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26 Feb 2003 : Column 348—continued

Mr. Wilkinson: Is my hon. Friend suggesting that we should go to war by opinion poll? That is really what his argument implies. How can he exclude the strong support that the President of the United States has for the action that he proposes?

Mr. Walter: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would never suggest that we should go to war by opinion poll. I do suggest, however, that the actions of the Government should have the consent of the people before they are enacted.

I want to move on to a more important point, which is that one quarter of the British Army has now been committed to the Gulf region for a war. They are the sons, daughters, husbands and wives of loyal, patriotic British people—parents and partners who have just pride in their loved ones who are going off to war. Like most Members of the House, I am too young to have known war, but, for the first time, I am one of those parents who will see one of their children enter the theatre of war. Along with tens of thousands of other British parents, I have seen a child of mine leave these shores to fight a war in a far-off land. My daughter is one of the small band of Army surgeons who are already in the Gulf for a war that now seems unstoppable.

It may be the nature of our modern democracy, but I, as the elected representative of 75,000 citizens, find it inconceivable that I will not have the chance to vote for or against this war. I am no pacifist, but I have spent my entire life believing in the politics of peace. I would love to see the removal of Saddam Hussein for the sake of the Iraqi people, but I would also like to see a host of other regimes disappear—in Burma, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, to name just a few. In justifying this form of pre-emptive action, parallels are being drawn with Nazi Germany. They are spurious. I will support an attack on Iraq if Saddam Hussein is shown to possess offensive weapons of mass destruction that pose a threat to the civilised world. Such support will not be given lightly, and must be bolstered by an affirmative resolution both at the United Nations and in the House of Commons.

I have signed and will support the amendment tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). It sends a clear message to the Government that we are not yet convinced that the time has come to commit the lives of British troops, or to wreak death on the innocent people of Iraq in pursuit of their leader. I hesitate to say that, however, having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), which was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink).

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The hon. Lady's speech was eloquent and detailed in its account of the torture, abuse and murder conducted by the regime. I have so far been unconvinced by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, George Bush or others on the Government Front Bench—[Laughter.] However, if the hon. Lady had been on the Front Bench for the last six months, I might not be supporting the amendment this evening. I am also not convinced that the time has come to risk political turmoil in the Arab world, or to risk reprisals here at home from fundamentalist terrorists of whatever hue. Whatever the mandate of our troops in the field, if the decision is taken to go to war, every one of those British service men and women will deserve our full and unequivocal support.

6.4 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): After five hours of debate, it is difficult to make a point that has not already been raised. Nevertheless, that gives one the opportunity to reflect on the debate, and it is in that spirit that I say that I had intended to declare my support for the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), and nothing I have heard in the debate has persuaded me that I should change my mind.

My right hon. Friend made the fundamental point that he sought to persuade the House that the case for military action is, as yet, unproven. I believe that to be the case. However—and other hon. Members who will support the amendment tonight may disagree—I cannot pretend that I have not been impressed by my colleagues on the Front Bench, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Some hon. Members have gone over the top in their criticisms of the role that my right hon. Friends have played.

I am not regarded as a critic of the United States, and I do not take the view that our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have simply responded to everything that the United States has said. Indeed, whatever criticisms I might have, I believe that when the history of this period is written, it may well record that—far from the picture painted by, I am sorry to say, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), for example—our Prime Minister had a great influence towards caution and stability on the part of the United States. Without him, Bush would not have gone to the United Nations at all.

That said, we are entitled to consider the consequences of a unilateral declaration of war. In common with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), I take the view that some in the US Administration had already determined their position some time ago. I regret that whatever the arguments and the force of public opinion—and whatever the views expressed in this House—some in Washington seem determined to take unilateral action, and that could be very costly indeed.

Already we see problems in international organisations that I firmly support. I regret the unease in NATO, the disagreements within the European Union and, above all, the questions of credibility that have been placed at the door of the United Nations. I am sorry that, even during this debate, several hon. Members have said that if we do not respond to unilateral action, we will be following the route of the

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League of Nations. That organisation was destroyed because people failed to give it the kind of support that the United Nations is entitled to expect, not least from this House today.

