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11 Mar 2003 : Column 213—continued

3.38 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): It is remarkable that I should follow the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). I will not join him on the slippery slope. Considering his history of CND-baiting, he has just made a tremendous if oblique plea for the principles of pacifism.

We have had an excellent debate on a very good Select Committee report. As someone who has listened for some hours on this and other occasions to debate on Iraq, I am pleased finally to have the opportunity to say something about the situation there. I pay tribute to several of my colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), but particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I very much agree with all their excellent contributions.

We should recognise the progress that has been made on Iraq. Thanks in large part to the efforts of this Government, United Nations resolution 1441 was passed unanimously. We also have United Nations weapons inspectors back on the ground doing an effective job. The most recent report from Dr. Blix engages with the whole range of difficult issues and problems that he faces, but he reports that, at least in part, disarmament is taking place.

We have a clear way forward, and it is not one that accepts that a vile regime can carry on pursuing the repression and weapons development that it has been conducting. We need to keep up the pressure, and it is military pressure that has got us to the current position. We need to set Iraq rigorous targets for further disarmament and for improving the well-being of the people who are living in the most dire circumstances in that appalling country. To do that, however, we need to maintain the international coalition, and to build respect for United Nations resolutions and a

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commitment to the institution of the United Nations. We also need to put ourselves in a position in which we can effectively move on to build peace across the middle east and to address realistically, properly and emphatically the issues of Israel and Palestine. We cannot do any of that if we make the colossal mistake of rushing to war, because that will destroy thousands of civilian lives—those of children, women and men. I would argue that, even with the support of the United Nations Security Council, rushing to war is no answer.

What credibility will the United Nations have if it allows vast pressure to be brought to bear on small nations by bribing, bullying and coercing them to fall into line? What is the point of a UN that sets its inspectors to do a job, but calls them off before they have finished because the imperatives of a war machine cannot be kept waiting? Warts and all, the UN is doing a fine job. Let us just allow it to get on with it. I believe firmly, as I did a couple of weeks ago, that the case for war has not yet been made. We can still work together to ensure that the world comes together to disarm Iraq without the need for war.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a fine leader, a great leader, and I think that he will go down in history as a great Prime Minister for this country, but he should not lead us into war now. He should use his great leadership skills as much as he possibly can to persuade George Bush that to go ahead with war now might advance the hegemony of the United States and advance a new world order in which a military America tried to dominate a world run for its benefit and the benefit of a small coterie of allies, but that to do so would make the problems of terrorism worse. It would increase the alienation of people in ways that have already been graphically described this afternoon. In destroying the United Nations, it would destroy the chances of peace in Israel and Palestine, and the hopes of so much of the world.

I shall be 50 later this year, and I shall soon have been a member of the Labour party for half my life. I did not join the Labour party, work for the Labour party for many years or work to become a Labour Member of Parliament in order to be in this position, and I do not support a fine Labour Government in this position.

We should consider the case of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. There has been, without exception, no finer member of the Government than her. She is renowned across the world. She has brought hope, passion, commitment, and enormous development and hope of progress to people living in the most appalling poverty and in the most dire circumstances across the world. We should all listen to what she says, and ensure that she is supported so that she can carry on doing the magnificent work that she has done so far.

If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants to be in the present situation, he, as much as my excellent right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, should consider his position. In going into any war without the sanction of the United Nations, the prospect of another fine Labour Government will disappear, and there is the distinct possibility of the Labour party being brought to its knees.

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There is no case for war with or without the United Nations at this stage. Our Prime Minister has succeeded in a very important goal: the weapons inspectors are doing their job. We should reunite around the United Nations. We in this country should support all pressure to keep the United States of America working for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, and we should all move on. I firmly believe that via the United Nations, working together in the institutions of the international community, we can disarm Iraq without necessarily going to war. The Government are a fine Government who could yet be a great Government.

If we get to the point where we are at war, my constituents who fight in that war—women and men—will be able to rely on my 100 per cent. support, but until we recognise that we can disarm Iraq without necessarily going to war, I will not support the Government on this matter.

Mr. Kilfoyle: We all aspire to the removal of weapons of mass destruction, but following the logic of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and tracing those who provided such weapons to terrorist organisations—the weapons all emanate from somewhere—does my hon. Friend agree that the countries that provided those weapons or the wherewithal for other countries to propagate such weapons, including France, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, ought to be arraigned in a court before international public opinion?

