Previous SectionIndexHome Page

25 Nov 2002 : Column 76—continued

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions should be brief.

Mr. Moore: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about some people never wishing to commit British troops in circumstances such as this. That is a position that anyone is entitled to take, and one that we can respect. As I have said, I do not believe that by

25 Nov 2002 : Column 77

considering these matters in the House we necessarily put lives at risk. I reject what the Foreign Secretary said about that.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in his explanation after the vote, the US ambassador to the UN made it clear that if the US believed it was under some kind of threat from Iraq it would take action anyway, irrespective of any UN resolution?

Mr. Moore: With respect, I think any country that believed it was under threat would invoke the self-defence provisions of international law. [Interruption.] Any material breach of the provision of this resolution must come back to the Security Council—[Interruption.] The Foreign Secretary need not get so excited. Any such breach must come back to the Security Council on the basis of reports from the UN inspectors. We cannot judge the circumstances before they exist.

No one here today underestimates the seriousness of the situation in Iraq, or the deadly consequences of any failure to resolve the pressing issues before us. In the face of contempt from Saddam and scepticism in the United States, we have seen that international law, implemented through the United Nations, is the proper way in which to tackle Iraq. That approach requires resolve not just from the Government, but from Parliament. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but the manner of dealing with them is straightforward.

As we say in our amendment, we must ensure that at all times all Governments act through the United Nations. We in the House must assert ourselves, and ensure that any military action undertaken by British military forces has been properly debated here and enjoys the support of the House of Commons. In this country, we properly assert our superiority to Saddam Hussein and his regime by our commitments to the principles of international law and parliamentary democracy. We must continue to demonstrate those commitments.

6.29 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, particularly as I may be expressing a minority view in the House. However, it is important that that be heard.

The Foreign Secretary clearly set out his position and the case for the motion that the Government have asked us to support. I do not underestimate the effort that he and the Government have put in here and at the UN in reaching that position, and I recognise what he said about his future position and what he would like to happen—he would prefer a resolution at the UN and a resolution of the House—but I am still fundamentally opposed to an attack on Iraq.

I will not vote for the Government motion this evening. I hoped to have the opportunity to vote for the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and others, but I will not have that opportunity—the amendment has not been selected. The amendment that has been selected is that of the Liberal Democrats. I shall support that amendment, not because I entirely agree with it but because it is nearest to my view.

25 Nov 2002 : Column 78

I say to colleagues who are considering how to vote that I suspect they will not have a second chance. Please do not support the Government motion in the belief that, at some point, before any military action, there will be the opportunity to vote on that military action. I do not believe that they will have that opportunity. I ask every hon. Member to think about that before deciding how to vote.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gerrard: I have only eight minutes. I must disappoint my hon. Friend.

A lot of the debate has been about the legality of the situation and about UN resolutions, coupled with the arguments that the UN must act or it will be discredited, and that Iraq is different from other states ignoring UN resolutions because of chapter VII. Much of that debate has taken place as if over the past few months the UN has arrived at resolution 1441 through the freely expressed wishes of all the other states in the UN, and as if enormous pressure has not been exerted by the US, with the threat that it would take unilateral action if the UN did not act. That comes from a country that has routinely chosen to ignore UN resolutions in the past and did not pay its subscriptions for much of that time.

One of the key problems is that we are being asked in the motion to support the UN, yet at the same time we are being told that the US Government and our Government reserve the right to ignore anything that the UN says, if they do not like what the UN decides when it looks at the weapons inspectors' reports. What would happen if we had a second resolution that explicitly called for military action and there were a veto? Would that prove that the UN had failed? We have been willing to use the veto in the past, as has the US. Are we saying that we will never use the veto again? That seems to be the implication of choosing to reserve our right to ignore a possible veto from another country. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say, XYou must support the UN" and at the same time say, XWe reserve the right to do whatever we want if we do not like what the UN decides."

Mr. Straw: I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. What he has just described is a parody of the circumstances that I set out. I also made it clear that any decisions that we took in respect of military action would in any event be careful, proportionate and consistent with our obligations under international law, the basis of which is, principally, the UN charter. He must deal with the real circumstance, which has been described not only by me but by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that arose in respect of Kosovo and Macedonia. That is what we are having to take account of and that alone.

Mr. Gerrard: I understand what my right hon. Friend says, but the argument in respect of Kosovo was that we took action under international law and under the UN charter because humanitarian action was needed. I cannot see at present the humanitarian argument or the self-defence argument applying to Iraq. The situation may change, but I cannot see that at present.

The argument about chapter VII and Iraq being different—the argument that this situation is different legally from the situation that applies to Israel and the

25 Nov 2002 : Column 79

way in which Israel ignores resolutions—may sway politicians but it will not cut much ice with the public in most Arab countries.

Another issue is the political argument. The fact that an action may be legal does not necessarily mean that it is sensible. I can think of situations where legally I could personally use violence but where it would not necessarily be sensible. I have fears about the political consequences of any war on Iraq. I believe that it could have devastating consequences for the whole of the middle east.