On some of my visits abroad, I have seen evidence of the carnage that hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned in their speeches. I have visited Kurdistan on two occasions. I do not necessarily reach the same conclusions as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), and my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) tells me that he intends to support the amendment. When I visited Iran in the late 1980s, I saw the evidence of people suffering from the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein. But in view of that, is it not all the more necessary that we should confirm the importance of the United Nations and its agencies in seeking a response to these problems?

More recently I visited Rwanda with some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). We saw there the aftermath of sheer genocide, a million people dying out of a population of 9 million, and we saw people now trying to deal with what took place.

I do not want to weaken the United Nations' influence in circumstances like that. I want to strengthen it, but I do not believe that it would be strengthened by unilateral action. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury should give the lead tonight by inviting the House to express that view.

I am concerned about humanitarian considerations. That is why I am very keen to hear what Dr. Hans Blix eventually has to say. I do not believe that we should rush to judgment, nor do I believe that the British people feel that we should do so. If those of us who supported the Government's actions on Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds, and who supported the Government's actions on Kosovo on humanitarian grounds, take the view that there are grave concerns about the humanitarian consequences of war with Iraq, that seems to me entirely logical, a position shared by virtually all the aid agencies and non-governmental organisations, including CAFOD, and one to be taken seriously.

We want to avoid refugees. We want to avoid carnage. We want, if we can, to avoid war. That may not be possible, but I believe that it is right and that it strengthens the role of those who desperately search for peace to support my right hon. Friend's amendment, in the hope that we are addressing the concerns, not just of our own people, but of an increasingly disenchanted world.

6.12 pm

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): On 15 February some 1,000 of my constituents took to the streets to protest against the possibility of this country going to war in Iraq. To hon. Members who perhaps represent more compact areas, with perhaps more of a tradition of militant demonstration, that may not sound like much, but I am told that the 700 people who marched through the streets of Lerwick provided a sight that had never been seen before in the northern isles.

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Those demonstrating ranged from the 700 marching in Lerwick, through people demonstrating on the steps of St. Magnus cathedral in Kirkwall, to a dozen or so parents and children demonstrating in the very small island of North Ronaldsay. The people who took to the streets to demonstrate were not wild-eyed extremists. Most of them were first-time protesters. Some were pacifists, but many were not. For the large part, they were teachers, crofters, fishermen, housewives, children—a whole range of people in the isles who wanted to make their view known. That view was that the case had not been made for war.

The reason I bring this up at this stage is that I think that the advent of these mass demonstrations—400,000 last year supporting the Countryside Alliance, 1 million against war in Iraq—is part of an ongoing process of disengagement from the party political process which we are part of here, as people find another way to express their views—views which they hope may influence the course of events.

The Government cannot be allowed to ignore the fact that they have not persuaded the public of the case for war. They must understand that the consequence of entering a war supported by the British Government but not by the British people will be to see an acceleration of that process of disengagement between people and politics. It would be a grotesque irony if we went to war in order to bring democracy to Iraq and in so doing dealt a fatal blow to the democratic institutions of our own country.

Much has been said during the debate about the despotism and loathsome record of Saddam Hussein. I was immensely impressed by the contribution of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), in particular. I, too, recall a friend from university days. He was an Iraqi student studying at Glasgow university, and he wept bitter tears as he told me in 1983 of the terrible things that Saddam Hussein was doing to his people, and of how desperate he was to make those in the west aware of the situation. However, nothing happened, because it suited this country and its foreign policy for nothing to happen. Then, we were quite happy for Saddam Hussein to be engaged in a war with Iran. Against that background, I am unable to say that I would never countenance going to war against Iraq; however, I cannot say that I am prepared for such action to be taken at the moment. The implications of war in Iraq will reach far beyond the boundaries of that country. Every bomb that is dropped on Iraq will be like a stone dropped into water: it will create ripples that spread far and wide.

In his speech today, the Foreign Secretary spoke at some length about 12 years of UN resolutions on Iraq. He also said a little about the double standards applied by the international community to the situation in Israel and Palestine, but he did not say much about UN resolutions there. I remind the House that it is 36 years since the first such resolution—242, which called on Israel to relinquish control of territories occupied in the

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war of 1967—was passed. Last year, five Security Council resolutions were passed relating to Israel and Palestine: 1397, 1402, 1403, 1405 and 1435. Resolution 1397

Yet as recently as last Sunday, six Palestinians were killed and 20 were injured during an Israeli raid in Gaza.

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