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11 Mar 2003 : Column 224—continued

Donald Anderson: There is another possible parallel with the situation in Northern Ireland. For example, if the hon. Gentleman and I were asked whether the IRA still retained Semtex, we should probably agree that it

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does, but if someone asked where the Semtex was, we would not know. The same argument could be used about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Recently, at business questions, I asked whether a Foreign Office Minister could answer questions about the international impact of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The answer that I received from the Leader of the House was surprising, although it did admit that there was an international aspect. He said:

The fallacy is that we can pick and choose when dealing with international terrorism; we fail to recognise that, by neglecting the international aspect and branding terrorism in Northern Ireland as merely a domestic issue, accusations of double standards can arise.

To answer the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the authorities have a fair idea where the weapons are. The papers are full of it. Republican sources admit that many of the weapons are hidden around Monaghan and Cavan. On the international connection, tonnes of weapons came in from Libya, which was especially due to our nation's identification with the United States in its bombing missions against Libya. As a result, both in England and in Northern Ireland we suffered because of weapons from Libya.

I repeat a question that has been asked previously. What contacts have Her Majesty's Government made with the Dublin Government to ensure that the hiding places in Munster are put out of action? Their existence is contrary to the Dublin Government's obligations to their own people because, according to the laws of the Irish Republic, there can be only one standing army and weapons should not belong to others.

Mr. Savidge: On the hon. Gentleman's subject of double standards, does he see a contrast between what is accepted as decommissioning in Northern Ireland and what is accepted as co-operation with decommissioning in Iraq?

Rev. Martin Smyth: I do see a double standard. In Iraq, the Government want weapons to be decommissioned, handed over and destroyed; in Ireland, particularly Northern Ireland, they have placated terrorism by providing places in Government without seeing the decommissioning taking place. There is even speculation from the pen of one of leading apologists for the IRA, Danny Morrison, suggesting that we are not likely to see much going on in the next few weeks. So there is a double standard in which our American cousins have been involved. They have said that Iraq continues to purchase and procure arms; we have been party, even in the Florida situation, to acknowledging that the IRA was rearming with modern weapons while it was supposed to be decommissioning.

We speak of the international impact, but to suggest that the IRA had no international context is to live in cloud cuckoo land, when it has held courses in Dublin,

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Belfast and elsewhere, as well as internationally with ETA, the Palestinian Liberation Front and others. I must confess that, at times, the FBI does not seem to know who people are, as was shown by the recent case in South Africa. The FBI identified a person from Iraq who was moving into the FARC area, and the Colombian authorities did not arrest him, but exiled him to Ecuador.

When we speak of the international connection, we must face the fact that the bombings that have caused tremendous havoc in Israel and Colombia have all the hallmarks of the terrorist school of car bombings perpetrated by the IRA. Although it did not provide suicide bombers, it tied people to a lorry and compelled them to drive and blow themselves up in a bombing escapade.

Leaving aside Northern Ireland for a moment, I wish to raise an issue to which the Minister rightly referred: the attempt to say that this is a campaign between the west and Islam. The reality is that Iraq is technically not an Islamic country. Yes, Islamic people live there and some of them, especially Marsh Arabs, have suffered at the hands of Saddam's regime. However, his regime is not Islamic; it is a reactionary socialistic regime, perhaps more in the style of Nazi Germany than what we would call modern socialism.

When we think of the religious context, we should bear it in mind that the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, a former Foreign Minister, comes from one of the Christian community groups in Iraq, so we must send the very clear message that this is not a campaign by the west against the Muslim community because the Islamic community, which has another axe to grind through al-Qaeda, are taking out Hindus, moderate Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, as well as Christians. One of the messages that we should send out from the Chamber today is that some of the emotional, superficial arguments against taking action against Iraq should be re-examined.

I never rise to speak in the House without seeing Airey Neave's coat of arms and realising that, in my judgment, the IRA declared war on our people and the nation and that one of my predecessors was murdered by the IRA as he was serving his people. Other Members have been put to death by the IRA terrorists, but their coats of arms are not here to give them a place of honour in serving their country and their people.

I can understand the emotion, but there is something naive about a person who says to the Prime Minister, "We do not want to see another Bali bombing." Turning one's back from al-Qaeda and allowing despotism to reign in Iraq will not save us from further bombings. It will only encourage people. Tragically, there are those of us in Northern Ireland who believe that, by paying off the terrorists and acceding to their demands, we have encouraged international terrorists to keep at it. If they play by the rule of law—this was the point of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis)—they lose. I ask the Minister to consider the implications of international terrorism continuing even after Iraq.

4.36 pm

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I congratulate the Chairman and all the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on producing such an excellent report.

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I endorse and identify myself closely with the views and sentiments expressed by several of my hon. Friends, especially those of my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) and for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I also recognise the enormous difficulty faced by the Government, and especially by the Prime Minister, and the great skill with which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and his team have pursued their course of action over the past few months, particularly in the way that they have brought the United States within the United Nations framework.

Although the report is about all aspects of terrorism, I want to speak specifically about Iraq, as I have not yet had the opportunity to do so during the past five or six months. I fully supported the use of force in the Gulf war in 1990, in the Balkans in the mid-1990s, and, later, in Afghanistan, and am completely prepared to support the use of force to deal with the problem of Iraq—in the right circumstances, at the right time, and with the right authorisation. At the moment, none of those three conditions applies, which is why I have serious reservations about the course of action that seems likely to be pursued in the very near future by the United States and possibly the United Kingdom forces. That is also why the overwhelming majority of my constituents and the British people share those views and that scepticism.

