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25 Nov 2002 : Column 97—continued

7.54 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I congratulate the Government and the United States Administration on once again confounding the critics, many of whom have spoken today and have predicted that they would act recklessly, precipitately, and without the authority of international law. Those critics are wrong—resolution 1441 is proof of that. I am happy, as an Opposition Member, to pay tribute to the work of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in securing the resolution.

Behind some of today's contributions is an attitude and prejudice towards the United States that simply cannot go unchallenged in the Chamber. First, there is a view, exemplified by the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), the first Government Back Bencher to contribute to the debate, that the US Administration are a bunch of cowboys who, in the words of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), cannot wait to bomb the living daylights out of Iraqis—[Interruption.] I see that that view has support from Government Members, but it is a patronising attitude, and was expressed in a milder, slightly more sophisticated way by the Liberal Democrats, who said that only wiser British counsel has cooled the American hotheads. It is a modern version of Harold Wilson's idea that we are Athens to America's Rome, but it is a patronising approach both to one of the most sophisticated foreign policy communities in the world and the US Administration. It is wrong and has not been borne out by events during the past year.

I remind Members that there was no knee-jerk reaction to the events of 11 September—perhaps the greatest provocation that any western democracy has experienced in the past 50 years—and that the Americans worked with the international community to build a coalition against international terrorism. They were then were supported by other countries' troops in prosecuting action in Afghanistan. There was no precipitate action against Iraq and there has been no unilateral action of the kind that was predicted month after month in the Chamber.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Gentleman may be right in his analysis of the American defence and intelligence community, but does he accept that reports authored by Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz dating back to 1998, including the report produced by the Project for the New American Century, make it clear that regime change in Iraq has been part of the policy of people who now advise on and set foreign policy for the American Government?

Mr. Osborne: Regime change was also the policy of the Clinton Administration—I did not hear the hon.

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Gentleman make the same criticisms of that Administration. People like Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and even Richard Perle, who spoke in the House a week ago, are some of the most intelligent and sophisticated people in the international community—[Interruption.] Members may disagree, but that is the case. Those people are extremely sophisticated and intelligent. The idea that they are a bunch of cowboys and rednecks is a misunderstanding of the way in which the US Administration operates, and beggars belief.

Jeremy Corbyn: Would the hon. Gentleman be referring to the same President who talked about wanting bin Laden dead or alive and an Xaxis of evil"? Would he be referring to the regime that holds international law in contempt by refusing to sign the convention establishing the International Criminal Court?

Mr. Osborne: I am talking about the American President who, immediately after 11 September, made a well-judged decision—not to act pre-emptively, as some Members, including probably the hon. Gentleman, predicted, but to work with the international community. He has done more work with the UN than the previous American President ever did, and has not launched strikes against Iraq to get himself out of domestic political problems as his predecessor did. He is trying to build an international coalition. The United States deserves support from the international community. For 50 years, it has, at great cost and risk, defended the freedom of western Europe. In times of enormous provocation, during crises in Berlin in the late 1940s and in 1961, it put its head on the block and defended countries such as Germany. The German Chancellor now says that he wants nothing to do with the United States. For the first time in NATO's history, article 5 has been invoked, and NATO countries have agreed that the attack on 11 September was an attack on all members. When it comes to the crunch, however, there is little support for the US from other European Governments. As a British Member of Parliament I am proud that a British Government, albeit one whom I do not usually support, have put their head above the parapet and supported the United States. I note that other countries, such as Australia, which is not even a member of NATO, have done something similar.

The second presumption in many contributions today is that it would never be right to take pre-emptive military action against Iraq or any other dictator. That argument takes several forms—for example, XWhy now? Why not wait? Iraq is not a threat to us today." That is the argument for appeasement down the ages. It is always a persuasive argument and many Governments have fallen victim to it, including Conservative Governments. However, it always makes matters worse to avoid the threat now in the hope that it will go away.

