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26 Feb 2003 : Column 344—continued

Mr. Salmond: The hon. Gentleman's personal experience of Kurdistan is very telling, but he will have observed that the amendment is supported by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), who accompanied him on his visit.

Bob Spink: The hon. Member for Falkirk, East will speak for himself, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when he accompanied me to Iraq he opposed the Prime Minister's action while I was in favour of it, and that he seemed to change his mind on the basis of what he encountered during the visit.

Along with many others, those at the Freedom hospital provided evidence that the UN resolution 986 oil for food money had not been flowing through properly. We met Prime Minister Nechirwan Barzani, and sent a plea for help from him to our Prime Minister in the form of a videotape. We delivered it to the Prime Minister yesterday. We spoke at the Parliament, and listened carefully to messages from the democratically elected representatives of the Iraqi Kurds. I have now delivered most of those messages.

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It was clear to us that the people of Iraqi Kurdistan are battle-hardened and battle-ready. They want to remove Saddam's evil dictatorship, which has slaughtered so many of them; but they need to be reassured that if a conflict is initiated they will be given protection, because at present they feel rather like sitting ducks. They suspect that Saddam will try to throw chemical weapons at them as soon as he knows that war is inevitable, and they want us to do the job properly this time.

As is the case with many other Members, this is the most difficult issue with which I have had to deal during my time as a parliamentarian, but the bottom line as regards morality is absolutely clear to me. If taking action would save more lives than doing nothing—as the Iraqi Kurds themselves believe—we must have the moral courage to take action.

5.47 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The most impressive speech I have heard so far was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), although my conclusions are very different from hers. She spoke very movingly about the real issues, and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) spoke in similar vein.

We must be clear about what is being proposed by both the Americans and the British through United Nations action. It is not regime change; it is the removal of weapons of mass destruction. There is a world of difference. This is not simply a narrow legal point: it is a very important technical and moral point, and it ultimately concerns where we will leave the world at the end of it all. If we are to talk of the need for regime change, we must bear in mind that there are many regimes in the world that we shall have to ask the United States and our own Government to investigate. Sadly, cruelty and barbarity are not the preserve of the odious Iraqi regime.

Let me explain why my conclusions are different from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley. We know that during the last Gulf war some 100,000 people died as a direct or indirect consequence of military action. I believe that any military intervention driving all the way to Baghdad will cost more lives, both directly and indirectly. The aid agencies—the non-governmental organisations—are extremely concerned about the fragility of the infrastructure, which suggests that the death toll post-conflict, even with a military structure designed to bring in humanitarian aid, will be far higher than the death toll in Afghanistan, for instance, or the death toll in the aftermath of the last Gulf war. There is therefore a moral case for dealing with Saddam's brutality against his own people, and it cannot be wiped out by saying that going to war is the easy and obvious solution.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): Does my hon. Friend agree that in recent regime changes, such as those in Chile and Nicaragua, bad regimes have been replaced with worse regimes?

Mr. Lloyd: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that those who advocate regime change examine the consequences.

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Exactly what is the evidence for the threat that Iraq now poses to the rest of the world? Not many years ago, the Foreign Office and Downing street, now briefing on the need for action, were briefing Ministers—I do not think that I am breaching the Official Secrets Act—on the success of weapons inspections and our ability through containment and deterrence to maintain downward pressure on Saddam and Baghdad. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is currently on the Front Bench, is not going to respond to the debate, but perhaps she will pass on my concerns. We need to know when and why that advice changed, as that is fundamental to the reasons why we are threatening to go to war against Iraq. Frankly, there is no evidence for urgent action to prevent the proliferation of terrorist groups. Proliferation is less likely to occur in Iraq than in Russia, where the security of nuclear supplies is grossly inadequate. Our own Government and other Governments—the Americans are an honourable exception—have done almost nothing about the security of Russian nuclear supplies.

