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22 Jan 2003 : Column 390—continued

5.59 pm

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): It is a privilege to take part in the debate after a number of excellent speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who is no longer in his seat, made a number of excellent points that are worth following up.

I do not know whether this is a consequence of the change in the way in which this place operates, but I cannot help noticing that a number of hon. Members who have taken part in this debate seem to have joined an all-party group on town crying, of which I was not advised. I tried to make interventions, but it seems to be taken as normal by some Members, none of whom is in his place at the moment, simply to stand up, read out a polemic, take no interventions and then complain that they did not get a chance to debate the issue in the House. It seems to me that they are not taking part in this debate.

Mr. Barnes : If I have an opportunity to speak, I will read out a polemic and readily offer my hon. Friend an opportunity to intervene.

Mr. Banks: You have given him an extra minute.

Mr. Joyce: My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) is a scholar and a gentleman, and he has given me an extra minute, for which I thank him, although I may not need it.

I have been listening to this debate and, over the past weeks and months, to other similar debates. I thought that I would label one or two of the generic arguments that have been applied to Iraq and the possible military action. Hopefully, it will not take place. The hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who spoke very well, said that he hoped that it would not come to that. Some of these specious generic arguments have been deployed today, and it is worth giving them a label and quickly running through them.

For one argument I have simply written down in my notes the word "oil". I keep hearing, in debates such as this, that the only reason behind any possible action in the Gulf is oil. President Bush wants to get his hands on the oil; it is as simple as that. However, there are many sources of oil supply, and the United States, the United Kingdom and all the other users of petrol and oil products in the world do not go about invading countries simply to get their oil. I am sure that if we wanted to, and if it were simply a matter of oil, we could cut a deal with Saddam Hussein for his oil. That argument seems so transparent that it is preposterous that it is made again and again, yet it is.

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Another argument that I have heard, which I call the parasite argument, was encapsulated extremely well by Simon Tisdall in The Guardian on Monday. Simon Tisdall and, in the past few weeks, a number of others have said that under no circumstances should we take any action in Iraq, regardless of UN resolutions; we should simply rely on UNMOVIC's inspection regime. That is entirely incoherent and parasitical because it relies on the threat of military action poised over Saddam Hussein, which is implied by UNMOVIC being in Iraq in the first place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who is not in her place, deployed the Catch-22 argument. Those who previously argued that there must be a second UN resolution now realise that, if such a resolution is necessary, it is highly likely that there will be one, so they suddenly want to undermine it. They say that any second resolution will indicate only that the Americans have strong-armed everybody else into passing it, so it is effectively invalid. Yet much of the time the same people argue that the UN is important.

The third argument I call the missionary position, because I have heard it deployed by a number of Lords Spiritual in the other place. This is essentially the argument for containment. It says that for the past 12 years we have managed nicely to contain Saddam Hussein within his own boundaries and he has posed no direct threat to this country, so we should just let him crack on, persecuting his people and murdering as many people as he wants. As long as he is not bothering us directly, we should do nothing. It seems ludicrous, but it is true, that that argument is deployed alongside one that stresses the importance of humanitarian principles. How people can produce the containment argument while ignoring the humanitarian implications is beyond me.

Mr. Savidge: Is my hon. Friend saying that he is opposed to Government policy? Is the aim to try to disarm Saddam Hussein, and does my hon. Friend believe that we should go to war with him and other countries simply on the basis of human rights issues?

Mr. Joyce: My hon. Friend should not draw that conclusion from what I said, and I am at a loss to explain how he did so. My answer is no—I do not know why he drew that inference. Perhaps we can discuss this later, as there is a gap in his logic.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) offered what may be called the "shoot the messenger" argument. If there is any intelligence whatsoever that reveals bad things about Saddam Hussein, such as his having weapons of mass destruction, we should say so and tell The Sun. We should record it in the national press, then there will be no adverse effects. While we need to know as much as possible, we must consider the implications of revealing such information for individuals who may be killed as a consequence—we must be wary of compromising our position.

I shall quickly run through the argument deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Singh), which could be called the "others"

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argument. If we are not dealing with all the other problems in the world, why should we deal with the Iraq problem? That is the most ludicrous shift imaginable. Of course, there are many problems in the world, such as those in Palestine and Kashmir, but the idea that we should not therefore deal with an immense threat is too ridiculous for words. I would have asked my hon. Friend if he was arguing for intervention in Iraq and all those other places, but he would not accept interventions, which is a great pity.

Mr. Banks: Will my hon. and gallant Friend address in his thoughtful speech the question whether we should view Saddam Hussein and the regime in Iraq as uniquely threatening to this country? There are a lot of nasty regimes, as he has said, but we have to be satisfied that Saddam Hussein poses a unique threat because we are treating him as such.

Mr. Joyce: I thank my hon. Friend. Saddam Hussein probably does pose such a threat, but it is not necessarily the most serious threat—that may come from North Korea or another country that has already acquired nuclear weapons. Iraq does not have such weapons, and—if Members will excuse the use of a word to which some of them object—we want to pre-empt acquisition because, once it has them, there is much less that we can do. We believe that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, but we can do something about that and prevent a scenario in two or three years' time in which, it is not impossible to imagine, Iraq has a nuclear capability, however modest, and terrorists are travelling the world in search of an easy source of such weapons, and the two come together. Saddam probably does represent a unique threat in that respect.

Joan Ruddock: If my hon. Friend believes in pre-emption, does he acknowledge that it can operate legally and morally if inspectors have the time to find weapons and destroy them, for which provision is made in UN resolution 1441?

