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26 Feb 2003 : Column 355—continued

6.30 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Today's debate has been important for the House of Commons. It has been a tribute to the skills, knowledge and passions contained in the House.

In the last few hours, nearly 40 Members have spoken. I think that all of us are decent people wrestling with a profound dilemma that will shape the world for decades. As I scour the names added to the amendment of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), I assure him and all those who have signed it that I do so with complete respect, and that is not just because he is my pair—not yet invoked, given the current parliamentary imbalance. He and his co-signatories have an honest and cogent position, which nobody has the right to deride.

In summing up this debate, I hope that, in return, the House will accept that I in no way represent the slightly nasty caricature used to label us by the hon. Member for

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Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson), which was uncharacteristic on his part: keen-to-bomb Tories. That is far from our position. I have lived and breathed the events of the middle east for nearly 20 years. I have tried to learn its history and to travel to all corners of the middle east. I have met many of its rulers and its people and have explored its culture and society.

Let me therefore try to address the arguments that have been put primarily by those who support the amendment, which was signed by well over 100 people today. Let me say at the outset that the core argument of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury was that if the amendment were rejected, that would be seen as signifying war. As in so much of what we are discussing, however, an equal and opposite argument exists. The obverse of what he says is that, if the amendment were accepted, that could be seen as signifying a weakening of resolve.

I shall approach the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters in three areas, which I hope will sum up the whole of tonight's debate. In viewing the prospect of war, we must examine and assess the reasons for it, the authority for it and its repercussions. The reasons have been discussed in depth. Many believe that the prospect of war and the reasons for it are unproven, that it is unnecessary, and that we should leave Saddam Hussein be. I used to believe that containment would suffice. I thought for a long time that Saddam Hussein was a bit like Marshall Tito in Yugoslavia—a bad but not necessarily mad man who confined his nastiness to his own country, and who should therefore be tolerated, even though it was distasteful to do so. I have come to believe, however, that Saddam's possession of biological and chemical weapons in particular pose a genuine and serious risk, to the point at which a single glass of anthrax left on the London tube could kill all the people who went on the march in London last Saturday. If a capability of that sort were ever to get into the wrong hands, it would unleash danger in the world the like of which we have never been called on to contend with previously.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) rose—

Mr. Duncan: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

We must appreciate that we are in new territory. It is difficult to carry public opinion when the threat is intangible and when we do not see a conventional reason for war or conflict—as we did in the Falklands or Kuwait, when tanks or planes had gone into another country. We have to assess whether the risk of doing nothing is, as we believe it to be, greater than the risk of doing something.

We are in a whole new realm of moral calculation, the like of which we have not had to face before. We may be required to act without those conventionally accepted reasons for doing so. On the Conservative Benches, we admit that the Government, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister—and all who sit on Labour Benches and, indeed, on our Benches—are in a very difficult position. If the Government are to fulfil their duty as the guardian of their own and other people's security, they will, instead of being popular by following, have to risk being unpopular by leading.

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Let me turn to the second element that has dominated today's debate, which is the question of the authority that may lie—and, in our view, does lie—behind any decision that has now to be taken. In addressing this vexed moral calculation, the world—and almost everyone in this House—has vested that authority in the United Nations. As has been rehearsed here today, the United Nations has produced a series of resolutions over many years. In arriving at resolution 1441, we are at the 17th or 18th resolution. We have vested authority in the United Nations, and resolution 1441 calls for Saddam Hussein to disarm immediately or face serious consequences.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that signatories to the amendment must be prepared to answer this question: what trigger would justify military action? They have signally failed to do that this afternoon.

Mr. Duncan: That is a question that they have to ask but on which the United Nations, in which we have vested authority, must adjudicate.

Some hon. Members have said that we must give the inspectors more time; but they have turned on its head the requirement of resolution 1441. The resolution does not say that the inspectors have to go and find the proverbial needle in a haystack. The inspectors are there to have laid before them all the armaments that Saddam Hussein possesses so that they can then destroy them. By inverting the onus of obligation, as some contributors have done, they have perverted the basis of the authority of UN resolution 1441.

Mr. Salmond rose—

Mr. Duncan: Again, the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

I say to those contributors that there is yet a chance for peace. Saddam Hussein is the one man in the world who can yet guarantee that there is no conflict.

Let me canter through the rest of my points about authority. We would like to see a second resolution. It is a political requirement and we would like to see it if we can. We do not believe that it is legally necessary but—if, in this new moral calculation, we are to draw people in a democracy behind the action that may be taken—it is essential to achieve that second resolution. I wish the Foreign Secretary and his counterparts well in trying to secure it. I hope too that the Arab League may yet continue in its efforts to persuade Saddam Hussein to leave Baghdad so that we can be spared conflict.

To all those who have signed today's amendment, I say this forcibly: if we are to go down the UN route, it is important to stick with the UN route. I would argue that people in the European Union or NATO—or even in this House—do not have the authority to second-guess or dilute resolutions that the United Nations has already passed.

Forty Members have spoken in this debate and, although it will be invidious to single anybody out, I will. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) argued for time. He was perplexed about Hans Blix and asked about attitude. That was a Blix word. Hans Blix has said that the

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attitude of Saddam Hussein matters much more than time, although the resolution uses the word "immediate". The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) gave a powerful synopsis and summary of the dangers that face the broader region. Once again, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who was heard in absolute silence, made an emotional appeal that no one can have failed to have been moved by.

However, I cannot have any respect for the position that the Liberal Democrats have taken today. One day the leader of the Liberal Democrats is a UN supporter and then he says that it does not have any power. One day he says that Saddam is a threat and then he says that there is no proof. He is anti-war, pro-war, multilateral and unilateral. He is friend of America and then he does not really like America. He is pro-sanctions and against sanctions. He says that we should listen to the inspectors and then give Saddam more time. Then he is pro a second resolution.

Mr. Paul Marsden rose—

Mr. Duncan: The leader of the Liberal Democrats is rather like the hon. Gentleman. He is premature. Does the hon. Gentleman stand by the words uttered by those on his Front Bench that, when the leader of the Liberal Democrats went to the march in London that Saturday, he never said no to war?

Mr. Marsden: I am proud of my leader. At the very time that the Government are heading into war, why cannot the Tory party even table any kind of amendment? It is an utter irrelevance to the whole debate.

Mr. Duncan: The secondary socialist has moved to a true left-wing party, but I say to the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) and to his leader, who deny that he never said no to war, that I made a grave error on that day. I came out of Green Park tube and found myself in the middle of the demonstration. While beating a hasty retreat, I fell upon a discarded poster. It says, "Lib Dems Say No". [Interruption.]

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I think that the hon. Gentleman will live to regret this intervention. Our party has said from the beginning that our position is that we are pro the United Nations. We are not saying that we are against military conflict in every situation. Let us be clear about it—the position of our party is absolutely clear.

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