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25 Nov 2002 : Column 107—continued

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's time is up.

25 Nov 2002 : Column 108

8.39 pm

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) because he raises some interesting points, not least that it is difficult to find any way of disagreeing with the motion. Its most notable facet is what it leaves out. I agree with hon. Members' comments that it is rather bland.

The key point is what happens next. What happens should Iraq fail to comply fully with all the provisions of Security Council resolution 1441? What happens should Iraq be found attempting to conceal weapons of mass destruction? In that context, from evidence that we have seen on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, it would be folly to depend on the inspectors who have just entered Iraq to prove the lie of concealment. In the previous inspections programme, the UN inspectors were on the verge—literally within days—of giving Iraq and Saddam Hussein a clean bill of health as free from weapons of mass destruction. One of Saddam Hussein's brothers-in-law defected to the west and produced plans of where the particular sites were.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Chidgey: I shall not give way. When I tried to intervene earlier, it was not picked up, so I shall carry on.

We were within days of giving Iraq a clean bill of health. Only through other evidence were we able to prove that we were totally misled. We are advised that, even with the latest techniques that the new inspectors have, it is not possible to detect small quantities of chemical and biological weapons components. When we say Xsmall" in that context, we are talking about 20 tonnes.

Clearly, the strategy of disarming Saddam Hussein is focusing not on the effectiveness of the inspections but on the threat of the scale of the response if Saddam does not reveal all in his catalogue of weapons of mass destruction. To have any credence, that strategy must mean a preparedness for rapid escalation into full-scale military intervention against Saddam Hussein. The Prime Minister said recently in the House and in public that to avoid war we have to be prepared for war, yet all we are debating at the moment is whether

It is the duty of the Government and their Ministers to come to the House to debate the consequences of the likelihood of Iraq's failure to comply with resolution 1441. It is the Government's duty to seek the approval of the House before taking this country to war against Iraq or anyone else—not just when they consider it Xappropriate" to come here to seek approval.

It is somewhat disingenuous for the Government to claim that they put our armed forces at risk by giving the House prior notice through debating our intent. I am not a military man but I can work out that for some months we have been building, with our allies the Americans, huge forces on Iraq's boundaries. Saddam Hussein is not stupid. They are not there for no reason. They are there to act and to go to war against him if he fails to comply with the resolution. How much notice does he need of our intentions?

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It is a fact that no other western democracy that is a serious military player allows its leader to launch a war without the prior approval of its Parliament. There is no fear in the United States Senate that prior approval puts US forces at risk. Why are we unique in that matter? Is it because we are so used to the standard answer to a difficult parliamentary question that the information is too difficult to compile? Hon. Members will be familiar with that.

The consequences of war against Iraq are far-reaching and long-term, and the stability of the region is at risk, through reaction in the Gulf states, which is likely to be dramatic. Many of the Governments there are at best fragile, and the reaction of Arab and Muslim peoples could result in the overthrow of the Saudi, Jordanian or Egyptian Governments, for example, which would create tremendous problems for our foreign policy objectives. At the very least, there could be extreme repression of mass dissent in those countries.

The problem may not be confined to the Gulf states. There are large Arab and Muslim populations in London, Bradford, Leeds, Paris, Marseille, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. All those people will not take our military action against Iraq casually. Military action is not some quick fix, even if it would remove the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We need to discuss the worldwide consequences of starting a war, however good the justification for it.

We should recognise the impact of any such action on the tens of thousands of young men and women in the Gulf states and elsewhere who are well educated but generally jobless and excluded from economic and social advancement. Is it any wonder that so many are attracted to quasi-religious-inspired terrorism? Would not a war against Iraq create millions more willing recruits to al-Qaeda's evil agenda?

Iraq's failure to comply with 1441 will inevitably mean military action, but that will not be a quick fix. The reactions will challenge global prosperity and security for decades to come. That is why the Government should be debating those issues today, and why it should be for the House to sanction military action against Iraq through a substantive motion.

8.47 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): This debate is obviously welcome and important, and it is good that the role of Parliament and the need for the Prime Minister to seek its approval to take our country into war are at last being discussed. If we took it one stage further, perhaps we could bring the whole operation of the royal prerogative under control, which would indeed be an enormous step forward.

It is a matter of regret, however, that under our parliamentary system only the Speaker can choose the amendments for debate. Without wanting to criticise the Chair, I deeply regret the fact that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) was not selected for debate, because it would have given some of us an opportunity to express a clear view on the war. As it is, I will support the Liberal amendment, as it provides an

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opportunity at least to express part of the view that some of us have in opposition to the putative war against Iraq. We are being asked—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that the House entrusts the Speaker with that responsibility, and I do not think that it is something that the House as a whole would want to challenge.

Jeremy Corbyn: I intend no offence whatever to Mr. Speaker. I am merely saying that perhaps the procedures should be re-examined.

The UN resolution came about after weeks if not months of prevarication, arm twisting and negotiation among the five permanent members of the Security Council—the five declared nuclear weapons states, the five who have a power of veto—while the rest of the world looked on.

There are some questions to be asked. If one reflects on the influence and power that have been exercised by the United States in obtaining that 15-nil vote, one recalls that when Yemen had the temerity to vote against a UN resolution in 1991 it promptly lost $75 million of US aid, while a lot of Yemeni citizens were expelled from Saudi Arabia and sent back home. The message from the US was, XDon't mess with us; we are more powerful than the rest of the world."

It might be time to consider the need for changes and improvements and for genuine democracy to be introduced to the United Nations' operations. The 1945 post-second world war settlement is not necessarily the best way to go into the 21st century. The majority of the world's population live not in Europe or north America; they are poor and they live in the southern countries, and they feel that they are spectators at the UN's table.

Dr. Palmer: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Jeremy Corbyn: No, I will not give way because of the time limit.

Let us look at what has been done since 11 September last year by a US Administration who, we are told, have practised great restraint and caution in their approach to the world's affairs. I remind the House of the speeches made by the President, particularly the Xaxis of evil" speech, when he strung together the names of the countries that he could remember quickly and announced that they were all part of an axis of evil. Great fear was felt in those countries and the United States prepared further for war against them.

Since 11 September last year, the United States has succeeded in obtaining bases in every country that surrounds Russia, the Caspian oil basins and the middle east—all the places where, during the cold war, they could not and would not go. The United States has overwhelming military power: it has more bases around the world than at any other time in its history and it is spending more on weapons of mass destruction and the US military machine. Yet the same regime, led by George Bush, is unable to provide health care for 40 million ordinary, poor American citizens.

The American regime that we are told is engaging with the rest of the world refuses to sign up to the International Criminal Court. It refuses to sign the

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Kyoto convention and the President refused even to attend the earth summit in Johannesburg. Yet we are told that this is not a war about resources or oil. I beg to differ. This is not a war about human rights, democracy or peace; it is a war about US commercial control in the middle east. If it were anything else, there would be far greater sanctions against Israel for its numerous breaches of UN resolutions. There would be a far more serious approach to the problems in the region and far less of the bellicose, gung-ho approach of George Bush and his close advisers.

What are we doing here tonight? We have been asked to approve a motion in support of a UN resolution that either does or does not guarantee the right to go to war. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) drew attention to the legal opinion that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has obtained. In summary, it says:

It goes on:

Yet under close questioning, American and British representatives have said that they will go back to the Security Council but will not necessarily seek a resolution from it. Likewise, the US ambassador said in his summary that the US would not necessarily seek a further resolution.

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