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26 Feb 2003 : Column 298—continued

Mr. Portillo: Let me make some progress.

During the 1990s and beyond, Russia and France undermined the sanctions regime. They advertised to Saddam the infirmity of purpose of the west. Both Saddam and al-Qaeda, separately, could take comfort from the clear evidence that the west was not willing to take firm action. That is the connection between al-

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Qaeda and Saddam. I think it reasonable that after 11 September 2001 the United States reviewed its security and the failure of deterrence. It concluded that if we continued to let Saddam to get away with things and to go his own way, our vulnerability would increase.

The world has its fair share of wicked leaders and terrorists, and they will do whatever they can get away with. They listen to what we say but, more to the point, they watch what we do. As the Prime Minister rightly says, if the civilised world is not prepared to make its words stick now, its determination will always be doubted because political will is crucial.

Paul Flynn : Does the right hon. Gentleman recall a question that sought to persuade the Government to beef up the International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme? Does he also recall the answer in which the Government said that they had full confidence that Iraq, as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, would abide by its international obligations and not work on a nuclear weapons programme? According to the response, the Government had no intention of doing what the question asked, which was to increase the weapons inspections. That answer was given in the House on 19 April 1990 by the Government of whom the right hon. Gentleman was a prominent member and of whose record he seems so proud.

Mr. Portillo: I think I have covered that point. I must admit that, in my view, Members who persist in saying "We have been wrong over a period of 12 or 13 years, and we must therefore be wrong to try and put our mistakes right now" are on very weak ground.

In an important sense, Saddam and Bin Laden are co-belligerents. They share a hatred of the west, and a belief in the efficacy of terror. Let me add that if Britain tried to stand aside—here I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—that would not spare us from the terror. A display of weakness will bring more terror, not less; and I think it is a dangerous myth to believe that terrorism is in some way beyond deterrence .

The Prime Minister's task has been made more difficult—I admit this—because America has not been willing to say much about the middle east peace process. I think that the United States is strictly correct to reject any link between Iraq and the regional peace process, but there are many indirect links. Certainly, I believe it might have been easier for the Government to try to establish direct connections between Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organisation than to try to establish them between Iraq and al-Qaeda. It is clear that Saddam is the hero of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

Many today have focused on the dangers to the region if there is a conflict. Of course there are dangers, but I say that if Iraq is disarmed there are opportunities too. The United States will then engage in the middle east peace process; but it will do so with an unambiguous hostility to terrorism. A new Palestinian leadership will then understand that terrorism will not work, and that therefore political engagement may.

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Prime Minister Sharon may be ruthless in war, but he would also be ruthless in peace. The peace will require Israel to give up land, positions and settlements, and Mr. Sharon is the man to force such an outcome on the Israelis.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, Iraq is a potentially rich country. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said today, it is a country with a middle class and educated people. If economic and political freedoms are returned to Iraq, that can have a powerful effect on a region in which those liberties are largely absent. Perhaps Iran too will flip towards the moderates.

This crisis has cost the west dearly in terms of the damage to its institutions. New institutions may be required. I am a great supporter of NATO, but it is damaged, and in any case it is geographically very limited. I believe that we should look for a new organisation, not to replace NATO but to stand alongside it. The aim of that organisation would be to counter terrorism, and its focus would be global. The United States, Britain and Australia would certainly be founder members of the new organisation; perhaps its headquarters would be in Prague or Madrid. Whatever the precise form of that new organisation, I believe that its time has come.

2.43 pm

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Last August, at the invitation of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), I wrote an article in The Spectator setting out my reservations about a possible war on Iraq. Six months later, I stand by every one of the arguments I advanced then. They included my concerns about the effect on Muslim opinion; about the need for any action to take place under United Nations authority; about the apparent double standards involved in enforcing UN resolutions on Iraq while neglecting those on Israel and the Palestinians—although I recognise that the resolutions on Iraq are mandatory, while those on Israel are not; about the danger of Iraq's spreading any such war, with the consequent perils of a middle east in turmoil and serious economic consequences; about the hazards of war—including the certainty of civilian casualties; and about the role played in such a conflict by the most unappetising United States Administration I have ever known. I repeat that I said that then and believe it still.

