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18 Mar 2003 : Column 802—continued

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): North Korea?

Mr. George: South Korea. That is the first thing on which I have agreed with the Liberal Democrats today. South Korea is a possible destination, because of the fear of North Korea, as is Japan, north and south. The

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cities of Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan are also available. Many countries are prepared to support the United States and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): In which of the countries whose Governments support the action do the majority of the population support it, according to opinion polls?

Mr. George: Those who want to judge the results of opinion polls—which, up to now, have clearly shown opposition to the Prime Minister—should wait for the results of polls the day after war starts. The hon. Gentleman may have a rather different perspective then; indeed, I am sure that he will.

On Sunday, at a shop just down the road in my constituency, I met a close neighbour who told me that her son—whom I have known since he was seven—was in the Gulf. Afterwards, I wondered how I could have looked her in the eye and said, "It is true that your son is risking his life, but I want him to know that his cause is unjust, illegal and immoral, and that he may well be dragged before an international court". I could certainly not have done that.

Those who cannot commit themselves to supporting the Prime Minister's case may be persuaded by the argument used before that a military personnel in peril would need our support. A politically incorrect poet wrote this of the British Tommy:

I suspect that when the guns begin to shoot, not just the Liberal Democrats but most people will be prepared to give their support. Similarly, I was opposed to any British involvement in the Falklands, but when all diplomatic initiatives failed I was prepared to support the Government of this country.

Bob Russell (Colchester): What, then, is the right hon. Gentleman's problem?

Mr. George: Listening to inane interventions by people like the hon. Gentleman.

I endured the 1970s and the 1980s, when disunity in my party was the norm. I supported Wilson, Callaghan, even Michael Foot, Kinnock and Smith in the Lobbies. I do not think I am prepared to dump the Prime Minister at this moment of crisis.

3.15 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): I agree with the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) to the extent that this is, indeed, a momentous debate. I entered Parliament 26 years ago this month, and I cannot remember a more serious debate or a time when the vote was more important.

This is also a very close call for many Members. Those of us who remember the Gulf war—I do, vividly, because I was Tom King's Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Defence—and those of us who were out of the House, "resting", during the Falklands war but watching very closely found the necessary decision very easy: a sovereign state had been invaded, and it was essential that we go to its rescue.

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More recently, I found it sensible and easy to support the Prime Minister in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. It was clear that a British intervention would be in the interests of peacekeeping, and in the interests of restoring democracy to those countries. Only 18 months ago, an overwhelming majority of us strongly supported the allies' going into Afghanistan. I am sure it was the right decision to remove the Taliban regime, and to try and restore some order to that troubled country.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): The right hon. Gentleman recalls the Gulf war of 1991. Does he also recall that although Kuwait and its allies—among whom we were numbered—had an inherent right to self-defence and required no additional authorisation from the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom then sought and received specific authorisation from the UN in resolution 678?

Mr. Mackay: I shall come to that in a moment, but on that occasion we were not thwarted by a French veto.

On 16 April, I said this to the Minister:

I had great doubts, which is why, like most of my constituents, I was delighted when, along with our American allies, we took the UN route with resolution 1441, while also strongly supporting the return of the weapons inspectors.

I think I speak for everyone in the House when I say we all hoped that through UN resolutions, through diplomacy and through the work of the weapons inspectors the crisis might be ended. Sadly, that has not happened. During that period my constituents, whose concerns I share, took the critical view that both the Prime Minister and the American President were not making a proper case for war. They were not helped by the unfortunate "dodgy dossier", which I think caused huge harm to the credibility of the Government's case. They were not helped by the suggestions of the American Administration, and at times our own Ministers, that for some time there have been direct and close links between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda terrorists. That was clearly not true. There is never any point in exaggerating one's case, because one will not be believed.

I listened carefully to what I thought was one of the Prime Minister's outstanding speeches. I was convinced and satisfied that the case had now been made. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who expressed the hope that the full text of the speech would be given the widest circulation among the British public. I am confident that if it is, there will be a majority in favour of military action later this week.

It was also absolutely right for us and our American allies to send huge numbers of troops to the Gulf. I believe that only by that means—along with resolution 1441 and the presence of the weapons inspectors—could pressure be put on Saddam Hussein. At that point, however—here I return to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire

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(Mr. Lansley)—we were sadly let down by our French colleagues: our French allies. I believe that their behaviour has been nothing short of disgraceful.