If we are serious about non-proliferation, let us start with Russia, and provide it with assistance. Or we could look at North Korea, which has been a proliferator and has a programme to create weapons of mass destruction and the technology to deliver them. The United States rightly drew the conclusion that military action would be the wrong way to resolve the situation in North Korea. It is important that we learn those lessons, as the House has got to know why we are taking one route in respect of North Korea and another in respect of Iraq. Some of my hon. Friends mocked when one of our colleagues talked about that the probability that military action would make the world more unstable and terrorism more likely. However, I well remember, even if they do not, that during the invasion of Kuwait pictures of Saddam were held up by dispossessed Palestinians. I condemn their actions, but we would be foolish and naive not to realise that any invasion of Iraq will act as a recruiting ground for global terrorism. We ignore that at our peril.

At the moment, military action would be inhuman and cannot be justified as the moral war that a number of Members, particularly Opposition Members, have discussed. It would make the world less stable for our own citizens and other people. We must therefore examine very carefully the lurch to war. Can inspection and containment work? In the early 1990s, weapons inspections were successful, and resulted in the destruction of weapons. It is important that we give the inspectors the opportunity to carry out the work that we have asked them to undertake, and that we do not curtail it artificially. If we do so, the suspicion of people around the world that this war was pre-ordained, perhaps even pre-ordered, will be confirmed, and it will be impossible to convince the Arab world and people throughout the world that there was ever any intention to resolve the issue by anything other than military action.

This country has far too much to lose to be bounced into a war at the request of another nation, even at the request of such a strong and good ally as the United States. I strongly urge our Government and the world community to maintain the pressure on Saddam, to maintain the threat of military action, and to maintain

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the inspection regime. However, a lurch to war would be at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and potentially of many of our own citizens, and of a world that would be massively less stable in the future.

Mr. Galloway: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I am second to none in my admiration for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, is it not extraordinary that no Minister from either the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on the Front Bench to listen to this truncated debate, in order properly to reply when they sum up?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The hon. Gentleman has expressed his feeling, but he knows that the occupant of the Chair is not responsible for who is present in the Chamber and who would answer a debate.

5.56 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): That was an excellent point of order. I hope that somebody is scurrying along the Corridors to find a Minister.

Whatever is said in the debate, one thing is clear in my mind: if the time comes for British troops to go into action, they must have our full and unequivocal support. The debate today is about whether that time has come. It is not, as a number of hon. Members have said, about the integrity of the President of the United States of America. It is about the integrity of British foreign policy.

The commitment of British lives to the defence of our nation and to the halting of blatant atrocities is in our history. The campaign in Afghanistan to seek out al-Qaeda, its leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime that nurtured them, was a justified cause. But there is unfinished business in that country still. We have liberated the poppy farmers and the drug smugglers who now supply 90 per cent. of the heroin on our streets.

This debate is about Iraq. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator with scant regard for human rights. There is no doubt that in the past he has used chemical weapons against his own people. We know from the run-up to the last Gulf war that he sought an albeit crude delivery mechanism for his weapons. It is clear that, along with at least 10 other dubious regimes in the world, he would like to possess nuclear weapons.

Despite the Prime Minister's claims of "linkage", there is no evidence that Saddam has assisted al-Qaeda. There are Governments with whom we have good relations who have given much greater comfort to those evil terrorists. We await the evidence of the weapons inspectors that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. If he possesses them, the evidence is clear that the range of any of his delivery mechanisms would be a threat to his near neighbours, most of whom seem totally unconvinced of the need for the war at the present time.

Opinion polls seem to suggest that the British people are unconvinced of the need for war. The letters, e-mails and lobbying from my constituents show me that there is severe disquiet in Dorset, as elsewhere, about this

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venture. In 1939 the case for war was clear and the people were in support. Hitler was an evil expansionist dictator who had to be restrained and defeated. In 1982 the decision to remove Argentine troops by force from the Falklands had the support of the British people. In 1990 the invasion of Kuwait was a clear act of aggression that had to be rectified by the use of force, and the British people agreed. There is, at this time, no clear act of aggression, and no invasion of another nation's territory. The British people—in fact, the peoples of the democratic, civilised world—remain unconvinced that we cannot rectify breaches of UN resolutions by peaceful means.

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