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18 Mar 2003 : Column 824—continued

4.37 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I plan to reach the same destination as the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), but I propose to take a slightly different route.

We are witnessing the most spectacular failure of diplomacy in my political lifetime. Here we are with the most sophisticated, best-resourced international institutions that the world has ever seen, peopled by the most civilised, best-educated diplomats in history, assisted by every modern communication device that technology can provide, and working at a time when many of the barriers that used to divide the world have come down—yet they have failed, with the inevitable apocalyptic consequences for Iraq.

First, those close to Iraq—those who may take a different view from that of the United States and the United Kingdom—have totally failed to convince Saddam that his country and his people were going to be hit hard by American and British troops, and that he would be annihilated, unless he agreed to what was being put before him. Many thought that Saddam would give way at the last moment, obliging the American and British troops to go home and leave him in control, without a regime change. But those close to Saddam, geographically and culturally, have failed to bring home to him the fate that lies in store, and that is the first diplomatic failure.

The second failure is more important. The world's democracies have failed to get their act together to present a coherent and united front to an obnoxious regime. It is that institutional failure, rather than the underlying case against Saddam, that has led to the equivocal response from public opinion.

We will need to revisit the whole architecture of international institutional peacekeeping, and re-engineer it radically to avoid future failure. I do not give that as a reason for going to war, but I happen to believe it will be easier to make the reforms that are necessary once the Iraq crisis has been resolved, than to do so with the crisis hanging over the United Nations indefinitely.

I believe there was a need for greater clarity at the inception of the resolution process, a need for more visible and better-defined milestones as we went along, and for greater certainty about the nature of the consequences if there was no progress. The traditional skills of diplomacy involve getting people to agree to something by persuading them that it means what they want it to mean, and saying that there is no harm in "signing up" because the eventuality is remote. All that has come horribly unstuck. There has been too much ambiguity and obfuscation in the process.

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The public squabbling about what resolution 1441 actually means baffles our constituents, as do discussions on "Newsnight" and "Today" between expensive barristers about whether the war is legal. I believe that if the process had been more open and transparent—if there had been more clarity—we would be receiving a more supportive response from our constituents, because the underlying case is strong.

That, however, is for tomorrow. What should we do today? I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) that the decision is close to call. I believe that, in a nutshell, the debate concerns the credibility of the United Nations on the one hand, and its unity on the other. The Prime Minister's view is that unless firm action is taken now, the UN's credibility will be fatally undermined. The alternative view is that moving too fast will shatter the unity of the UN, thus fatally undermining it.

With the benefit of hindsight, we may think it might have been possible for the United States and the United Kingdom to go a little more slowly, not to give Saddam more time, but to give the rest of the world more time. That is not possible now, though. The unity of the UN is no longer there—which makes it more important to assert its credibility.

When we last debated this issue I had some sympathy with the amendment that had been tabled, but I did not support it, for this reason: the best prospect for peace at that time was convincing Saddam that we were prepared to go to war. It seemed to me that the more people voted for the amendment, the more Saddam would get a picture of a country that was not prepared to go to war. Voting for the amendment ran the risk of encouraging Saddam to call the bluff. Having looked at the amendment tabled today, I feel that anyone who genuinely believes that the case for war has not been established should vote against the war. The amendment seeks to square a circle that is incapable of being squared.

Whatever the doubts and reservations about the process that brought us here, here we are. My constituency, like others, has a high military profile. Many of my voters are sitting on the hot yellow sand in Kuwait, wondering whether they will see the cool green fields of Hampshire again. I believe that they and their families are entitled to know that their Member of Parliament backs the risks they run in removing an obnoxious regime, and I shall therefore support the Government tonight.

4.43 pm

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): We have reached the time of day when we have already heard many speeches, and I am not sure that I can add anything dramatically new.

