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11 Mar 2003 : Column 233—continued

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman has made the case that the words "serious consequences" do not, in his view, justify resorting to military action. Will he share with the House what he believes the words to mean? I, for one, would be interested to know. He suggested that some kind of negotiation had gone on behind the scenes, but, even so, those words were used. What do they mean?

Mr. Llwyd: They mean that a further resolution would come before the Security Council, and that that resolution would give an automatic, clear indication of military action. That is not my view; it is the view of the international panel of jurists. Any one who reflects on it will see that it is common sense.

Much has been made of the opinion of those foremost jurists from Oxford, Cambridge and London, and the eminent gentleman from Paris, that there is no right to take action under 1441. Professor Robert Black of Edinburgh expressed a similar view recently in The Times, where he dissected the words "serious consequences", arguing that the term was

and contrasting it with the received meaning of "all necessary means". The argument has been advanced for many months; I make the point again in response to the hon. Gentleman.

Those of us who oppose a military strike on Iraq have an advantage over the Government: we have consistency on our side, as well as growing support. The closer we are to a possible strike on Iraq, the greater the public concern in the United Kingdom and beyond, and rightly so. I hope that the Prime Minister takes note of

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the fact that Mr. Bush senior has intervened to make it plain to his son, President Bush, that the UN road is the only way forward. If Mr. Bush senior can see that, why cannot the Prime Minister?

If a second UN resolution that clearly and unequivocally specifies military action is not obtained, the Prime Minister and the Government will be acting illegally, and that will be the first stage in the destruction of the United Nations. There are those who say that because 30,000 of our brave troops are already out there, action is inevitable, but that is not the case. I, for one, would applaud and respect the Prime Minister if he decided to keep our troops there for humanitarian purposes only, in the event of a unilateral strike on Iraq.

Even at this eleventh hour, I hope that conflict can be avoided. We know who will suffer if it takes place. Elizabeth Byr, the Geneva spokesperson for the UN humanitarian effort, said that an updated appeal for $120 million had been made in February, and so far $30 million had been received. The result of conflict can be seen outside the Kurdish town of Soran—no tents, no sanitation, just a vast muddy plain beneath a freezing, snow-capped mountain. That is the terrain that will be occupied by the 2 million Iraqis who will be made homeless by military action.

The United Nations is concerned about the oil-for-food programme. About 16 million people, or 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population, depend on it. We in this place frequently discuss humanitarian aid—properly so. We recently heard the views of one member of the Cabinet who is not unconnected with that subject, whose opinion and whose work I greatly respect. If this illegal and immoral war occurs, the Government will be jointly creating a humanitarian disaster and committing a disgraceful act. Even at the eleventh hour, I hope that wise counsel will prevail and that the Government will draw back from what could be the most shameful hour in the history of this Parliament.

5.9 pm

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The debate has been thoughtful, sometimes challenging, and at times a little bizarre, but in general it has reflected the wide cross-section of opinion in the House on the grave issue set out in our Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am very proud to have been a member of the Committee and to have helped to produce that report. In particular, I should like to refer to the contributions of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who made a telling speech, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge), who made a challenging speech, and my colleague on the Committee, the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), who said in the early stages of this debate—it seems some hours ago; indeed, it probably was—that the real crisis was the imminence of the invasion of Iraq. He also said that that was being accelerated by the fact that, to use his words, Iraq was being pressed to prove a negative.

I think that I am making a valid point in saying that it appears to me and many colleagues that the United States sees Iraq and the war against terrorism as synonymous. It is revealing that opinion polls conducted at the beginning of the week in the United States showed that most Americans believed that the

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terrorists who attacked the World Trade Centre were Iraqis. As we all know, not a single Iraqi was involved. Before anybody gets the impression that I am having a pop at our American cousins, let me say that I am sure that we would get the same result if a similar opinion poll were held in this country.

Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were fortunate in having many valuable and expert resources available to us. They allowed us to gain an insight into the thinking of the political establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. I want to concentrate my remarks on the conclusions of the report in connection with disarming Iraq. Followers of the report will know that I refer to paragraphs (p), (q), (r) and (s). I shall not repeat those conclusions, which deal with the need for our Government to work closely with the US to produce a strong and unanimous United Nations resolution. That was written in December; oh how hopeful things seemed then. The report also concluded that the difficulties facing the weapons inspectors were formidable. Of course, that has proved to be precisely the case.

In particular, I want to address how disarming Iraq appears to have come about as an issue because President Bush designated it as a member of the axis of evil. We all remember from that famous speech that the axis includes North Korea, Iran and Iraq, but the question that I want to test is why those three countries were chosen. Many other nations could be added to the list of potential rogue states and harbourers and supporters of terrorism. As the report says,

We know that there has been some evidence of involvement with middle eastern terrorism in Iran, but I am not aware of any such evidence concerning North Korea. Why are those three countries linked together as the axis of evil? Other countries have supported terrorism in the past and may still be doing so. Hon. Members have mentioned in other debates the training by Libya of terrorists who have been active in Northern Ireland. We know for a fact that there has been an amazing amount of fundraising in Saudi Arabia—I am not suggesting that it is Government-inspired—to support al-Qaeda, but we are not suggesting that that country is part of an axis of evil. Why have Iraq, Iran and North Korea been put together by President Bush as an axis of evil?

I believe that the key link between those three countries is their involvement and interest in the development of weapons of mass destruction. We are well aware that, as has been mentioned, North Korea is now flaunting its emerging arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. We also know from evidence to our Committee that Iran has developed its civilian nuclear programme to the point where it will have the option of creating nuclear weapons at short notice. The history of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is well known. His well-documented desire to possess nuclear weapons as soon as possible remains.

The common factor in President Bush's axis of evil is the desire to secure, pursue or possess weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, biological or chemical—and thereby pose a threat to the ability of the United States

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to defend its interests. The evidence of Dr. Stephen Pullinger, director of the International Security Information Service, is tucked deep in the report in appendix 9. Paragraph 21 of evidence 80 states:

Paragraph 23 states:

The United States' future inability to defend its interests not only in the middle east but throughout the world is the crux of the matter.

The current position arose after 11 September when it became clear that the United States was alarmed by the threat of acts of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to its ability to defend its interests at home and overseas. The greatest perceived threat to US foreign policy was the capability of rogue states that possessed weapons of mass destruction to provide an effective deterrent to the prosecution of US policy.

A good example has been mentioned in previous debates. Immediately after the Gulf war, one brave journalist interviewed Saddam Hussein and had the courage to ask whether he believed that he had made any mistakes in invading Kuwait. The journalist lived to tell the tale. The answer was that Saddam Hussein had made the mistake of not waiting until he had weapons of mass destruction—nuclear weapons—before invading.

Evidence from the International Institute for Strategic Studies was interesting. It suggested that had Saddam possessed nuclear weapons before invading Kuwait, there would have been no Gulf war. Iraq would not have been invaded to restore the statehood of Kuwait, which would remain an Iraqi enclave. For the United States, the axis of evil is shorthand for an axis that is capable of thwarting the Americans' policy of defending their interests throughout the world.

I am not going off on an anti-American tangent. I merely try to draw hon. Members' attention to what lies behind American foreign affairs policy and has led to our current position.

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