Mr. Joyce: I am not convinced that the inspectors' role is to destroy equipment, but whether it is or not, this is not a game of hide and seek. That brings me back to the argument that I was parodying at the beginning of my speech. If the inspectors find something—the smoking gun, as it were—that may be viewed as evidence for their continuing to inspect, rather than evidence that Saddam Hussein is concealing a great deal and that we should take action in response to that threat. A subjective view can be taken, but I think that if we find something very significant, it will be a reason to take direct action on Saddam. My hon. Friend may think that that would be reason to stall and do nothing, but that would simply increase the risk.

I shall conclude my remarks, as I only have about a minute left. There is no question but that all of us want to see this whole Iraq business concluded without military action, but the fact is that there is a significant threat—I think that it is beyond serious doubt—and it has to be neutralised. Of course, debates have to take place in the House. It would be good if hon. Members at least recognised that such debates were taking place and if I did not have to talk on the radio tomorrow, as I probably shall, to an hon. Member whose complaint is

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that no debates take place. It would also help the quality of public discourse if some of the specious arguments that I have described today were not deployed. If people want to produce a pacifist argument—and I think perhaps most people do not—they should. What they should not do is produce an argument that is essentially pacifist but which is based on some other, rather weak proxy argument.

6.11 pm

Sue Doughty (Guildford): At the beginning of the debate, the Secretary of State referred to a vigorous three months of public debate, which reminded me of what happens when a council makes an unpopular proposal to close a school and conducts a consultation process that is not genuine. I am very concerned about the remarks made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce), which suggested that he sees any opposition to his point of view as a specious argument. He and one of his colleagues managed to make a large number of interventions and yet expressed astonishment that even more were not taken.

We have heard some tremendous contributions. The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a very powerful speech in which he set straight the attitude of hon. Members by stating the fact that people who are not in favour of this war are not automatically enemies of the United States. All of us have friends there with whom we constantly communicate; we discuss things with them and we share our concerns. We are all opposed to Saddam Hussein. Nobody in this House carries a brief for what he does, but that does not necessarily justify the actions that are being proposed.

We have heard many very powerful arguments and I shall not deal with all of them. I was especially moved yesterday by the constituents who came to see me—some of them from the far left. Pacifists would never countenance any war, and we know that some people will be of that persuasion. Others were of a school of thought in which, like the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), they can say, "I supported the Afghanistan war, possibly with reluctance, because I saw no alternative." Yet the objectives of that war have not been met. I saw people who will support a war if the cause is just and the action is appropriate, but they are not supporting war in Iraq. I also saw people from the more right-wing end of my constituency, which includes the prosperous Surrey villages, bringing messages of good will from their neighbours. Those are not the naturally left-wing and anti-war people. Indeed, the opposition that has been so eloquently expressed by many hon. Members stretches across the House.

We all have many causes for concern. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said, our servicemen and women have gone to the middle east with our hopes, prayers and good wishes. Of course, we are desperately anxious about them. We are also anxious about the innocent men, women and children of Iraq, who will inevitably face slaughter in any military action. The numbers will not be small. It seems a strange sort of justice where we put matters right for them, but they die along the way. Possibly, those who are in favour of military action will square up those issues, but I do not think that I can do so.

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One of the issues that I am concerned about in any proposed military action is what we will do, why we will do it and what we will hope to achieve? Will we be aiming for regime change or securing oil? What will be the objective of such action? How will we know when we have achieved it? That was one of the dreadful unanswered questions of previous military action against Iraq. We did not quite know whether we had achieved our objective, but seeing the pictures of aircraft strafing conscripted boy soldiers as they went home, having admitted defeat by the combined forces, brought a sudden end to the war in many people's minds. A day or two afterwards, that is just what happened—the public would not stomach the conflict any longer.

We have yet to establish sufficient evidence. There are still unanswered questions about what will happen if the arms inspectors need more time. I understand the need for confidences—perhaps we in Parliament are not allowed the information—but negotiations with some of our European partners such as France and Germany will surely have entitled them to see the evidence as part of the argument. Evidence is shared among those with a need to know, yet such countries are not buying the argument. Russia and China are not convinced either. There is a lack of international consensus.

The issue of oil has been touched on. There is likely to be a lot more than the 115 billion barrels of petroleum reserves in Iraq about which we know. Venezuela is in an impossible situation and Saudi Arabian oil is less secure than it used to be, so we cannot deny that oil is an issue. I ask Ministers to answer a question that we have posed before. When, as the Secretary of State has said, we are seeking consensus with other countries, will the Government ensure that the possible presence of oil does not form part of any negotiations? To many members of the public, it appears that alliances are being sought on those grounds. Those questions are present in many people's minds.

Another query has been reinforced by the leader of the Iraqi National Congress. He told The Washington Post in September 2002:

There are many arguments about why the Americans have not been able to do a deal on that oil before now. After a war, they might be able to do so. Those arguments need exploration; we need more information about the part that oil plays in the proposals.

The issue of arms exports plays an important part in a debate about defence in the world. As part of the war on terror, the United Kingdom Government have, to a certain extent, relaxed export controls. They did so after 11 September and, as a result, arms were exported to countries that were perceived to be on side—but not necessarily with a guarantee that such arms would not be used on their own people. We are talking about countries such as Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which were criticised in the 2001 Foreign Office human rights report. None the less, licences were granted. That is not acceptable.

Let us consider the human rights record in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch noted:

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There have been 11 deaths in

Yet we are talking about exporting arms to such people.

In 2001, the UK licensed 6,780 assault rifles to Nepal, yet the Nepalese Government face a serious insurgency from Maoist opposition groups. We are not sure what part those arms will play in that. The Government must be most certain that in exporting arms they are not conveniently buying support from the wrong people in order to do what they want to do. We must look most carefully at that in future.

Another aspect of proposed military action that worries me deeply is the outstanding issue of child soldiers and the fact that the United Kingdom continues to allow boys and girls who are under 18 to take part in military action.

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