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18 Mar 2003 : Column 799—continued

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Denham: I shall not give way. I have never made a resignation speech before, and I should like to get to the end of it.

The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) set out a powerful case for support for a United States that acts in the manner I described. If I believed that that would work, I could swallow my qualms and sign up for that with the right hon. Gentleman. But I do not. I believe that the reaction to such a method of working will be as dangerous as the problems that we are trying to solve. It will turn many parts of the world against us, undermine friendly Governments, fuel terrorism and those who will join it in the future, and make it more difficult to sustain international action against common problems.

If the motion were on the honesty, integrity, commitment and sheer courage of our Prime Minister, I would not hesitate to support it. However, we are voting not for that but for the words on the Order Paper and the consequences that will follow in the weeks, months and years ahead. I cannot support it.

My final point is a difficult one. I, too, have constituents who are in our armed forces in the Gulf, and their families at home. The failures of Governments and of the international community are not their failings. Although I clearly do not believe that we should commit our troops to action now, they should not feel that they are on the wrong side, that the enemy they face is not evil or that the world would not be a better place without Saddam Hussein.

If the vote of the House commits our troops to fight, we must stand with them. We may have failed them; I doubt whether they will fail us.

2.57 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I congratulate him on the quiet and dignified way in which he made his resignation speech and personal statement. He will be remembered for the principle that he has established and I honour him for that.

At a time of crisis, the House often rises to the occasion. That happened last night when the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who was Leader of the House, made his personal statement and resignation speech. He made a powerful case for his decision. He was a distinguished Minister, not only as Foreign Secretary but as Leader of the House. I admired his commitment in both high offices. I tried to work with him in a small way in his capacity as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. He has made changes that have benefited the House. He is one of the most entertaining and articulate speakers in the House, and we shall miss him.

Today, the Prime Minister made a brilliant, articulate and powerful case for the motion. I hope that his speech will receive wide publicity. The overwhelming majority

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of people in this country, many of whom are worried about the Government's intentions, will be persuaded by the transparent and powerful way in which he presented the argument on behalf of the Government. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition fully supported the position in a speech that took up many of the Prime Minister's points.

I will be supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight. I have no disagreement with any part of the lengthy but substantive motion that they have tabled. I am not in favour of war. In fact, I am positively opposed to it. War is brutal, cruel and indiscriminate. Innocent people will undoubtedly die in any conflict that takes place, but there are occasions on which war is inevitable if the civilised world is to defend its civilisation against a despotic tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.

Like a number of other hon. Members, I have served in Her Majesty's forces—not as a regular officer but as a national service officer—and I understand the way in which our armed services live, and their loyalty and team spirit. Like everyone else who has spoken, I express the hope that this will be a short war and that the minimum casualties will be incurred, not only in our armed services but among civilians as well. Members of my own family have served in wars, in north Africa and Burma, at Dunkirk, in Normandy and, more recently, in the Korean war. So, to those who say that people like me who agree with the Government do not know what we are doing, I would say that we do know. Likewise, I honour and respect the position that has been expressed by the right hon. Members for Livingston and for Southampton, Itchen.

David Burnside: My hon. Friend mentioned the great service provided by the members of our armed forces who are ready to serve and to fight. Does he share the concern of my constituents who are related to servicemen and servicewomen in the middle east, who are not at all happy with the standard of equipment and supplies being provided to them? We have a Defence Minister on the Front Bench today, and we need more assurances and more support for our servicemen and servicewomen.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: May I say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the very highest regard, as well as respect for the stand that he takes on matters relating to Northern Ireland, that this is not a matter that I would wish to comment on at this time? We want to ensure that the men and women among the troops of Her Majesty's forces have the best possible equipment available. I know, from my own contact with members of the armed services who are currently in Kuwait, that they are ready to go and that they believe that they have the equipment and the support to enable them to do an excellent job.

The history that was so accurately sketched by the Prime Minister is right. We have had 17 resolutions since April 1991. The first, resolution 687, required Iraq to

of its weapons of mass destruction. It is now 4,380-plus days since that resolution, and we are a further 16 resolutions on. Saddam Hussein has made a mockery of the United Nations. If we are to take the United Nations

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seriously, and if it is to be an instrument for peace and stability in the world, its resolutions must be implemented and enforced. I congratulate the Government, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence on what they are doing, not only in the national interest but in the international interest.