I am satisfied that many hon. Members—such as the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and others—believe completely and honesty that it is wrong to go to war. However, I do not accept that President Chirac and his Government believe in the same way. They are acting for entirely false reasons.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Selfish reasons.

Mr. Mackay: Their reasons are very selfish. They are acting for commercial gain, and for wider international and political gains. I shall take no lessons from a French President who breaks sanctions and invites the murderous Mugabe to Paris. I shall take no lessons from a French President and his defence Minister who threatened EU applicant states for merely supporting us and the Americans, and for signing a letter of support.

The behaviour of the French has been disgraceful. It ill befits a close ally and friend. I feel sorry for the French people today. I regret that the President was re-elected last year. I believe that he has done great harm to the international community.

In conclusion, every hon. Member faces a simple choice tonight. We must decide which course of action is more likely to bring peace and stability to the world and, in the short, medium and long term, ensure that fewer innocent lives, whether civilian or military, are lost.

I passionately believe that the whole international community would suffer if we and our American allies withdrew our troops from the Iraqi border without Saddam Hussein having complied with the UN resolutions that he has flouted. Every terrorist and tin-pot dictator around the world would be given a green light. The harm and damage that that would do, to us and to future generations, is incalculable. That is why I have reached the conclusion that the right thing to do tonight is to oppose the amendment and support the Government motion.

3.23 pm

Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): It is a privilege to speak in a debate that in some ways seems to have started last night, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) made his personal statement. I should like to pay a brief but deeply felt tribute to my right hon. Friend. I had the opportunity to work with him, in opposition when I was deputy in his team, and in government. He can look back on hugely significant achievements in all the roles that he has fulfilled in his time in the House of Commons.

It is a privilege to speak in the debate, but somewhat daunting. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of finding it very difficult to decide how to vote at the end of the debate. The arguments on each side are compelling. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a very powerful speech. I acknowledge and welcome that he said that hon. Members faced a test not of loyalty, but of whether they were convinced by the

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arguments, and by the rightness of what he proposes. That is a comfort to those of us who are fiercely proud of our Government, and of all their many achievements to date.

When this matter was last debated, I voted with the Government. I felt that they were very vigorously pursuing the UN route. It the culmination of that process that troubles me this evening.

I supported the Government very strongly in relation to Afghanistan and Kosovo. I certainly believe that military action can be justified in certain circumstances, but the motion before the House troubles me in a number of ways. War is a last resort, to be begun only if it is absolutely essential. Despite my keen desire to see Saddam Hussein disarmed—and to see the end of him, if at all possible—I have to ask whether war is essential this week. Is it essential now?

Saddam Hussein has behaved despicably, it is true. As many speakers have noted, he has delayed disarmament over a period of 12 years. However, some progress has been made in the past 12 weeks, perhaps more than in the past 12 years. For that reason, I should like the inspection process to given an opportunity to produce results.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, rightly, that dealing with Saddam Hussein was like drawing teeth. However, I think that some teeth are being drawn. For that reason, too, I believe that the inspection process should have some time in which to work—even if that time is of limited duration.

Two countries apart from our own have figured in the debate—the US and France. I want to draw a clear distinction between those countries and their peoples, for whom many will feel a huge affinity. In my case, I have ties of both family and friendship, but many people at present feel totally at odds politically with those countries' Administrations.

I believe that the President of France behaved outrageously in throwing a mega-spanner into the UN works. That follows his equally outrageous statements on EU enlargement. However, I also believe that the American policy has many faults. At times, the Americans' diplomacy has been atrocious, especially in the summer of last year. Then, they were brought back to the UN route only by the efforts of our own Government.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that if we did not support the US now, they would be tempted in future to go down the unilateral route. That worries me, as I do not want to feel intimidated into supporting action now on that basis.

I am worried by some elements of the Government's case. The links between Iraq and al-Qaeda seem tenuous in the extreme. Although the proliferation issue is serious and important, the risk of proliferation is very often to be found more in states where there is very little control. That applies especially to states that used to belong to the former Soviet Union. I consider them a real risk in terms of proliferation at present.

In conclusion, I worry about the timing of this military action, given that weapons inspectors could still pursue their work and that alliance building could still occur. That is why, so far, I remain unconvinced.

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3.28 pm

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