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26 Feb 2003 : Column 352—continued

Mrs. Ellman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Carmichael: I am sorry, but I do not have the time. The Government will have to explain why we are prepared to value some UN resolutions so much more highly than others. I am sad to say that the Foreign Secretary's words this afternoon had a rather hollow ring, and I am afraid that they will be greeted with anger and disbelief throughout the Arab world.

I want to say a few brief words about the United Nations. The UN is essential in order to put some moral legitimacy behind this issue, but such legitimacy is diminished every time that the US takes a bullying or bribing step. I want our Government to do much more when the US makes statements such as George Bush's reference to the UN's "so-called" weapons inspectors. Why does our Prime Minister not contradict him and stand up for the UN when he says such things? I also fail to see how a Government who purport to be committed to the UN as a means of resolving this issue can countenance introducing a resolution while Dr. Blix is still asking for more time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) said, the implication is that the United Kingdom and the United States want to go to war before Dr. Blix has done his job.

If the Government are going to persuade me at all, the spinning has got to stop—there can be no more dodgy dossiers. The stakes are exceptionally high, and if we are to put the lives of our troops at risk, we must do better. The troops deserve better, the public deserve better and this House deserves better, and until we get it the Government will not have my support.

6.19 pm

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Nothing can weigh more heavily on a democratically elected politician than the decision to go to war. That is why, when I was called into the Whips' Office and asked if I would vote with the Government to take military action if Iraq failed to disarm, I said no. I said that I could not vote with the Government. My reasoning was that Iraq had not had enough time to comply with the UN and that, if Saddam Hussein were given further time, he might disarm.

That conversation took place on 17 February 1998—exactly five years ago. Was I right? Obviously not. What happened in the intervening five years? Saddam Hussein rebuilt his chemical processors. He constructed a missile test stand, as we have heard, to test weapons with four times the power of the al-Samoud missiles. He imported hundreds of missile engines, as Hans Blix confirmed in his report to the UN last month. He tried to buy enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. He continued his policies of repression, which, according to conservative estimates, have caused the deaths of

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100,000 civilians, most of them Muslim. He has continued to flout the authority of the UN, and has made a mockery of international law.

In 1991, UN resolution 687 gave Saddam Hussein 15 days to disarm—a fortnight. Twelve years on, no one can deny that the only shred of progress that has been made is the result of the immediate and credible threat of force. Do we therefore give Saddam Hussein more time? Five years after pleading for that course of action, I recognise its futility.

The UN inspectors should be supported in their mission, but it is clear that Saddam Hussein is not co-operating. He continues to play games, declaring this week that he would never destroy his al-Samoud missiles so that he can do just that next week or the week after and thereby claim compliance. However, the games that Saddam Hussein is playing are not really the issue. Everyone agrees that he has not co-operated fully; what we disagree about is the international community's response.

There are five main reasons why people oppose military action to disarm Saddam Hussein. First, on balance, they believe that loss of life will be greater if there is military action than if we stay with the status quo. Other hon. Members have outlined eloquently the bloody cost of the status quo. Suffice it to say that inaction can sometimes cause as much loss of life as action. Secondly, people think that Saddam Hussein should be given more time. Five years ago, I agreed with that, but now I do not. Thirdly, people want a second UN resolution—so do I. Fourthly, people think that the Government are pursuing, and pushing for, action against Iraq only because of what George W. Bush wants. I shall return to that point.Fifthly, people think that regime change is not an acceptable objective. They are right, but I want regime change—in Washington.

People have spoken about anti-Americanism. They wonder why some people are sickened by George W. Bush. I shall explain why I am sickened by him. His double standards sicken me. The fact that he surrounds himself with religious fundamentalists sickens me. The fact that he is in the pocket of the oil industry sickens me. Above all, the fact that he bankrolls Ariel Sharon to continue the slaughter of Palestinians sickens me.

Israel can flout all the UN resolutions in the world, invade its neighbours' territories, develop weapons of mass destruction, and it does not even get a ticking off from George W. Bush. However, the question is not the extent to which George W. Bush is reprehensible; it is whether he is responsible for British Government policy.