I have not seen one country neighbouring Iraq, the ones that should be feeling most under threat, demand that military action be taken—not one. The nightmare scenario would be an attack on Iraq that provoked the involvement of Israel. That is a real worry.

I do not for one moment support Saddam Hussein. I do not think any of us does. We all know that he is an evil dictator, but he was an evil dictator when Donald Rumsfeld was shaking his hand and when this country was supplying him with weapons. Anyway, we are told that this is not about regime change.

There is no evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and George Bush would be glad to provide such evidence if it existed. I do not believe that at the moment we are threatened militarily by Iraq. Such a situation would justify us taking some action.

Who will suffer from an attack? Who are the people who will die? The nature of modern warfare means that it will be innocent civilians who will die. When we vote on whether we should go to war or not, we should remember that. People may argue that that is necessary and for the greater good, but I ask hon. Members not to vote for war without recognising that they would be voting for the death of many innocent people. I am not prepared to have that on my conscience.

6.37 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): We all agree that Saddam Hussein is a wicked man. I first went to Baghdad in 1950 and I have met every leader of Iraq from Nuri Pasha to Saddam Hussein. With the exception of Nuri, who was a great man, they have all been very rough customers whose behaviour would have raised eyebrows even in the Whips Office, so it is not on that that we are concentrating.

The elder President Arif told me that one of the party tricks of Qassim, the general who overthrew the Hashemite royal family, was to invite friends for a meal and then to have one of his opponents tied by his wrists and ankles to four jeeps that drove off at full speed in opposite directions. Those are the sort of people who have been governing Iraq since 1958. However, the thing that differentiates Saddam Hussein from the appalling Governments who have preceded him is that he clearly is a threat to the rest of the world; the others were not. If he has weapons of mass destruction, clearly, we should take pre-emptive action to disarm him, but we cannot sensibly view Iraq in isolation. It is not only part of a critical region; to some extent at the moment, it is the focus for a world crisis.

25 Nov 2002 : Column 80

The real problem facing the west is our double standards in dealing with the Arab world. One can see that in two obvious respects, although there are many others. First, we talk about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction without acknowledging that Israel also has such weapons. I heard it on fairly good authority that it has 104 nuclear warheads, both tactical and strategic, and a few minutes ago we heard a figure quoted of more than 200. Of course, no one will ever confirm or deny those figures. There is no doubt that Israel has nuclear weaponry vastly in excess of what it needs to defend itself from its immediate neighbours—more than twice the nuclear capacity of France, I am told. We do nothing whatever about that.

Secondly, there is the question of Security Council resolutions. I thought that the Foreign Secretary's remarks about our attitude to resolution 242 of 1967 were disingenuous, to say the least. Of course it is true that we would like to impose a settlement of the Palestine problem and that every Foreign Secretary of every party has tried his very best to do it, but we all know why it has not been done: because the Americans have prevented it. The Arabs all know that, and the sense of double standards embitters the entire situation and is one of the reasons why even the most moderate Arabs, who used to hate and fear Saddam Hussein, are beginning to have considerable sympathy for him.

In the days when I used to visit Vietnam, the Americans were talking a great deal about the battle for hearts and minds. Of course, they did not win that battle and they did not win the war. As far as I can see, since the terrible attack on the twin towers, there has been no serious attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Arab or Islamic worlds, but the battle needs to be fought and won if any progress at all is to be made in the wider war on terror. That will be a much more difficult task for the west than the disarming of Iraq.

Only about nine months ago, the United States Congress voted $4 billion a year for the next four years to supply armaments to Israel. Everybody in the middle east knows that every tank that they see on CNN, every bomb and missile, every bullet that kills or maims a Palestinian has been paid for by the United States. I have been a lifelong admirer and friend of the United States. I have often regretted that I was not born an American. I would love to have been a US federal Senator. If I had been, with my seniority, I would be chairman of the top committee there. I have been there innumerable times since, from Oxford, I debated there with 50 American universities. I was in New York on the morning of 11 September last year, and I was there only a fortnight ago attending the Business Advisory Council of the United Nations, of which I am a member.

Clearly, I am not remotely anti-American, but the fact is that America has grossly mishandled the Palestine problem for many years, and is beginning to drag Britain into a very dangerous situation. Neither the Romans, nor Byzantium, nor the Ottoman empire, nor the British empire was so universally hated as America is today by the poor people throughout the world, and that is a great tragedy for the most historically generous nation that the world has ever seen.

We all know Emma Lazarus's famous words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

25 Nov 2002 : Column 81

For well over a century, the United States superbly lived up to that invocation, but today the sad truth is that the huddled masses of the poor world have turned against the United States. That is sad, and it is dangerous.

Israel is fully entitled to absolute security within its legal frontiers, and we must ensure it, but we must not continue antagonising a billion members of the Islamic faith, and we must stop dismissing them with the contemptuous word Xfundamentalist", because how would we like to be called Christian simpletons, mercenaries or materialists? Many of my Islamic friends are men of immense culture, intelligence and sensitivity.

Next Section

IndexHome Page