Like many ordinary Members of Parliament, however, I have wrestled with this issue for several months. I did not start with the view that we should necessarily take military action in Iraq. Naturally, I have spent a good deal of time listening to the criticisms of those who are worried about the prospect of war. It has occurred to me that there have been a number of recurring themes in the arguments of those who believe

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that we should not go to war. Obviously, nothing I say will have any impact on those who are already implacably opposed to war, but over the past few days many colleagues have told me that they are not sure about it, because they feel that the issue is very finely balanced. I wondered which matters people were not certain about. I regularly hear that the case regarding weapons of mass destruction has not been made. Some people are certain that Saddam Hussein has none at all, and others say that he has neither the capability nor the capacity to use them.

How did we end up in this position? We must assume either that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is misleading the House whenever he comes to the Dispatch Box to talk about his fear of those weapons of mass destruction and about the intelligence reports that he has been reviewing, or that the intelligence community is deliberately misinforming him. We must draw those conclusions if we say that the story about WMD is utterly wrong. Moreover, whenever there is a report from a respected journalist that a scientist has been assassinated or detained because he has knowledge of the weapons programme, we must believe that that journalist is seeking to mislead us.

Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) arranged for representatives of the INDICT organisation to come to the House. They gave a graphic description of the people held in Saddam Hussein's detention centres. After those people have been subjected to every sort of torture and humiliation, they are then gassed with mustard gas. Where does all that mustard gas come from, if all that sort of stuff has been degraded or destroyed? We cannot assume that there are no WMD in Iraq. The inspectors' reports repeatedly indicate that there are.

We do not know with any certainty the extent to which WMD exist, but anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein has no such weapons, and no viable chemical or biological weapons, should not vote for the amendment tonight. I agree with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young): anyone who honestly believes that Saddam Hussein has no weapons of that variety should vote straightforwardly against the Government motion. In those circumstances, it would be absurd to vote for the amendment.

People have been preoccupied by the question of the additional UN resolution. I have been troubled by the way in which that resolution has been regarded. For weeks, there has been a systematic effort from certain quarters to convince people that any such resolution would have been irrelevant anyway, as it would have been secured by buying people off, or by arm twisting. No hon. Members who are party to the view that the resolution would have been worthless anyway have a right to come to the House and say that they will not vote for the motion because that resolution was not secured.

I happen to be one of those who believe that the Government were right to try to secure a second resolution. I commend the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to go the full distance to try and achieve that, but it would be absurd to put to the vote a resolution that has effectively been blown out of

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the water already. There is no getting away from the fact that that was the consequence of the French President's behaviour.

We have therefore been left without a second resolution and, as a result, Saddam has been given a further advantage. We might have been able to say today that we were all at one about how to deal with the man, but we find ourselves sidetracked into dealing with the question of the resolution. The second resolution in itself is important only if we disregard everything that went before, but the reality is that there have been umpteen resolutions in the past 12 years. For a full year, the House has had virtually no other topic for debate than the question of what we should do about Saddam.

Some hon. Members say that they would have supported the Government under other circumstances, but that the lack of a second resolution—a resolution which, a couple of weeks ago, the same people were calling dubious—has made the decision for them. With all due respect to the people involved, that is an extremely hard case to believe.

The other question that I have pondered is why the situation is suddenly different now. I read the amendment with interest, but it is the "Groundhog Day" scenario. It says that, despite everything that has happened, we want to go back to the beginning and start again. The amendment is saying, "Well, we think that Saddam might have some weapons and the UN might be well advised to take some action against him, but we think that the Prime Minister should start all over again and see whether he can get another resolution. If he gets a resolution this time, however, we think it should give Saddam an unspecified period of time." The amendment calls it a "defined period", but that could mean three days, 30 days or 30 years. Those who support the amendment think that we should start again, allow everything that has already happened to happen again and then, if we are no further forward, consider military action.

I am no fan of the prospect of military action, but the time has come to draw a line if we are to justify what we have said. The talking must end and we must show that our intent is real. Any other course of action diminishes everything that has happened.

Many people have raised the legitimate point that there are two issues that we cannot walk away from. If we resort to military action—

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