, so that it could be a matter for the debate. I do not think that he did so; if he did, he did it so quickly that I must have missed it. It is important, if there is a possibility of a decision being taken before the House can be reconvened to debate it, that we should have a little more information on that at an early stage of this debate rather than hearing it from the Secretary of State for Defence at the end. I would be happy to give way to the Foreign Secretary if he wants to give us any information now. How is the ability of our armed forces to participate affected by the firefighters' strike? What is the preparedness of our armed forces for such involvement, in terms of both manpower and equipment? These are important questions that need to be answered if we are fully to debate this issue.
These are the essential questions that must be answered. The House has a right to know the answers, and so does the country at large. It is clear that we face an evil that cannot be ignored, and we have a duty to act. We have no right to leave the consequences of preventable evil to those who will succeed us. This is the evil of a man who has already shown that he has no scruples about using weapons of mass destruction against his own people, about invading his neighbours, and now, allegedly, about harbouring international terrorists. This is a man who sees state and non-state terrorism as inextricably linked.
None of us wants war, but to secure peace, it is sometimes necessary to prepare for war. Sometimes, it is even necessary to undertake it to secure peace. The Government are right to stand alongside the United States and the United Nations in supporting the objective that, one way or another, these arms must go. We support the Prime Minister and the Government in this stance. We face a sombre situation, and of course, hon. Members are anxious. We would not be human if we were not. I am reminded, however, of the old saying: XAnxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but it can empty today of its strength."
The Prime Minister and the American President have shown great courage and strength all along. On 8 November, the Security Council was unanimously courageous and strong. Today, it is the turn of the House. We have never in the past lacked courage and strength, and I trust that we shall show those qualities again tonight.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): May I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches? He has also asked me to advise the House that, because so many wish to contribute to the debate, it would be inappropriate for hon. Members to approach the Chair.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): I welcome this debate, but I think that Front Benchers could have been a little more considerate and taken a bit less time over their contributions; there is now less time for Back Benchers.
There is but one question that needs to be answered, both in the House and throughout the world community: will the world be a safer place if we go to war with Iraq? If the answer is no, we should do everything in our power to avoid such a war. We know that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations Security Council condemned that occupation and ordered a complete withdrawal, giving a deadline of 15 January. When Iraq failed to comply, the Gulf war began. The allied forces, led by the United States, bombarded Baghdad for six weeks. A ceasefire was announced on 28 February, and the UN terms of the permanent ceasefire were agreed by Iraq in April of that year. Strict conditions were imposed, demanding the disclosure and destruction of all weapons stockpiles.
The UN-backed economic sanctions were imposed as a tool to enforce the ceasefire. By early 1992, however, it had become apparent that Iraq still possessed chemical and biological weapons. It was not co-operating with UN arms inspectors in providing accurate information and allowing inspections of sites suspected of hiding and manufacturing weapons. That ended in 1998 with the UN inspectors being withdrawn. Since then, there has been intense international pressure to disarm Iraq.
In America, there is a newly elected President, although some might disagree that he was elected, and a new Administration who seem to be consumed by a policy of regime change. President Bush and his Administration seem to be determined that military action must be used to disarm Iraq, thinking that only by eliminating Saddam Hussein can the west stop the military threat to his neighbours and that of international terrorism to the wider world.
Such a policy has found little support among other countries, other than the United Kingdom. Our Prime Minister has given some considered, qualified support on the question of regime change. There is a split in the American Administration between those who want to take unilateral action, known as the gung-ho brigade, and those who support the counter-argument from the State Department, where Secretary of State General Colin Powell, who was President Bush senior's chief of armed forces during the Gulf war, wants to legitimise any military action to disarm Iraq through agreement in the UN Security Council.
General Powell's strongest ally has been the Prime Minister, who is seen as having been influential in persuading the Bush Administration to move nearer to General Powell's position. I do not have to praise our own Prime Minister, save to say that a lot has been said about his involvement and relationship with the American Administration. I recall President Clinton saying at this year's Labour party conference that if the Prime Minister had not been there to pull the American Administration back from gung-ho conflict, who else would have been? Some credit should be taken by our Prime Minister for holding the US within the UN Security Council and achieving the resolution.
Saddam Hussein's newly declared willingness to let the UN arms inspectors back into Iraq unconditionally muddied the waters for the White House hawks, who want military action as a prerequisite to regime change. There are clear signs of tension in the White House. The Security Council has drawn up a resolution on disarmament that ensures that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will be eliminated. Along with other hon. and right hon. Members, I argued that there should be no unilateral action and that the question should go through the Security Council. That being the case, I shall support the Government motion in the Lobby tonight.
I, too, must comment on the middle east. The reaction of the Arab states and the Muslim world to the threat of military action against Iraq is fierce. The same can be said for the majority of European Union member states that do not support unilateral action, the consequences of which could see an Islamic fundamentalist uprising throughout the region, particularly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. That could result in a regime change far removed from that envisaged by the American Administration. Neither should we underestimate the folly of the continued laissez faire policy of the United States on Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. The west can no longer ignore Israel's tragic, inexplicable and disproportionate actions against Palestinians.
The United States and its allies failed to dispose of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war, and although his country remains poor, his popularity remains. That is a thorny issue similar to that of Gaddafi in Libya. Both are tyrants and despots, but their peoples prefer them to what they see as would-be pro-western puppet regimes. That reality puts great pressure on America to explain its end game when it talks of regime change. The surrounding countriesJordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwaitwould need to be on side, as would Turkey and Syria, but there is no evidence of such support, other than a questionable press release from the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister. It is unlikely