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26 Feb 2003 : Column 309—continued

3.22 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): There comes a time in one's life when one finds oneself in peculiar company. The feeling is probably mutual, and others will be as embarrassed as I, but that should lead people to listen carefully to the group that has come together to point out something that should be self-evident—that the case for military action against Iraq is yet unproven. First, it is unproven to the British people. They are not convinced, and my right hon. Friend the Member for

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Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has been assiduous in pressing the Prime Minister to convince the British people. He has failed so far to do so.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I really will not. Secondly, the wider world has not been convinced. Of course, we could be right to go to war even if neither of those groups were convinced, except that there has to be life after war. That is the problem. If we go to war in circumstances in which neither our own people nor the wider world are convinced, we will not be seen for what we believe ourselves to be, which is merely the handmaid of the United Nations and the enforcer of peace in circumstances in which there was no alternative.

The alternative is the issue. There can be no just war unless it is the only possibility. That is the number one explanation of the basis on which a nation may go to war. It defends itself because it can do nothing else. It goes to the aid of someone else because that person is being attacked. However, it must have an absolute assurance that it could not do anything else. That is why it is right to suggest that the case for military action against Iraq is as yet unproven.

Hans Blix believes that he can make great gains if he is given time. Of course, he cannot have a veto on the matter. I do not support those who suggest that he can go on asking for more time for as long as he likes. However, it is not unreasonable when a man has had 11 weeks in this stage of the process to give him some more time. People argue that Saddam Hussein has had enough time, but I am not asking for time for him: I am asking for time for Hans Blix, which is rather different.

We are now in a situation in which the western world—to some extent, the whole world—has devoted large resources to press, to squeeze and to demand of Saddam Hussein. We have not yet gone as far as we could, short of war. Much of what is being done could be enlarged, short of war, inexorably to press Saddam Hussein so that he knows that it is not the preamble to a gradual reduction of pressure, but the slow and certain steps that will lead in the end to war.

Jim Knight: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I will not. The issue for us is whether we should, at this moment, lose sight of the important and necessary precondition for a just war by taking action before it is utterly clear to the world that it is the only possible route.

I turn now to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. There is no Member of Parliament who does not know that this war is war by timetable, and the timetable was laid down before the United States had any intention of going to the United Nations. I speak as one who has been a supporter of strong military action. After all, I supported the Cruise and Pershing missiles, and other strong nuclear weapons, when the Prime Minister was a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I do not, therefore, accept any suggestion that I am being weak in these circumstances. The truth is that it must be seen by the world that when, or if, we invade Saddam Hussein's Iraq, we do so not because of some prearranged

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timetable, connected with ulterior motives, but because we and the world are convinced that there is no alternative. That is the message that should be given to those who argue the case from moral grounds.

I would have a great deal of sympathy for the Prime Minister if he said, "I am a politician. I do not listen to clergymen and others on political issues. I am the politician, and I can therefore make those decisions." It is a serious matter that almost without exception those for whom morality is at the centre of their vocation do not believe that the conditions for the just war are yet fulfilled. I would hope that a Prime Minister who believes in the moral case would at least hesitate in his timing when he finds himself opposed by those who are not themselves against war, but who know better what the conditions of the just war are. Those conditions are not yet fulfilled.

One of the problems that beset us is the fact that some people mistake impatience for necessity. Of course we are impatient to get rid of this horrific man, to destroy this regime which has destroyed so many others, to rid the world of a despicable dictator. But we do ourselves wrong if we do not choose the moment when the case for war has been made to those who afterwards must make us able to make the peace.

3.29 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I speak as someone who supported military action by our Labour Government in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and before that supported military action in the Gulf war to expel Iraq from Kuwait. My only criticism is that the Americans and British at that time did not finish the job, because my understanding is that regime change then would have been permissible under international law.

I have to say however that, sadly, I am simply not convinced that all-out military action in Iraq can be justified at this time and on the scale envisaged. I do not doubt for a minute the sincerity and morality of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, or those who support them. I share their concerns about weapons of mass destruction, about the vile and murderous Iraqi regime, about terrorism and about the need to uphold the United Nations. And I recognise, as we all must, that every alternative course of action before the House today is likely to result in protracted misery and a large number of deaths for the people of Iraq. The Government argue that these concerns justify virtually immediate military action, and that they would be resolved by that military action. I find those claims less and less convincing.

In relation to weapons of mass destruction, I do not believe that the Government have made a case that the existing policy of containment, backed up by increased coercion and inspection, is bound to fail.

I do not believe that the Government have made the case that, after 12 years of not protecting the Iraqi people from their vile and oppressive regime, it is now a moral imperative that we do it within the next few weeks. In any case, we are saying that regime change is not one of our objectives.

I do not believe that we have made the case that there is any connection between the current Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda.

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In relation to upholding the authority and reputation of the United Nations, I ask whether anything could undermine the authority of the United Nations more than the United States announcing in advance that unless the United Nations agrees with its policy the United States will ignore the United Nations. The United States cannot claim to be the sheriff executing a warrant that its court has not granted it.

Even less convincing are the claims of the United States about the enforcement of international obligations, when we consider its failure to implement Kyoto, join the International Criminal Court or obey the World Trade Organisation. It is tending to behave rather like a maverick state. A small maverick state is a bit of a nuisance. It is a real problem for the rest of the world if the only remaining super-power turns maverick. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was wise and sensible to recognise the danger of that prospect and to try to reduce it by reining in the activities of the United States and getting it to go along the United Nations route. He deserves great credit for what he has achieved. But there is a danger of following the example of the Israeli Labour party, which joined the Sharon coalition to restrain him and ended up by getting nothing but the blame at the end of the process.

It may be that the United States is strong enough to shrug off any consequences of the actions it intends to take. Britain may not be in as strong a position.

If there is a war, it is likely to be quick. It may not be, but it is likely to be. Even if there is a quick win, what will the result be? I am sure that the Iraqi people—those who survive—will welcome the overthrow of the current regime, but we have no answers to the question of how Iraq will be governed, who will govern it and whether the internal struggles that might result will spill over into neighbouring states in a way that might be a threat to international peace and security. I am sure that the ruling elites in the neighbouring states will welcome the overthrow of Saddam, but what of their peoples? They will see double standards: action to uphold UN resolutions on Iraq, but no action to uphold UN resolutions on Israel and Palestine. Many will regard that as anti-Islam. From my personal knowledge of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, I know that there is not one jot of truth in that view in terms of British Government policy; however, I cannot necessarily say the same for the United States.

People in the middle east recognise that the current Administration in the United States are in power partly because of the support of Christian fundamentalists, some of whom publicly believe that the borders of Israel should be extended to take in all the land of the Palestinians. That leaves millions of Muslims angry, and moderate Muslims in despair, because they feel let down by nation states and the United Nations. As we know, an additional minority will resort to terrorism. Military action against Iraq will be a principal recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and al-Qaeda will be delighted if the United States and Britain go to war.

There are also wider consequences: the threat to the fragile world economy, and a boost to the right-wing United States unilateralists, who think that the new

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world order should consist of them issuing the orders. The rest of the world will, in future, be waiting nervously to see who will be the next target for such treatment.

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