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26 Feb 2003 : Column 313—continued

Dr. Julian Lewis: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No. Meanwhile, nothing will be done to strengthen the United Nations' ability to act as the United Nations. Nothing will be done to counter terrorism, to contain the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or—most important of all—to give the UN the power to undermine and remove tyrannous regimes, which is currently beyond its competence.

With all that in mind, I do not believe that there is a case for immediate military action on the scale envisaged. It will inevitably lead to the loss of life of, and permanent physical and mental injury to, British troops and innocent Iraqi people. That cannot be justified at this time, and certainly not without the explicit prior consent of the United Nations and this House of Commons. Even then, I, for one, would be doubtful of the consequences.

3.37 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I should make it clear at the outset that my hon. Friends and I will support the Government in the Division Lobby this evening. The Government have said that this motion is not a vote for war, but we are under no illusion about the fact that it is a further step along a route that might end in war. We do not support such a motion lightly, therefore, because we are well aware of the consequences that might flow from it. Indeed, all right hon. and hon. Members will be deeply conscious of the fact that thousands of servicemen are on their way to the Gulf, and we know what the consequences for them may be. I remark parenthetically that among those going to the Gulf are the two Irish regiments: the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards. Consequently, well in excess of 1,000 people from Northern Ireland—and, indeed, a not insignificant number from the Republic of Ireland—will shortly be deployed in the Gulf.

Time is pressing, and I want to make just a few short and simple points. We have no doubt about the nature of the regime in Iraq. I was amazed at the comment by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), who referred to Texas as the execution chamber of the world. Does he know nothing about Iraq? Does he know nothing about what has happened in Baghdad in the past 30 years? That was an appalling statement for him to make, and he needs to look at the regime that he has befriended a little more clearly.

We have no doubt about the threat, about the wars that have been started, or about the weapons of mass destruction that have been accumulated, and which continue to be there. There is also no doubt about what the United Nations requires. There are United Nations resolutions that require Saddam Hussein to disarm. There has certainly been a failure to comply. There was a material breach before 1441, and there is a material breach now.

What should we do? That is the question. It is only the credible threat of force that has achieved the little progress that there has been, and that has made Saddam

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Hussein permit the admission of inspectors. That comes after the failure of earlier UN resolutions. All the resolutions in the 1990s failed. The UN and the world community allowed themselves to be bluffed and manoeuvred out of Iraq. Against that background, 1441 had to be clear, and backed up by a credible threat of force. That credible threat has to be maintained.

The paradox is that, in order to obtain compliance with UN resolutions, there has to be the threat of force. Unless Saddam Hussein complies, it is inevitable that that force will have to be used. The time involved may be long or short, but hon. Members who have supported the UN and its resolutions, including 1441, must be aware that, as a consequence, they must support the credible use of force, right down to the point of its use. If they fail to do so, they will weaken the UN gravely.

The UN has been weakened badly enough by the failures of the 1990s. It has again set its hand to trying to carry through its will in this matter, and it must succeed. If not, enormous damage will be done to the possibility that the UN can be credible in the future, and that will have implications for world peace. The paradox is that those who want peace and a UN that succeeds in the world must therefore support the Government, right down to the use of force if that becomes necessary.

I appreciate that some people find that difficult to live with. Some of those who are reluctant to go down the route that I have described are well meaning, and others are engaged in wishful thinking. We have seen some evidence of that in the debate.

Other people are influenced by less noble motives. I have been distressed by the degree of anti-Americanism that has been expressed in the debate, and the personal hostility to the President. I consider that wholly misplaced. I have been appalled at some of the comments about President Bush, and at the false caricature of him that has been presented. I base that opinion not only on the fleeting personal acquaintance that I have had with him, but on what he has said and done over the past couple of years, which I have looked at closely.

The record is clear, especially in the period since 11 September. The US has moved slowly, deliberately and proportionately. That is the evidence of the past year and a half. I have listened to the caricatures of President Bush that have been presented, and I think that hon. Members should get away from the propaganda—coming from elements in the American Democrat party—that they have swallowed. They should look at things a little more clearly.

People have been concerned about what will happen in Iraq and the region if force has to be used. However, we must realise that the region is highly unstable. That is another of the lessons of 11 September: it brought home to us just how unstable the region is. We need to think about the causes of that instability, and about how we can resolve or do something to improve the situation there.

This is a complex issue, and I cannot go far into it in the couple of minutes remaining to me, but we need to ask ourselves what we can do about it. If there were no oil in the region, there would be a series of failed states there. The region has failed to deal with the challenge of modernisation.

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I emphasise that I am talking about the middle east region as a whole and the Arab states there, not about Islam. A distinction must be drawn between Islam and what is happening in the middle east in respect of a particular and virulent strand of that religion. That strand is a distortion of Islam.

We need to ask why modernisation has failed. Saddam grew out of the Ba'ath socialist party, although he is, in fact, a crude anti-Semitic nationalist. Why have such people obtained and retained power? How do we change that?

I am not just talking about regime change, but asking how we change the culture in the middle east and the orientation of those states because, until we do that, we will not achieve stability. Just talking about the problem in Israel and Palestine is not terribly helpful. That problem cannot be dealt with in isolation. It is part of the instability generally, and dealing with that instability generally will make it easier to deal with Israel and Palestine; but we cannot deal with that in isolation.

The issue this evening is whether we support the Government in what they are doing—whether we want the UN resolutions to be enforced. That is the challenge. The resolutions have got to be complied with or enforced—if not complied with, then enforced—and that has to be done as and when we can to maintain the threat, and it may have to be done soon.

3.45 pm

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh): Most people would agree that war can be justified only when all other options have been exhausted, and it is my view that we have not reached that point. There is still an alternative to war: the weapons inspection process, set in place by UN Security Council resolution 1441 last November.

Dr. Blix made the point—as did the Liberal Democrat spokesman earlier—that there have been eight years of inspections since 1991, followed by a four-year gap, and that there have now been inspections for just so many weeks. As Dr. Blix says, with characteristic understatement, to call it a day after just 13 weeks is a little short. It is indeed; I would go further and say that it is wrong.

During his statement to the House earlier this month on contingency preparations, I suggested to the Secretary of State for Defence that the threat to world security from Iraq is less while the weapons inspectors are in place. In many ways, my views have been strengthened by the reports of Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei.

In essence, as the House is aware, Dr. Blix is largely positive about what he calls Iraq's co-operation on process, but he has identified shortcomings in Iraq's co-operation on substance. In that respect, the tone of his report of 14 February was significantly more optimistic than that of 27 January. As Dr. Blix told Time magazine, if the reality changes, he has to register that to reflect the potential opportunity for progress that has opened up.

The truth is that the weapons inspections process has far from outlived its usefulness. Weapons inspections are still a viable alternative to military action, and the

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process should be pursued until either it is concluded successfully or it is clear that the inspections cannot usefully continue.

As an aside, I would make a point in response to the argument that inspections have taken place for 12 years. After all, it is legitimate to ask what has happened during those 12 years. Has Iraq attacked, or threatened to attack, its neighbours or the wider world? When we talk about those 12 years, we should not pretend that they were 12 years of total failure. From an international viewpoint, there was the effective containment of Saddam Hussein, and containment in those circumstances is not necessarily a bad policy.

I do not want the House to misunderstand me; it is clear that Saddam Hussein is brutal dictator. I am not advocating that the status quo should exist in perpetuity, and we must deal with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

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