There are parallels with the way in which we have dealt with international terrorism during the past 20 or 30 years. A very persuasive book by Alan Dershowitz, one of the United States' leading legal authorities, entitled XWhy Terrorism Works", was published this month. He makes a powerful and persuasive case that the root cause of terrorism is not poverty or injustice, as

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there are many people in poverty and many who suffer injustice who do not resort to terrorism. The root cause of terrorism, he argues, and I agree, is that terrorism works for the people who use it. It advances their cause, brings publicity to what they do, achieves their ends and, more often than not, gives them a seat at the negotiating table.

Ever since the first international terrorist act in 1968, when a plane was hijacked by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the international community has appeased terrorists, bought them off, released them from jail and given them top seats at the negotiating table. We cannot allow the same approach today to international terror. We cannot allow such an approach, whether it applies to international terrorists, al-Qaeda, suicide bombers in Israel or rogue states such as Iraq. The United States, with the support of the Prime Minister, has led the way in strengthening the resolve of the international community. It has done so with my support and the support of the Government, and I hope that the motion is evidence of that. I support it entirely.

8.1 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): Given all the talent in evidence in the Chamber, I am grateful to be called. I was amused by the contribution that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). Does he recall that the wonderful and sophisticated country that he so admires is the same country which, under a previous Administration, succoured Saddam Hussein as a trusted ally and built him up into the demagogue that he became? The hon. Gentleman should reconsider his analysis.

I congratulate the Government and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister on restraining the sophisticated Government of America, so that the matter was put in the hands of the United Nations, which is where it should be. That gives the entire international community a fresh chance to establish the rule of international law, which has always been a patchy process and has for too much of the time depended on which state or group of states was the most powerful, rather than on the rights of any case. That is why resolution 1441 is a considerable achievement. It is very important that it be honoured.

The resolution must be honoured on both sides. Although there is a mandatory obligation on Iraq to conform to 1441, there must also be a moral obligation on all Security Council members to take careful account of Iraq's response to 1441. If Iraq is seen by Hans Blix and his team of inspectors to have conformed with 1441 when they make their final report to the Security Council, that has to be the end of the story. That will have done a tremendous amount for the establishment of international law.

We are all uncomfortably aware that some loud voices have been raised among the sophisticates in Washington who clearly do not believe that Iraq has any intention of confirming to 1441, which is a prescriptive, strict and demanding resolution. We can all think of commentators close to the American President who do not believe that Saddam will conform and who probably do not want Saddam to conform. They will gladly seize

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on any excuse to say that he has substantially breached the resolution and use that as an opportunity for promoting unilateral action. That would be extremely reprehensible. It would be taking a match to the powder keg that is the middle east. Should that happen, Britain must have no part of it.

If we are to have true international law, it must be seen to be even-handed and to be upheld by all communities. It is a fair criticism, which I am happy to hear made tonight by Opposition Members, that the United States has not been even-handed in its approach to international law. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the middle east. If the United States were as enthusiastic about the implementation of resolution 242 in Israel and Palestine, we would be getting somewhere.

Earlier this year our Prime Minister promised a fresh impetus to try and restart peace negotiations in the middle east between Israel and Palestine. We should not wait for the hiatus of the coming Israeli general election. The process should be restarted now and the Prime Minister should make it clear to the President that if he is looking for British support anywhere along the line, the political price that he needs to pay is to put some American muscle into the Palestine peace process. As it is, the United States is simply arming Israel with a virtually unlimited supply of weaponry and it is condoning the most incredible illegal acts by the Israeli Government.

So long as that festering sore exists, there will never be true peace between the world's enormous Islamic community and—for want of a better description—the Christian west. It is hardly surprising that the Christian west is looked on with distrust, which will always lead to unrest throughout the world.

It is vital that we direct our focus through the United Nations. Although I slightly regret the fact that a Liberal amendment has been selected, so that the Liberal Democrats are seen to take the moral high ground—which is a bit bogus, but never mind—the principles expressed in the amendment are correct and unarguable. The simpler amendments that call for a vote in Parliament would have been adequate because they would have taken account of the first part and left the Foreign Secretary enough room for manoeuvre in the event of blocking action in the Security Council. None the less, the Liberal amendment is right in principle and it is consistent with the main Government motion, so at the end of the day—

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