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25 Nov 2002 : Column 81—continued

6.45 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I do not wish to emulate the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), for whom eight minutes was just about enough—he was about to have a heart attack. I agree with him absolutely, however, that it is absurd that the United States is not putting pressure on Israel, if only for the purposes of expediency in the weeks and months ahead—although one would hope that it would do it because it is right to put pressure on Israel to achieve a balanced and fair outcome of a dispute in the middle east that is so destructive to the international community, and especially to those who live within firing distance of the various weaponry used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This is yet another debate on Iraq. Looking at the inventory of discussions in the Chamber and in Committee and of the meetings between the Prime Minister and the Chairmen of the relevant Committees, I do not get the impression that the Government are ducking or trying to stifle debate.

In fairness to the Foreign Secretary, I thought that he was reasonably clear about the Government's aspirations and intentions on a second resolution. I have no problem with the views that he expressed and I desperately hope that there will be agreement in the United Nations Security Council should it need to determine whether military action should be taken—but I hope that no such need will arise because Iraq will have complied fully with the terms of resolution 1441.

Not only do I support the motion, I do so enthusiastically. There are those in the House and outside who fervently believed that the US would act without a UN Security Council resolution. To my relief, it went down the Security Council path, it compromised and it was patient. We should recognise the role played by the Prime Minister, Colin Powell and Members of Congress, along with many other people in the United States, who put pressure on President Bush and the Administration and pushed them down the path that could secure the most support in the international community.

Some people in the House and outside are opposed to the build-up of US forces in the region, but let me offer a quotation:

That was not Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle—in fact, it was Kofi Annan. The United Nations Security Council has enormous moral authority, but I doubt that a thousand of its resolutions would convince Saddam Hussein of the need to open his

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presidential palaces and all the other sites in Iraq. No, it is the threat—and I hope only the threat—of the use of military force that will ensure that he complies.

What President Bush has said on regime change is not crystal clear. He was in favour of it initially, but I am encouraged by the view that he will be satisfied—as I hope, most others will be—if Iraq acquiesces in and supports, even if not enthusiastically, the United Nations resolution. Should Iraq disarm, I hope that there will be no need for any military action. I do not want an occupation force such as the United States deployed in the aftermath of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I shall return to more mundane but very important issues. On the deployment of 10.2 per cent. of the whole of the British armed forces—Army, Air Force and Navy—to Operation Fresco, it does not take a genius to work out that that is a significant number. We must hope that a fair agreement is eventually signed between the Fire Brigades Union and the local authorities, the Government, or both. The firefighters' dispute is clearly having an adverse effect on whatever preparation might be required for our armed forces. Over the weekend I met firefighters from the Royal Regiment of Wales who are serving in my constituency. They did not sign up to be supplementary firemen but, without patronising them, I must say that they are doing a magnificent job.

I should have said earlier that the members of the Defence Committee send our best wishes to our colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). There are few people in the House with greater authority or who are more popular among colleagues on both sides of the House than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and we desperately hope that his recovery is swift and total. We also send our best wishes to his wife, who must be having a difficult time.

In conclusion, let me say that I read The Daily Telegraph, and an article today under the description XCountdown to war" had the headline, XCuts will leave Army struggling in the sand." The Defence Committee has criticised the Ministry of Defence on more than one occasion for underspend and overstretch—indeed, its dissatisfaction with one or two things in the Ministry of Defence is well known. However, this article, not uncharacteristically for The Daily Telegraph, is somewhat over the top. Looking through my notes, I would certainly challenge much that it contains. It says that DROPS, the vehicle for unloading, is ancient. Well, it is 20 years old and still useful. The Bowman saga of radiocommunications goes back many years. The Government were absolutely right to dump it and relaunch the competition. The in-service data will now be from late 2003 onwards. In the meantime, personal role radios, non-secure, are in use—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

6.53 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): I am very pleased that I shall be able to support the Government's motion this evening. I would not have been able to support the first proposal put before the United Nations because I believe that we cannot act unless we take the United Nations into consideration as far as is humanly

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possible. I put it very carefully because it cannot be possible that in all circumstances, notwithstanding who wishes to impose a veto and what we feel to be the interests of free people everywhere, we can give a total veto to the Security Council of the United Nations. However, I find it difficult when I hear the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary talk about the principled position of Mr. Bush, the President of the United States, in going to the United Nations. There should be no question of that—it should not be a matter of discussion. It is the feeling that he has done us a favour that I find difficult to take.

