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18 Mar 2003 : Column 810—continued

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Efford: Not at this stage.

Much has been made of the use of the veto at the UN, but we are not all innocent in that respect. In the past 30 years, the United States has vetoed 34 resolutions concerning Israel. The veto has been used 250 times, in more than 40 per cent. of cases in relation to issues involving the middle east. Only this week, we have seen yet another attack in Gaza, where 10 people were killed, including a four-year-old child. Even in the days after 11 September, people were attacked and killed by Israeli forces in Jenin and Jericho. I have to ask whether that is the action of a country that recognises the weight of the issues involved in the tragedy that occurred on 11 September or its role in securing long-term peace. We need to find a way forward. How do we get those people to follow the route map set out by the United States and our Government? How do we convince Arab people of our sincerity? What guarantee is there that after this conflict is over the road map will not be lost?

The USA provides $2.1 billion of aid every year to Israel. Only last October, there was a request for another $10 billion of aid because the intifada has hit its economy and almost cut it in half. Just by threatening to cross a nought off the end of that aid, we could bring Israel seriously to the negotiating table and sort out the problem once and for all. We need more time and we need to deal with the issues in parallel. If we are to convince the wider world community of our sincerity, why not give the inspectors more time to deal with Iraq in tandem with sealing, progressing and following the route map that has been set out in terms of Israel?

The stakes involved are too high for failure. The UN is right to challenge the USA. For too long, the USA has been able to say to the United Nations, "Jump", and the United Nations has said, "How high?" The UN is absolutely right in this new world order to question whether it should jump in terms of the timing of any action that should be taken. I do not support what France has done during the past week—its actions have hastened the deadline for war—nor do I support its attempt to create a European axis against the United States in a new world order.

The UN is ours, faults and all. It is the route by which we should decide that in future we will negotiate away these difficult situations without the need to resort to military action. The Prime Minister said in his opening statement that the UN should be the focus of diplomacy and of action. I agree. If we are to win the peace for my children and for future generations of children, we have to go back to the UN and give it more time.

3.44 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I am very pleased to be called to speak in this debate at such an early hour. I believe that I have perhaps one small advantage over other Members of this House, which is that I have personal experience of being bombed by the Pentagon while in a capital city. I was in Belgrade, and then in

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Pristina, during the Kosovo campaign, when B-52s and cruise missiles were deployed in an operation conducted, after all, by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), whose moving speech I listened to with great attention last night. Of course, that operation was carried out without UN endorsement. I remember writing some very angry articles while in Belgrade about the way in which that war was conducted, because I honestly hated the methods that were used. I despised the bombing from 30,000 ft, which seemed to me to be cruel and erratic. I also loathed some of the anti-Serb rhetoric, and I became, among the many unfashionable aspects of my beliefs, rather pro-Serb.

I saw lives ruined and families destroyed by bombing, and I saw civilians grieving for their loved ones, who had been killed by NATO. We all saw the results of the Pentagon's tragic mistakes: the slaughter of people in a convoy of tractors, the train that was blown up on the bridge, and the killing of the make-up girls who worked for Serbian television. I in no way retract all my criticisms of those methods, but as I look back now on that reporting, I must admit that my anger obscured a separate truth: the aim was a good one, and it was a good idea to force Milosevic to stop his persecution of the Kosovar Albanians, and to do what we could to force him from office. One would have to be rather perverse not to agree that the world is better for his going; indeed, Serbia is better and the whole of the former Yugoslavia is better. There are no more hideous pogroms whipped up by ruthless politicians, setting one ethnic group against another. There is no more torching of houses, no more rape camps, and all the rest of it.

Mrs. Mahon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be even-handed and mention the 300,000 ethnically cleansed Serbs, Roma and Ashkali who are now living in dreadful camps in Serbia?

Mr. Johnson: I accept fully what the hon. Lady says. I am not pretending that life in Serbia is perfect now, and it is of course true that there are a great many refugees, and that many injustices have been done. However, it would be rather extremist and irrational to say that life in Serbia is not better, because it is. As I drove around the former Yugoslavia after that conflict, I was surprised at how few casualties there were, and at how few casualties the Serbs claimed.

If one were to ask me now whether that mission was worth it in order to end a culture of violence, hate and savage ethnic murder, I would say yes, it probably was. That is the lesson that I learned.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman is describing how he became sympathetic to the Serbs on account of the suffering that he saw. However, does he not accept that those are exactly the ingredients that can lead to a resurgence of terrorism, and that there are analogies between how he felt, and the paramilitary recruiting drive that took place in Northern Ireland immediately after Bloody Sunday?

Mr. Johnson: I listen to the hon. Gentleman's point with great interest, but to be frank, I wonder why his party now stands against action to help the people of Iraq, given that its previous leader, Paddy Ashdown, was so vigilant and fierce in his demands for

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humanitarian action on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians. I find that a very curious reflection on how times have changed for the Liberal Democrats, and I wonder whether it has anything to do with opportunism and how they see the public opinion polls moving. I do not really understand their motivation.

There is much that I admire about the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Livingston. I noted with interest the acclaim with which he was greeted on the Government Back Benches last night, which may or may not be ominous for the Prime Minister. There was one striking omission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, however. He dwelt at length on the threat that Saddam might, or might not, pose to western security—I thought that he was too optimistic about that—but he said not a word about the condition of the people of Iraq. How many people has Saddam Hussein killed? Is it 100,000, 200,000—a million? We have all met Iraqi people who yearn for that man to be removed. I am thinking in particular of an Iraqi computer technician who said, "You guys have got to get rid of Saddam Hussein because no matter how many people Bush kills it will not be as many as Saddam kills in a year".

The right hon. Member for Livingston spoke of a long-standing Anglo-American agenda to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Like many others, the right hon. Gentleman wanted to know "why now?" and "why Saddam Hussein?". Such objections are logically frail and hardly amount to an argument for doing nothing now. If anything, they are an argument for wishing that we had done something earlier and, indeed, in other places. To people who ask, "What about Mugabe?", I reply, "Indeed, why don't we do something there?"

It is possible to criticise many aspects of the way in which the Government have prepared the country for the course of action that we are about to take. I shall not delay the House further with repetition of my objections to the dodgy dossier and the UN bungling. I do not know who made the diplomatic assessment of the likelihood of French accession to a second UN resolution but he obviously blundered.

We can dilate until the cows come home about what the situation means for the so-called common European security and defence policy, which has nothing in common, nothing to do with security and barely amounts to a policy. I shall not go further into the curious hermaphroditic policy of the Liberal Democrats.

We should all like a second UN resolution but that is not going to happen. Tonight, we have to decide whether to give authorisation for British forces to engage in enforcement of UN resolution 1441 and, indeed, the 17 other UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein has continually flouted. Having learned the lessons from what I saw in Serbia, I shall vote for the motion. There are several reasons but one is paramount. It will mean the enforcement of the will of the UN and the removal of Saddam Hussein will make the world a better place, but, above all, it will make the world better for the millions of Iraqis whom he oppresses.

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I deeply respect the hesitations of people on both sides of the House, but, as they make up their minds, I urge them to think of those people in Iraq and to decide whether, by our votes and actions tonight, we shall be prolonging their misery or bringing it to an end.

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