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26 Feb 2003 : Column 305—continued

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Bruce George: I give way to someone who falls into that category.

Mr. Salmond: Surely the logic of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman has just spelled out is that if the arms inspectors—Dr. Blix and his colleagues—ask for more time, they should be given it.

Mr. George: As I tried to explain earlier, there is a great deal of flexibility in the system. The Prime Minister has succeeded in persuading the United States to go down the Security Council route. I fear that there will be an opportunity for Dr. Blix to search further and longer, but it must not be for an indefinite period.

Bob Spink rose—

Mr. George: The hon. Gentleman has only been in the Chamber for half an hour, and has already intervened once. I have no intention of giving way to him.

There are many hon. Members who are not persuaded by the evidence so far presented, and I respect their views. It would be much easier for Members of Parliament and our Prime Minister to succumb to domestic and international pressure, but when I asked

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the Prime Minister a rather convoluted question before the Liaison Committee, about what factors he would take into account before he made a decision, he said:

He believes, and others believe, that the route he is taking is right.

If we look at the Prime Minister's record so far, it is clear that he faced a lot of opposition to the UK intervening in Sierra Leone. He was right. There was a lot of opposition in all parts of the House to intervention in Macedonia. He was right. On Kosovo, there was even more opposition. He was right. On Afghanistan, he was right. Therefore I am prepared to give his judgment further endorsement. I have heard no reason why his perspective should be trashed, as many have suggested.

I approach war, if it is to take place, with trepidation. It is not something to which anyone looks forward. The more one speaks to military personnel, the clearer it becomes that war must be undertaken as a last resort. I hope very much that there will be a second resolution and that pressure will be put on Saddam Hussein. I, like many others, have said over the months that the only way to put pressure on him so that war will be superfluous is to let him see that the various countries of the world are so united that he has no option. Ironically, the greater the pressure, the less likely he is to resist.

There was an amazing demonstration a week ago; it was extremely impressive. I have read a number of biographies of Keir Hardie. There was a massive anti-war demonstration on 2 August 1914, organised by the Independent Labour party. On 3 August 1914 overwhelming support was given in this place by the parliamentary Labour party to the British expeditionary force. One of the very few who opposed the Labour party was the great hero of the Labour party, Ramsay MacDonald. The following day war was declared.

Although one must pay serious attention to public opinion, ultimately—this sounds an appalling argument, using Burke, who was not a democrat—we owe our constituents our judgment. I have spoken to so many people, been to so many meetings and read so much documentation, and my own view is that Saddam Hussein is not to be trusted. I hope that there will be a second resolution, and I hope that the pressure on him will be so enormous that there will be no need to go to war. That is what I yearn for.

3.7 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Hearing my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is an exhilarating experience. He is like a bottle of 1970 port, which improves with maturity. Today he showed, as he always does, sound judgment. He brings to these debates an engaging Barchester view. We get a report from Church House, and it is not irreverent, as mine would be—all gas and gaiters. He is serious in his criticism of the Synod of the Church of England and says that it is seriously misguided, as it is, and as are so many of those who have signed the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury.

I was saddened by the amendment and by the fallacious arguments adduced by the right hon. Gentleman. First, he said that Her Majesty's

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Government were not giving Iraq time, as though 12 years since the end of the Gulf were not time enough. One should recall that the ceasefire at the end of the Gulf war was conditional on the full implementation by Iraq of UN resolutions. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that perhaps there was not total co-operation, but possibly 70 per cent.—a figure challenged by the Foreign Secretary, and rightly so. There is virtually no evidence of any significant co-operation with the arms inspectors or of compliance with UN resolution 1441. The right hon. Gentleman then said that the Government were anxious that his amendment might give comfort to Saddam Hussein. Nothing gives greater comfort to Saddam Hussein than the infirmity of purpose and the divisions that we have seen in the House of Commons.

Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman said that Saddam Hussein believed that caution was appeasement and that this was an utterly wrong belief on the part of the President of Iraq. It is perplexing, naive, simplistic and highly dangerous to think, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that Saddam Hussein is open to moral persuasion. Strength is the only thing that he understands. The right hon. Gentleman might think that strength lies not only in military might, but Saddam Hussein and his ilk most certainly do not agree.

The notion of peaceful coercion, as advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), is a thoroughly dangerous illusion. It is a contradiction in terms. The earlier sedentary intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) put it very well: it is like feeding the crocodiles. That was his comment to the Liberal spokesman, and it was highly pertinent. If we wish to deter the dangerous process of weapons proliferation, and particularly the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the way to do it is to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein and to do it fast. Time is not on our side; that is why he is trying to string us along. The faster military action is taken, the better. We all know that it will be much harder for the allied forces in the summer season. We cannot keep them marching up and down the frontiers of Iraq, and there comes a time when enough is enough. That time is approaching fast. If effective action is taken, it is much less likely that the dictator who runs Korea will maintain his weapons programme, and other potential proliferators such as the Iranians and the Libyans will be deterred, too.