I also find it difficult to take a good deal of the hypocrisy in all these discussions. Our newspapers have, with their usual strong balance, pointed to the hypocrisy in the French and Russian positions, owed so much as they are by Iraq. I note that the moment the polls closed it was possible to come to a compromise, but not one minute before.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I do not have time.

Mr. Foulkes: What about injury time?

Mr. Gummer: Very well then.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he remind the House of whether Mrs. Thatcher went to the United Nations before invading the Falkland islands?

Mr. Gummer: When one's own territory is invaded and one goes to defend it, one can hardly ask anyone else's permission. If we had not gone, we would not have been deserving of the name of a sovereign state. However, that is not the situation here.

All the nations involved have mixed motives. However, I want to bring home to the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, to my right hon. and hon. Friends, the necessity of acting within international law if we are not to set this part of the world alight. Behind the situation is an attitude towards the Arabs and Islam, which I believe to have been unacceptable for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) pointed to the continued massive support of one side in the Arab-Israeli battle. I remind the House of my constituent who was killed in the course of the United Nations seeking to make sense of a situation in which one nation is constantly being invaded by its neighbour, which is, in turn, constantly being terrorised by suicide bombers. We are all at risk until the Arab-Israeli conflict is brought to a conclusion.

I am worried that so often the situation seems to be black and white when it is really extremely complicated. Until Israel is secure behind her legal borders and does not believe it right to build settlements and constantly invade her neighbour, and until she is safe from her neighbour's constant incursion—usually, although not publicly, supported by its Administration—we cannot have peace in that part of the world. We will not get

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there, however, if the United States does not recognise its role in not behaving with even-handedness, which is crucial to the situation.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I warmly commend what my right hon. Friend says—he and I agree entirely on these matters. Does he agree that many of us who support the Government tonight might not support them in future if they were to act without the authority of the UN?

Mr. Gummer: I was much cheered by the words of the Foreign Secretary. I have had occasion in the past to be critical, so I must be honest in my support of what seemed to be an unequivocal statement that in all the possible circumstances he would seek a return to the UN and would put a motion in front of the UN and in front of this House, provided that the safety of British troops was not thereby imperilled. Of course the Liberals do not understand that. I am not a warlike person until I hear the Liberals—they have an effect on me. If only there was a bit of rationality. They run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Why was the Foreign Secretary surprised? That is the definition of a Liberal Democrat.

In the world in which we live, it is not right for a nation, however strong and powerful, to decide of its own volition to use force against another, unless there is no alternative. I ask the Foreign Secretary to try to explain to the United States that no war on terrorism can be successful unless there is also a war on inequality and poverty. We cannot have a world in which the effect of American subsidy for its cotton crops is that the state of Mali receives $137 million in aid but has $143 million taken from it.

The war on terrorism must have a moral and ethical centre or it will not be successful. Those of us with grave doubts about the actions and words in this battle share those doubts with all the patriarchs of all the Christian denominations, led by the Pope, who normally do not speak with a single voice in this part of the world. We cannot choose one part of the equation and try to find justice only in one place while forgetting everything else. We want the British Government to be more clearly supportive of a wider view of how we can deal ethically with terrorism.

If only I could hear an occasional word from the Government that sounded as though they were prepared publicly to disagree with the United States. I am sure that much is being done behind the scenes, but every now and again, despite all the disadvantages, we have to say XThank God for President Chirac". He at least made a demand. I hope that the British Government will sound a bit more independent and a bit more willing to bring home publicly what I am constantly assured they say privately.

We could be America's very best ally by ensuring that the United States realised that the war on terrorism could not be limited to a chosen enemy, when circumstances were electorally satisfactory, but that it had to reach out in situations that are extremely difficult electorally. I should find the situation much more credible if President Bush took strong, continued, even-handed and imaginative action to deal with the Arab-Israeli issue. If he could do that, he would win Arab support for what may be a very necessary war.

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