I was going to say that the problem I have with that theory is that George W. Bush was not elected when the Government first tabled a resolution on this subject, but he was never elected. So I shall rephrase it and say that George W. Bush was not President when this Government first tabled a resolution that was very similar to the one considered today. George W. Bush was not President when Britain was at the forefront of efforts in the UN to disarm Saddam Hussein.

The present Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), was Foreign Secretary when the debate was held on 17 February 1998. He said that

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We were taking the lead when George W. Bush was still playing with his oil wells, so the question is this: if we decide on a course of action, does that course of action become invalid because someone who sickens us agrees with us?

On a lighter note, I had to ask myself the same question during the debate on hunting, when the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) gave an impassioned speech to ban hunting. I almost became pro-hunting, but not quite. The point is that, on a question of conscience, all Members must vote on the basis on what they believe to be right, not on what anyone else believes to be right. That is what I and most other hon. Members will do. I agree with the text that we shall vote on today:

That is what I believe in; that is what I will vote for.

Turning to related concerns—Afghanistan—Britain is working flat out to shore up that tortured country. Where are the Americans? Why have they not upheld their promise not to walk away from the people of Afghanistan? Is it because there is no oil in that country? What of post-war Iraq? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government favour a UN Administration, not an American oligarchy? What of the middle east? The Government must make further progress on the middle east.

Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that Britain will look at securing a UN resolution, forcing Israel back to its 1967 borders and, in the long term, securing a viable Palestinian state? Will he further assure me that if such a resolution faced an unreasonable veto by a Security Council member—for example, America—Britain would still take action outside the UN, if necessary, to secure justice for Palestinians?

Finally, I want to mention the extremely difficult situation facing Muslims in this country and in my constituency. Ever since the events of 11 September, Muslims have been under suspicion purely on account of their faith. Most Muslims and, indeed, most Asians have reported increased antagonism. That is because the war on terror means something different to everyone. It is spreading its tentacles in a confused and insidious manner. It has become a war on asylum seekers, refugees and, by extension, various ethnic minorities. At its most extreme and stupid, it has become a war on men with beards. It is disgraceful that it is being allowed to drift in that way, and I know that several Members agree.

Let us be clear what this should be about: it is about disarming rogue states with weapons of mass destruction and preventing a future scenario—not a past one—where terrorist networks get hold of weapons of mass destruction, such as anthrax and VX nerve gas, from a rogue states such as Iraq, and deploy them in another country such as Britain.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady has had her time.

6.27 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am delighted to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, even at the tail end of the debate.

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Judging from the 200-odd letters that I have received in my constituency, it is clear that the British people do not believe that a case for war has yet been made. I appeal to the Government to expand on this matter in the media, so that my constituents and others can be convinced of that cause.

UN resolution 1441 must be upheld in one way or another, although the UN's credibility would be hugely strengthened if a further resolution could be obtained, even if it is passed by just a majority of the members of the Security Council, not unanimously. It is clear that Saddam Hussein is one of the biggest tyrants that the world has ever seen, and that he is continuing to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction. As recently as last March, he tried to acquire rocket motors to have rockets with a far greater launch capability.

It is also clear that, in the 12 years since the Gulf war, some 360,000 children have been killed in Iraq as a result of Saddam Hussein's activities. That man has to be stopped; his weapons of mass destruction have to be removed one way or another, and he has to be convinced that the UN and world consortium is tightening the ratchet around him and that he will not be allowed to get away with it.

In the minute that I have left, I should like to talk about the aftermath of the war. If the case of the British Government is that we are relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people, we must surely also strenuously ensure that, in the aftermath of war, the humanitarian and oil-for-food aid is quickly disseminated among the Iraqi people, so that their long-held suffering can be ended as soon as possible.

The stability of the middle east will be of paramount importance after the war, particularly given its neighbour, Iran, which has a large air force and a navy. It is essential that a strongly based interim Government are put in place quickly after the war.

Finally, it is essential that the UN resolutions on the Israel-Palestine situation are rigorously enforced and upheld; otherwise, the base for terrorism in Palestine from Hamas and other extremist Islamic organisations will remain, and there will still be a launch pad for terrorism from that part of the world.

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