Unity of purpose is absolutely crucial, however. We learned that when facing down the dictators during the cold war. I find it so sad that the allies who brought succour to the beleaguered people of West Berlin in 1948—the United States, the United Kingdom and France—should not be wholly together and that France should be diverging its purposes today. I recall, too, as will many other hon. Members, the deployment by the Soviets of SS20 ballistic missiles. We faced down that crisis in the face of public opposition and opposition in some quarters of the House, especially in the Labour ranks. We did so, and there was unity of purpose in the alliance, not least on the part of the federal German Government, who were courageous then, but today seem frankly to be on the other side. That grieves me.

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It is also interesting to note that those with the firmness of purpose that we seek are those who have suffered most from dictatorship. It is not we western Europeans who are showing total resolution—this Government are, to their credit—but the central and eastern Europeans: the Poles, the Czechs, the Bulgarians and others. The Poles remember what happened to their people at the time of Solidarity when martial law was imposed by Jaruzelski. The Czechs remember the Soviet tanks rolling into Prague in '68. The Hungarians remember what happened to Imre Nagy in 1956. It is sad that the Liberal party has become so wayward today.

Saddam Hussein knows that those who are not against him are for him. It is therefore crucial for the future of our alliance and the security of our continent that the European members of the alliance as a whole should get behind the United States as we are, see that resolution 1441 is fully implemented—and fast—and that Saddam Hussein is seen down.

3.14 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): How extraordinary that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) should pray in aid of this war what happened in Britain in 1914. That war was one that neither side wanted to fight, but because they had both turned up for the show, they thought that they had to go through with it. Yes, my right hon. Friend is right: despite Keir Hardie, the first world war was fought and there are a lot of white crosses in France and the low countries to prove it—an anthem for doomed youth that killed the flower of European civilisation.

We were told here that this was not a resolution for war, and that it was the last push for peace. Well, listening to the consensus between the two Front Benches, it sounded awfully like war to me. I do not know what it did for the enemy, but it didn't half frighten me. It is entirely possible that the teenage scribblers who made that spin earlier this week on the Prime Minister's behalf that today's resolution was about peace, not war, have not read George Orwell's "1984". After all, the same teenage scribblers told us last week on the Prime Minister's behalf that this was going to be a six-day war, drawing on the illusion of the apparent triumph of the Israeli armies over the Arabs in 1967. They entirely missed the point that, on the day that the six-day war ended, the 35-year war began. That is precisely the point that the supporters of this amendment—which merely asks us to conclude that the case for war has not yet been proven—are making. However short and sharp this war is—I place on record that I do not believe that it will be either short or sharp—its consequences, its reverberations and its seismic impact will disfigure life in this country and around the world for as long as the Members here present are still with us.

This is a defining moment. For the first time in many years, Parliament has an opportunity truly to shape world events. I have spent the last months talking virtually daily to American broadcasters and journalists, and I can tell the House that if this Parliament sends the message tonight that the British people are not with this adventure, it will have a decisive impact on opinion in the United States of America. We are always told that it is too early to vote on war until it is too late. This is our last opportunity meaningfully to

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affect the course of these great events, and hon. Members are fooling themselves if they do not acknowledge that. We all know what the public want. Every Member knows what their constituents would like to read about them in the newspapers tomorrow. Every Member on the Labour Benches knows what the members of their constituency party would like to read about them tomorrow. Let me quote our leader:

Those words were spoken by our Prime Minister when that new dawn broke in 1997.

This debate is about one man, and it is not the man they want us to think it is about. This is about George W. Bush. [Interruption.] I know that they do not like to hear this. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, this is the most distasteful American Administration that he has seen in his long lifetime. This is an American presidency that people on the Labour Benches would not have been seen dead with. This is an Administration who made Texas the execution chamber of the world, who broke all the international treaties, who walked away from every international effort held dear by Labour Members. [Interruption.] They don't like it up 'em because they know that what I am saying is the truth. They are standing against Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, Thabo Mbeki and with George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. That is the bottom line.

This matter can be resolved by the man prayed in aid by the Foreign Secretary eight times in the course of his address—Dr. Hans Blix. The Foreign Secretary may not know it, but in the German press tomorrow, Dr. Blix will ask for exactly what our amendment this evening asks. It is no good pretending to be with the UN and Hans Blix and then slapping him in the face when he asks for more time to complete the job that he has already begun and which is bearing fruit.

There is no doubt that the United States Administration would like to go forward into this war. There is no doubt in Labour Members' minds and hearts, however much they protest, that that born-again, right-wing, Bible-belting, fundamentalist Republican Administration in the United States want war, but they cannot have their war without the support of Great Britain. The vast majority of people in Great Britain are against the war. We know that to be true: we are asking Parliament to reflect it. We have a great opportunity this evening and I hope that my hon. Friends will not throw it away.

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