Mr. Dawson: I cannot go into that, as I have almost finished speaking. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue of arms supplies and arms exports needs to be addressed even more fundamentally than we have done so far.

3.49 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): This is an outstanding report. It provides much of the material that we all need to form a judgment on what our foreign policy should be in the months and years ahead. First, I should like to set out why I think America's foreign policy on Iraq has been a miscalculation. Secondly, I will try to suggest what British foreign policy should be now and what the stance of this Chamber should be. Thirdly, I want to address what I think is the most important question of all—what kind of western foreign policy will best enhance our security after Iraq? Will the new world order, conceived by George Bush since 11 September and energetically supported by the Prime Minister, enhance or imperil our security?

First, on Iraq, most of the arguments have already been well rehearsed. For my part, I am not convinced that Iraq is planning or even capable of an imminent attack on the west or western interests. Virtually no evidence has been produced to show that Saddam Hussein has sought to develop links with terrorists, apart from the Palestinians, in respect of whom almost all the Arab states, many of which are our allies, are also complicit. Nor am I convinced that the policy of containment and deterrence has yet failed. War in Iraq may well create the conditions for more extremist fundamentalism and terrorism, not least by alienating moderate Muslim opinion throughout the middle east, as well as Muslims in Europe. An invasion of Iraq is also

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more likely than not to destabilise the whole middle east. It could shake apart the pro-western Governments in the middle east on whom the west has so painstakingly worked since the Yom Kippur war, just as the Suez crisis and invasion fuelled middle eastern nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s.

I recognise that I might be wrong about all that. It is possible that, although the evidence has not been forthcoming, Iraq has plans to engage with global terrorists. That would represent an imminent threat. It is possible that the vigorous and muscular deployment of American force could coerce extremists and trigger the spread of democracy throughout the middle east, as several in the US Administration claim it will. It is possible that, with the removal of the potential threat to Israel posed by Iraq, the conditions may be better, not worse, for a Palestinian settlement. That is the kernel of the argument that we have heard from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. I disagree with it and so does middle England, much of America and a good deal of the mainstream foreign policy elite in Washington. They do not believe that the case for war has been made.

In parenthesis, I feel that, to some extent, attempts have been made to manipulate public opinion by, for example, binding together talk of biological weapons with talk of nuclear weapons, which pose a quite different order of threat, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) pointed out, alleging that there is a far greater risk than in fact exists at present of Iraq obtaining nuclear weapons and linking strategic and humanitarian justifications for action. None of those things has helped to win the argument, but I think that it would have been lost anyway.

But saying that does not take us very far. The next question is: what should the UK do right now? In that regard, it is worth bearing in mind some crucial and basic points. First, our security and prosperity depend on the United States. We share its open society values, and I personally feel that extremely strongly.

Secondly, we owe the Americans a great deal. To take one analogous example, they were there for us when we needed them in respect of the Falklands, even though they thought that we were foolish to try to liberate what they considered nothing more than a few sheep and said that our demands for their support would tear up their Latin American foreign policy. In the end, they backed us. They are true friends and allies, and it is worth bearing that in mind in this discussion.

Thirdly, whatever we may do or say, the Americans are going to go ahead unilaterally anyway. If we let them do so, that will imperil everyone's security, including theirs, leaving the west divided and weakened and emboldening its enemies.

Fourthly, there is no European defence initiative worthy of the name, and nor will there be. There is no substitute for a foreign policy based on security provided by the United States. It is absurd to imagine that we should try to rely on the quasi-pacifist continental Europeans for our defence or on the viscerally anti-American French.

For all those reasons, we cannot afford—and should not try—to walk away. The Americans may have taken themselves and us to the top of the wrong hill, but we cannot simply leave them there. If that is Tony Blair's private reasoning for backing America, he deserves

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credit. He deserves even greater credit if he persuaded the Americans to go down the United Nations route and abandon their initial unilateralism. Consequently, resolution 1441 at least provides what my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) revealingly described as some legal cover for action.

The House of Commons also deserves credit. The threat of MPs' support for an amendment may have spurred Tony Blair to fight more vigorously against American unilateralism.


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