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26 Feb 2003 : Column 286—continued

Mr. Straw: There is no basis whatsoever—from any sentence of the Blix reports or any other evidence—for saying that Saddam has complied by 70 per cent. or by any fraction approaching that.

Mr. Smith: I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend. Everyone agrees that Saddam Hussein has not given full co-operation and is not complying completely. However, in such a situation, we must ask ourselves whether the degree of co-operation that he has given and which has undoubtedly been extorted out of him by the pressure from the international community falls so far short of what is required that it is a cause for going in and wreaking substantial havoc and destruction on Iraq. That case, as yet, is not made.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Smith: The third major argument that is used is that we will give comfort to Saddam Hussein by sending the wrong message. That is true only if we fail to maintain the pressure on him. There may well be a time for military action. I do not take the view that military action is never, ever likely to be required. There may well be a time when it becomes necessary.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) rose—

Mr. Smith: At the moment, the timetable appears to be determined by the decision of the President of the United States and not by the logic of events.

The other argument that has been made is that those of us who urge caution are failing to be strong and that, by doing so, we are somehow appeasing a tyrant. That is the shallowest argument of all. Strength does not lie simply in military might. Strength lies in having an unanswerable case. It lies in making the right moral choices. It lies in maintaining the pressure, and it lies in securing the fullest possible international agreement.

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That is where our efforts should now be directed, but I fear that we may be cutting short those efforts by the timetable that is now upon us.

Kali Mountford rose—

Mr. Smith: Let us not forget what we are talking about. We are talking about going to war. We are talking about thousands—possibly hundreds of thousands—of innocent lives being lost. We are talking about casualties almost inevitably among our own forces. We are talking about instability across the whole middle east. We are talking about making the achievement of a solution to the Israel/Palestine question infinitely more difficult. We are talking about the alienation of moderate Muslim opinion across the world. One does not undertake such things lightly. One must have the clearest possible reasons for doing them, and I do not believe that those reasons are there.

This may be the last chance before our forces are committed to military action that the House has to make our view known. It grieves me that I am seeking to amend a motion tabled by my Government—a Government whom I applaud and support. However, these are serious times and the House must make a serious judgment. We must say here today in this Chamber that now is not the time, that the case has yet to be fully made and that war, with all its consequences, cannot be the present answer.

Kali Mountford: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. For the ease of the debate and so that interventions are taken for debate to take place across the Floor of the House will you clarify that, when interventions are taken, time is added to the time allowed for the speeches?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I can confirm what the hon. Lady says. Taking up to two interventions provides an additional two minutes for the speaker.

1.54 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): In the previous debate on this topic, the Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment to the Government motion. We have done so again today and it sets out our party's position. There is no question but that we share the doubts expressed in the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and in his speech. We will support him and others in the Lobby. On the assumption that the amendment is not passed, we will vote against the Government's motion.

We welcome the opportunity that this debate provides to discuss the critical issues facing the country. After three months and repeated requests for a debate, it has been a long time coming. However, it comes at a key moment in the development of the international situation.

We must send out an absolutely clear message. Saddam Hussein must be disarmed and his evil regime with it. Nobody disputes that. The question for us is how we go about that. Throughout the process, we have

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supported the United Nations and urged our Government and the United States of America to work through it. The international community is taking on Saddam Hussein because he defies international law, so it is absolutely essential that, as we tackle him, we follow the United Nations route; otherwise we will undermine the very principles and institutions in whose name we act.

It has not always been clear that that the United States of America has recognised that requirement. Even in the past 24 hours, the United States President has restated his belief that a second resolution against Iraq is not required before military action can begin. That is a lonely view in the world but, sadly, an important one.

We acknowledge the United Kingdom's role in persuading the United States Administration to pursue their case via the United Nations in the first place. However, all of us must be concerned about the threats made to members of the Security Council if they ignore America's will, and concerned that, if they do, the United States will go its own way.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) rose—

Mr. Moore: In similar vein, the Prime Minister has introduced the concept of an "unreasonable veto". This, too, is a dangerous notion. Will it allow other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to disregard a future use of the British veto? This pick-and-mix approach to international diplomacy is bad for Britain and it is worse still for the international community.

There is no doubt that the possibility of military action has been the catalyst for the return of the weapons inspectors and for the co-operation received from the Iraqi regime so far as it goes. However, there must be a difference between getting the military forces ready and using them. Much of the anxiety in the public's mind at present is because the United States' and the United Kingdom's rhetoric suggests that, once the build-up is complete, the military will go into action. Many fear that there is an unstoppable momentum towards war that is accentuated by the attempt to force the pace with a new draft resolution. Never mind the United States Administration's ambivalence about the role of the UN and even the need for a second resolution. We must have a credible threat of force, but not a certain threat of force; otherwise the international order has everything to lose and Saddam Hussein has nothing to gain except by pre-emptive action of his own.

Kali Mountford: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but is his point not inconsistent? How can there be a credible threat to Iraq if we make it clear at the outset that the threat is not credible because we are not prepared to use it? Is that not an inconsistent position?

Mr. Moore: That is not what I was saying. If the hon. Lady will bear with me and listen to the rest of my case, I hope that that will become absolutely clear to her.

International law is clear that war can only ever be justified as a last resort. In upholding it, we must show conclusively that that is so and that we will go to war

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only if all other diplomatic and political options have been exhausted. That is far from being the case at this point.

The current action against Saddam is justified by resolution 1441. The resolution was a supreme effort of international diplomacy that took eight weeks of patient negotiation. It was unanimously agreed and was all the stronger for that. It put a clear onus on Saddam, marked out the fact that this was his final opportunity, and gave a warning in respect of further material breaches and the serious consequences that would flow from them. Saddam Hussein must know that that involves the real possibility of military action, but we do not believe that the current resolution that was drafted and put before the United Nations is sufficient to justify any such development.

The weapons inspectors are the key to dealing with Saddam. They have got clear instructions; indeed, they could not be more specific. So far, the outcomes have been mixed, co-operation has been patchy and the inspectors have not been helped by the slow build-up in their resources and numbers, but can anybody doubt their seriousness, purpose or independence? It is their judgment that is crucial in this debate. Overnight, we have seen the release of new information—an important development that would suggest that the regime is co-operating with them—but we face an early test this weekend regarding the al-Samoud missile system and Iraq's willingness to dismantle it. Overall, this is a finely judged case, but in the circumstances, we must surely listen to the chief inspector when he says:

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