After the awful events of 11 September, I visited my friends in New York and saw the devastation that had been wrought by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. In the last week of January 2002, I visited my American friends again, this time in Washington DC, during the week in which President Bush made his state of the union speech. On the evening of the state of the union speech, I was on Capitol Hill as a guest of the American embassy, along with a small number of colleagues from the House and a small number of Canadian MPs, and we watched the President's motorcade drive up to Congress. We enjoyed the hospitality of the Canadians, and we watched the speech on large-screen television—I mean extremely-large-screen television. Having watched that speech, there was no doubt in the minds of anybody—the British delegation, the Canadian parliamentarians present or any American politician or citizen—that the axis of evil speech amounted to a commitment there and then to regime change and to a declaration of war, and, implicitly, that it recognised a timetable for that war, as the timetable had to be completed before the start of the 2004 election season, which I judge to be autumn this year. This is the difficulty that we all face. Whatever our Government have done with the very best of intentions over the past few months has been constrained by the fact that the United States effectively announced the decision to attack Iraq in the state of the union speech in the last week of January 2002.

I mentioned my visit to New York after the attack on the World Trade Centre, because the link between that act of terrorism and the multifaceted problem presented by the Iraqi regime has determined the terms of the debate over the past few months. It also explains why our Government have not been able to convince a majority of the British people that unilateral action against Iraq is justified. I shall focus on why I believe that the majority of the British people and the majority

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of my constituents do not believe at the moment—this may change—that unilateral action by bombing Iraq to deal with terrorism is justified.

We must understand that the electorate in Britain and western Europe are probably more sophisticated than at any time in our history. They certainly have far greater access to a wide range of information about world affairs than ever before, including the previous Gulf war in 1990. We have ignored the impact of the growth and accessibility of satellite television. It enables western electorates to gain a perspective that previously had been held only by people in other parts of the world. We have also ignored the impact of the internet, and we have done so at our peril.

The speed and comprehensiveness of the new communications technologies mean that citizens in all countries can instantly gain access to original source material—speeches, documents and research papers—that were previously the preserve of Governments and their propagandists. One of the difficulties that the Government have faced over the past few months has resulted from their use of material to justify their actions. That material has immediately and rightly been challenged by leading opinion formers throughout the United Kingdom. I shall return to that point later.

The lack of clarity about the precise objectives of the military action has also been our downfall. The Americans clearly want regime change, but UN resolution 1441 speaks solely and entirely about the need for disarmament. It does not authorise regime change. In fact, a succession of UN resolutions seem implicitly to reject regime change as they lay the conditions for the future inspections that will continue after the disarmament process has been completed. There has been confusion about whether the objective is eliminating weapons of mass destruction, bringing an end to international terrorism, liberating the Kurds, human rights, or simply removing the leader of a regime without whom everyone agrees the world would be a far better place.

On the basis of a series of flawed statements and dubious evidence that has been provided by our Government and by the US Government, the public have concluded that, at this stage, war in Iraq will not solve the problem of terrorism. In fact, it is far more likely to exacerbate the problem, encourage the growth of new terrorist movements and inspire a whole generation of unskilled, uneducated and unemployed young men from throughout the middle east to be attracted by the possibility of taking up arms against the west.

That is a dangerous course of action.

The Government have not succeeded in persuading the electorate of the solidity of their case, but there are ways of doing that. Apart from underestimating the growth and importance of satellite television, the internet and the better-informed electorate, we have also underestimated the extent to which electorates defer to authority figures. The growth in scepticism—justifiable, in my view—about leadership figures and authority means that people are more prepared to question what they are told.

The American Secretary of State told us about satellite images that reveal attempts by the Iraqi regime to disguise and conceal installations related to weapons

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of mass destruction, but that was almost immediately countered by Dr. Blix in his statement to the Security Council. In such circumstances, the case presented by the United States crumbled. Equally, the dossier presented to the House last autumn by our Government emphasised the acquisition by the Iraqi regime of aluminium tubes, but Dr. el-Baradei countered that in his report last Friday. He said that there is no evidence that the tubes were acquired by Iraq for the purpose of uranium enrichment, and that increases public scepticism.

There is however a way for the Government to persuade the majority of British people that military action may ultimately be necessary. We must almost forget what has happened and the tactics that have been used over the past few months. We all know that truth is the first casualty in war, and in the war against terrorism it has been an early casualty. We need to focus entirely on the process that has been set in place. Much has been made of the phrase in resolution 1441 about the "final" opportunity. We should dwell on what constituted the final opportunity. It was clearly not the passing of 1441, because otherwise military action would have started the day or week after that. Resolution 1441 merely authorised the process that is taking place.

It is clear in earlier reports by Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei that they saw the final opportunity as the beginning of a substantial and detailed process. Any hon. Member can get a copy of their reports off the internet. Many millions of our citizens can download such documents and read them for themselves. They are not inaccessible or difficult to read. In the reports of 27 January and 14 February, Dr. Blix in particular referred to his plans, which implied that there would be weeks and weeks of inspections. He referred to opening a new office in Basra, which clearly had not been completed by 14 February, to the help that the New Zealand and German Governments were giving, and to the new supplies and specialist equipment that were due to arrive in the near future. Dr. Blix recently published his substantial 173-page document, authorised by a resolution in 1999, which sets out the process to be pursued to pick up and deal with the remaining issues.

In my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's statement to the House on Monday, he referred to the 173-page document. He said that he had read it. I took up the challenge and got my copy from the Library. Although I did not read all 173 pages, I had a good look through it. It is clear that Dr. Blix sees it as a summary of the existing position. There is an interesting and informed statement on the unanswered questions, but the report is the beginning of a further process to deal with those. His report to the Security Council last Friday used the same terms. He said:

and everyone must agree with that—

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