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11 Mar 2003 : Column 239—continued

Lady Hermon (North Down): I apologise for not being in my place earlier, but I had other commitments. I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the experience in the Republic of Ireland. In the mid-1980s, one shipload of tonnes of armaments was intercepted on its way into Ireland. It was known that three other shipments had already reached Ireland from Gaddafi and the Republic of Ireland was closed down for five days or so while the Irish army and the Garda swept the island. They did not find the weapons because there were too many places to hide them. Ireland is small and Iraq is huge. The inability to find the weapons should not be used as an excuse for not going to war and disarming Iraq.

Mr. Hamilton: I hear what the hon. Lady says, but we should look not for excuses to go to war, but excuses not

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to go to war. We have to remember the violence that war inflicts on the innocent. If war were a case of taking out Saddam Hussein cleanly and destroying his Government and weapons of mass destruction, I would be in favour. But it would not work like that. In a war, the innocent die and therefore before we embark on that course of action we must be sure that we have explored every avenue to try to avoid it.

Patrick Mercer: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hamilton: I must make some progress. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The report also discusses the situation in the middle east with Israel and Palestine. We quote the views of Richard Haass, the director of policy planning in the US State Department. His bookcases were so full of books that I had to ask him if had read every single one and was impressed—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Committee will recall—when he said that he had read them all, and many more. He has wide knowledge, reading and understanding and he says:

Instead, Mr. Haass recommends several reforms that should precede elections, some of which are similar to those recommended in the Arab human development report. They include

In our debate some 11 months ago, I said that I am in an unenviable position in discussing Israel and Palestine because I represent about 10,000 Jews and 10,000 Muslims. I cannot win, whatever I say. That still applies, but the point is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield said earlier, we have to pursue the course of peace between Israel and Palestine. That means the establishment of a state of Palestine. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who is also a member of the Committee, suggested the Maples peace plan—if I can call it that—under which a peace solution might be imposed if the parties were unwilling to agree to discussions on peace and kept raising minor issues to try to stop the drive towards peace.

That raises many unanswered questions. However, Amram Mitzna, the leader of the Israeli Labour party, met colleagues here in the House of Commons just before the Israeli general election. He failed disastrously to persuade the Israeli public to vote for him, but he came up with a similar approach. He used to be mayor of Haifa, a city where Arabs and Jews live side by side in peace—a model for what the region could be like. He said that if Arafat and the Palestinian Authority would not accept his proposals for a peace plan—and he advocated withdrawal of the settlements in the occupied territories—he would impose that plan on them.

In many ways, it is tempting to go down that road. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on the idea of an imposed solution. However, one can never impose a solution from outside unless one wins the hearts and minds of the people involved. That is my

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deep worry. I pointed out at the time that we must ensure that a proper state of Palestine is established, with international co-operation and help. There must be a civil society, and all the reforms described by Richard Haass when we visited him.

In last year's debate, I recounted what Jerusalem's Palestinian mayor, Ziad Abu Ziad, told me over lunch the last time that I visited his city on a Labour Friends of Israel trip. He said:

The only route for the people of that area is peace. It will come, eventually. As I said at the time, the only question concerns the number of people who will die in the meantime.

I want to speak briefly about another topic discussed in the Committee—Iran, which is crucial to stability in the middle east. The Committee hopes to visit Iran later this year, and I hope that we will find out more about how it works and about the prospects for its transition from theocracy to secular democracy.

Someone in the US State Department—I cannot remember who—told us when we visited last year that, in 10 years, Iran could be the west's greatest friend in the middle east. He said that we had to encourage the reformist elements centred on President Khatami and the reformist Majlis, or Parliament. We must encourage them to reform Iran and take the road to secular democracy. At present, 65 per cent. of Iran's population are under 25. They do not remember the 1979 revolution. They see the mullahs and the defenders of Islamic democracy as the conservative elements—I mean no slur on Conservative Members—in society, the ones who hold back economic reform.

Iran's economy has suffered a huge decline since 1979. Its gross domestic product is some 30 per cent. lower than 24 years ago, when the revolution took place. That is unsustainable, and I am sure that—with encouragement from the west and, I hope, from our Government—the reformist elements in the powerful, cultured and historic nation of Iran will win through and push out the mullahs and the support for terror that has plagued Israel for the many years since the Islamic revolution. I want a genuine, secular democracy to be established in Iran, so that people can live in freedom, as Muslims, in a democratic country.

5.39 pm

Patrick Mercer (Newark): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), and I will come back to his speech in a moment.

There are two things that I regret very deeply. The first is that it seems that war is inevitable. Some might argue—and I strongly suspect that they are right that with the policy in the no-fly zones having gone from being strictly defensive to now being offensive, with holes being cut in the fence between Kuwait and the southern part of Iraq, and with rumours of an airfield at Ar'ar in Saudi Arabia being occupied by American

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forces, making access to Baghdad very simple, that the first rounds in this war have been fired. I regret that. I support it, but I regret that it looks inevitable that we will take military action.

The second thing that I regret is that troops from this country are being committed without the support of the Government firmly and unequivocally behind them. In the two campaigns in which I have taken part, I have always had the comforting feeling that, no matter what my enemies may have been up to, and no matter how much we may have been undermined by things such as a wholly nonsensical, so-called shoot-to-kill policy, I had the support of my Government. I knew that there were no divisive arguments in the Cabinet. I very much regret that the men and women of this country look as if they will get stuck into a war with public opinion divided and with no firm resolve from the Cabinet to back them up. I ask the Minister to note what happened to the American military effort in Vietnam. That effort was defeated not militarily but emotionally, by the lack of support of the American people and, ultimately, the lack of support of the American Government.