I would like to raise one issue that might be controversial. I am saddened by what I perceive to be the anti-American views that are being expressed. As someone who will shortly reach his 65th birthday, I believe that the world as a whole owes an immense debt to the United States for what it has done over more than 50 years for peace and stability in the world, and for the humanitarian aid that it has advanced. It has been wrong on occasions, but, my goodness, haven't we all? Overall, I believe that the benefit that the United States and its successive Administrations have brought to the world have been immense, and they should be very proud of that.

I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have highlighted the importance of achieving peace in the middle east, if at all possible. The road map is absolutely right. It is important that the state of Israel, within its 1967 boundaries, should be guaranteed by the international community, but it is also essential that the Palestinian people, who have suffered so greatly, should be given a meaningful, consolidated state. That would lead to stability in the middle east. If we remove Saddam Hussein in the next few days, as I hope will be the case, the chance of bringing peace to the region will be that much greater.

I have sent a petition to the Prime Minister carrying about 700 signatures from my Macclesfield constituents expressing their concern and their opposition to the war. I say to them, "On this issue, put your trust in the Prime Minister. I fervently believe, as your Member of Parliament, that he is right." We will get it right; we will bring peace to the middle east, and we will restore the credibility of the United Nations.

3.6 pm

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): This is the moment that we have all been dreading—the moment at which we have, individually and collectively, to decide on which side of the line in the sand we choose to stand. War is hell, as an American civil war general once said, but, for the Iraqis, the Iraqi Kurds, the Marsh Arabs, the Kuwaitis or the Iranians who have been the victims of Saddam Hussein, the so-called peace can be hellish, too. Any agonies of conscience that I had have been resolved, and I shall vote with the Prime Minister and the official Opposition this evening on many grounds. That is not to say that I do not have uncertainties and difficulties with the problems facing our armed forces, or with the consequences of our action. Of course I do. I shall certainly not argue that no mistakes have been made by the Americans or the British—little mistakes or bigger mistakes. Perhaps the biggest mistake was to misjudge France, Russia and, possibly, the Turkish Parliament. The biggest misjudgment of all, however, was surely Saddam's, when he desperately hoped that the cavalry—or should I say the French cuirassiers, the German uhlans, hussars, lancers and dragoons, and the

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Russian imperial Cossacks—would ride to his assistance. It remains to be seen whether 'Smith's Fencibles'—or indefensibles—will succeed where they have failed, later this evening.

I believe that the strategy of the United States and the United Kingdom of combining military and diplomatic pressure could have worked, had it been backed up by the support of the United Nations. The combination would surely have been irresistible for Saddam Hussein, and he and his sons would have jumped on their camels and ridden off into the great unknown—probably somewhere in central Asia or even an expensive flat on the Champs Elysées. That never happened, however. It could have happened, and those who made it not happen must surely have a great deal on their conscience.

President Bush—incidentally, I am not standing for election as chair of the Walsall chapter of his fan club—has gone down the diplomatic route for a long time, and his speech last night showed that he is still prepared to do that, by giving Saddam Hussein one final chance. I support the Government because the Attorney-General said yesterday that there was a legal basis for the war. To those who have argued that UNMOVIC needed more time I say this: the inspectors' work restarted in the spring of last year; the inspections recommenced on 27 November, and Dr. Blix told the Defence Committee three weeks ago—I refer to the notes that I and the Committee Clerk took at the meeting—that:

A year! I do not think that that time is available. He went on to say

Surely what the Prime Minister said today was that the task of the inspectors and also the waiting period would be endless, and that that time had run out.

I doubt that the United States and the United Kingdom would wish their troops to endure the wait for any longer than necessary for the purpose of expecting Saddam Hussein to co-operate. He will duck and dive, and use anything to thwart the United Nations. Any enthusiasm that remained after 12 months of waiting would surely be dissipated.

We keep being told that the United States and the United Kingdom stand alone. In a letter in today's Guardian, a lady wrote that perhaps only Spain and Portugal remained holiday venues for the Blairs. It should be said that Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark and almost all of eastern and central Europe support the Prime Minister, and provide wonderful holiday destinations. We could add North Korea, Japan, most of the Gulf—[Interruption.]

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