If tonight's vote were a vote of confidence in George W. Bush—appointed by the United States Supreme Court rather than being elected by the American people—I would be the first into the No Lobby. Under Bush the United States is a bad world citizen—bad on global warming, bad on the International Criminal Court, and bad on steel tariffs. What we are debating today, however, is not a vote of confidence or otherwise in Bush, or even a vote about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—although I support and trust my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The issue at stake in this debate, and in whatever action follows from it, is the United Nations as the only upholder of world order, however faulty and inadequate the United Nations may be.

In my Spectator article I emphasised the primacy of the United Nations, a primacy stated in clause IV of the Labour party constitution. As it happens, it was

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included in that constitution on the initiative of one Anthony Wedgwood Benn, who at that time was a staunch supporter of the United Nations rather than the toady to Saddam Hussein that he has since become.

The fact is that the United Nations has passed a series of mandatory resolutions on Iraq following that country's serial aggressions and violations of human rights, and Iraq has violated every one. Since I expressed my concerns last summer the Security Council has passed resolution 1441. I must say that the constant moving of the goal posts is a sign of the inadequacy of some of the arguments being advanced. First, Members said "Let us have a resolution"; we got a resolution. Then some Members said "Let us have a second resolution"; a second resolution has been tabled. Now there is a motion on the Order Paper referring not just to a second resolution but to lots of other conditions, including a debate in the House before military action. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has conceded that as well. At what point do we have a consistent position? At what point do we lay down conditions and say that those conditions must be met?

Resolution 1441 reiterates all the previous resolutions since 1990, and lays down a process for its implementation together with a statement of the consequences if it is not obeyed by Saddam Hussein. The resolution could not be clearer; I assume that all Members have read it. While a further resolution may be regarded as desirable—and my right hon. Friends are attempting to obtain one—it is certainly not indispensable. Resolution 1441 lays down all the necessary conditions.

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Kaufman: What happens if resolution 1441 is not implemented? Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the consequences for world order—

Mr. Salmond rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is obviously not going to give way.

Mr. Kaufman: As I was saying, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the consequences for world order if resolution 1441 is turned into a flouted expression of unfulfilled requirements. What he said was incontrovertible. If Saddam can get away with the games he is playing, stringing out the process until it is vitiated and nullified, the consequences for world order will be catastrophic. I cannot understand my colleagues who argue that, given a little or a lot more time, Saddam will suddenly display a change of heart. It is what Hugh Dalton used to call the doctrine of unripe time, and it is the basis of the amendment.

Yet there is a further consequence. I have expressed in clear terms my distaste for the present United States Administration. Only with immense difficulty and effort has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister persuaded Bush and his cronies to take the United Nations route. The House should have no doubt that if that UN route fails on this issue, the Bush Administration will wash their hands of the UN altogether and go it alone whenever they believe that their national interests are at stake.

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Neither we nor any other ally will be able to influence Bush otherwise. That may be a despairing argument for voting for the Government motion tonight, but it is realistic and, I believe, incontrovertible. Moreover, if the role of the United Nations is set aside, we have no hope whatever of solving the agonising Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. Even now, it is possible for our Prime Minister to persuade Bush to participate in the initiatives necessary to obtain peace in the middle east. Success in this issue may persuade Bush that there could be success in that issue too. However, I do not believe that a middle east peace process would be possible if the United States retreated into self-interested isolationism, which is only too prevalent in the White House and the Pentagon. Every hon. Member will search her or his conscience in deciding how to vote tonight. I have searched mine and, as I said, all my colleagues will have done so. Even though all our hearts are heavy, I have no doubt that it is right to vote with the Government tonight.

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