I have found it hard to be persuaded by any of the arguments for going to war—except one. I will not rehearse all the arguments. I think that I recognised that war in Iraq was going to happen one day or another, but I saw no reason for imminent war, except for one particular point. The humanitarian argument is good but it is by no means unique. Also, there is the argument on the use of weapons of mass destruction, and I do not doubt that Saddam Hussein owns such weapons. However, until the weekend at least, I doubted that he had the means to deliver them and I doubted the need for imminent action. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East to the fact that, at the weekend, the first undiscovered weapons programme that had not been declared to the United Nations came to light. We are told that it concerns a number of drone aircraft that can be fitted to deliver weapons of mass destruction. The Government Front Bench has been remarkably quiet about what some people call the smoking gun. I do not know, but it is interesting that so little has been made of that particular subject.

The one thing that does convince me of the need for imminent action is the terrorist threat. If there is one thing that threatens this country and needs to be dealt with quickly, it is the ability of Baghdad and its associates to deliver a fatal, swingeing blow against this country. Interestingly, we have not heard anything tonight about terrorism, except about al-Qaeda. I want to quote from the report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and from the Government's response to it. The Committee said that

The Government's response was:

Why have the Government not made more of what they say? Why have the Government been inconsistent? For insistence, Colin Powell talks not about al-Qaeda but about an organisation led by al-Zarqawi. In his presentation to the United Nations on 5 February, Colin Powell talked about al-Zarqawi travelling to

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Baghdad in May 2002 and staying in the capital for months while he recuperated to fight another day. During his stay nearly two dozen extremists converged on the capital and established a base of operations there. Those al-Qaeda affiliates based in Baghdad now co-ordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network. They have been operating in the capital for more than eight months.

Colin Powell went on to point out that that organisation was behind the plots that so threatened north London a few weeks ago. Al-Zarqawi does not necessarily carry the flag of al-Qaeda, but he is a terrorist who has direct connections with Baghdad and if it were not for the work of our security services, he would have struck successfully at this country.

People can rubbish what Colin Powell says; they can believe that his comments are a figment of the imagination if that is what they want to do. However, the fact remains that public opinion could be influenced if the Government made a compelling case—not the curious nonsense of the unconvincing dossier in which a student's information was used to try to persuade the public, but a convincing case that is not just touched on but stuck to throughout.

I very much regret that the Government may end up by being convinced of the dangers of that terrorist organisation in the same way as the Australian Government were convinced: by a bomb in Bali that killed hundreds of their people. The Government should think carefully and be far more consistent in their case on terrorism. They should not be constantly hung up on al-Qaeda, but should look to the other organisations that threaten this country so very gravely.

My next point relates to the Government's response to one of the Select Committee's report. The Government state:

That is wholly wrong. The situation in Iraq, if and when our troops properly go into action, will actually become more dangerous. We shall lay ourselves open to a host of terrorist organisations, operating both in this country and against our interests abroad.

The Government have a duty to make it clear that, unless we do something about that threat, weapons of mass destruction will be handed, willy-nilly, to terrorists by a rogue state. If we take action now, we may be in a position to control what could be an extraordinarily difficult situation. We need look no further than the proliferation of fissile raw material that has come out of the former Soviet Union and consider how difficult that is to control. Let us not underestimate the threat that faces us. That is obviously an extremely good reason for not going to war at all, but I return to the fact that unless we take control and get a grip of the situation, it is likely to be wholly out of control rather than partially out of control.

My last point relates to the Committee's conclusion that

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My point to the Minister and to the Government is simple: let us not be mesmerised by that gentleman, bin Laden, or by the word "al-Qaeda", but let us see those people for what they are.

This is not the first time that the British nation has been threatened by tyrants and bullies. We had a cure for that in the first and second world wars when we laughed at the Kaiser and at Hitler. Rightly or wrongly, that was how we dealt with those threats. I do not suggest that we laugh at the terrorists, but I suggest that we keep them in proportion.

We should remember how we managed to handle the Irish Republican Army at the height of its campaign. We got used to the fact that any incident that looked as though it could be the work of the Provisional IRA would be claimed by that organisation, so we got our punch in first. So, for example, the British Government made it absolutely clear from the first moment that the infamous Chinook helicopter crash was not an act of terrorism. Again, we made it clear that the burning of Windsor castle was not an act of terrorism. We swept the ground from under the terrorists; we came to terms with the sort of tactics that they would use.

These are not giants against whom we are fighting. Let us bear in mind the fact that, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested, he had all his contact information on his laptop and a series of written notes around his bedroom. Let no one be in any doubt about where the information is coming from at the moment. That is not someone who is standing up against interrogation; that is a birdy that is singing. They are people who give things away and whose standard operating procedures are amateurish.

Let us also bear in mind the fact that bin Laden was very nearly tracked down by using a mobile phone. The meanest tuppeny-ha'penny drug dealer in Nottingham knows not to use a mobile phone if he wants to carry on with his business. We are talking not about giants of terrorism, but about people who get things wrong, and I ask the Government to keep that enemy in proportion and to communicate sensibly and realistically with the public to diminish fear—by doing so, we stand a better chance of winning.

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