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18 Mar 2003 : Column 827—continued

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order.

4.52 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): It is pleasure to speak in such a full Chamber. My normal lot is to speak when the Chamber is almost empty, which is probably a good thing. I am afraid that when the gift of making good speeches was handed out I must have been somewhere else, but I shall try to explain why I intend to vote for the amendment tonight. I shall do so with a heavy heart, and the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition nearly persuaded me to vote with them. Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) nearly persuaded me not to vote with him.

There are many reasons for my decision and I cannot give them all. One of the principal reasons is the action in Yugoslavia, which I opposed. Although I understand the reasons given by other hon. Members—notably my

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hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson)—I find it disturbing that that action has been portrayed recently in debate as a great victory and success. Anybody who knows the current situation in Kosovo will realise that we certainly have not finished what we started. It is one of my great worries that the same will happen in Iraq.

Enough has been said in some excellent speeches, but I have lost my faith in what happens in war because in the past the truth has been blatantly abused by our propagandists. I do not seek to make a party political point, but I thought that our Government were above that. If we want to keep the faith and trust of other countries, we must not try to hide the truth. Military considerations aside, we must try to tell the truth.

This is a difficult decision. Although I would normally say that the Whips are a fine body of men and women, and it is usually a good idea to do exactly what they say, on this occasion I suggest to all hon. Members that it is best to make up their own minds. Those who are voting with the Government are not warmongers; those of us who are voting for the amendment are not appeasers. Everyone has their own opinions and it is very difficult to come down on one side of the fence.

America is not a villain. I would like to count myself as a friend of America. However, as all good friends should, we sometimes have to speak out and tell our friends that they are doing something that they should perhaps think twice about. All I mean by that is that they should just hold back a little longer. I can understand that the military build-up is like water behind a dam. We cannot keep it there forever. That is why I think that what is going to happen is inevitable.

I was brought up to believe in serving my country. I also believe in doing my duty. My duty is first and foremost to my country, then to my constituency, and then to my party. However, one of the things that I have always been frightened of in the Whips Office is when people listen to the arguments. Listening to the arguments today has been a salutary lesson. Another expression that we have in the Whips Office is, "I'm afraid I'm all over the place."

Many of my constituents from RAF Uxbridge are already in the Gulf, and many others will soon join them. The last thing that I want is for them to feel that I am undermining them. If the amendment falls, I shall seriously consider the political and moral gymnastics of whether I can support the Government. I am not sure at this stage whether I can do that, but I can promise my constituents out there that I wish them well. Once I have said my piece, I shall shut up and let them get on with their job. I hope—I have never hoped this so much in my life—that I am wrong about some of the possible consequences. I will be the first to admit that, if I am wrong, I shall be delighted.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

4.57 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): There was a quiet eloquence about the hon. Gentleman in spite of his disclaimer. What I liked about his speech was his considerable respect for those on both sides of the argument and his readiness to express honest doubt. I have felt little respect for those who have total confidence in either side of the argument. There are

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many high risks and many uncertainties, and many questions that have not been answered—indeed, there are some questions that cannot, as yet, be answered. However, we are not a university debating society and we are not a seminar of professors. We have to make decisions. People will make decisions, exercising their judgment as best they can.

We are faced with this problem as we seek to come to a decision: should we now stand down our troops, and should we fundamentally change our strategy? In theory, we could indeed fold our tents and glide away, forgetting about the fact that there are men and women representing our country on the borders of Kuwait and Iraq. We have chosen to be engaged. In my judgment, we made a correct strategic decision way back last summer. We remain engaged with our US allies. To withdraw at this stage would be unthinkable. To suggest that we could was the essential flaw in the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) last night. His speech was highly compelling. Moreover, he has, in a short time, made a major and positive impact on the procedures of the House and on the House generally. The fact is, however, that we cannot easily now turn back without undermining our own credibility and the authority of the United Nations. The wording of 1441 was clear. One does not need any special knowledge to know that "immediate" should mean immediate and that "unconditional" should mean unconditional. Only in an Alice in Wonderland world do words mean what I say they mean: elsewhere, the word "immediate" must surely mean immediate. After four and a half months, Dr. el-Baradei said clearly that there would have to be a dramatic change on the part of Saddam Hussein if there was to be compliance. Given Saddam Hussein's record, one would need faith in a Damascene conversion to imagine that such a dramatic change was likely to happen. It was reasonable to assume that the words meant what they said. If we backtrack now, no future Security Council resolutions will have any credibility. We can make all sorts of pious declarations but a giant leap will be required if there is not the will to enforce them.

I turn to the role of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He promised in good faith to pursue the diplomatic path, and he has indeed gone the extra mile, as many of us demanded. The Prime Minister undertook to make possible a debate in this House before action. That was wholly unprecedented and wholly against all the practices and conventions of our constitution. I applaud his having done so; it is a major victory for Parliament. The Prime Minister stated clearly that he wished to act in conformity with international law—of course, there are weighty lawyers on both sides, but the opinion of the Attorney-General is very clear on this point; not one Member of this House could have tried harder than the Prime Minister to continue negotiations to avoid war; not one Member could have shown more commitment or more courage.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Donald Anderson: Yes, as long as I have injury time.

Ms Abbott: My right hon. Friend said that the opinion of the Attorney-General could not be clearer,

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but in fact the Attorney-General's advice rests on a 10-year-old UN resolution. It is not as clear as my right hon. Friend thinks.

Donald Anderson: Perhaps my hon. Friend should see a lawyer. I have confidence in the Attorney-General. He chaired the Bar Council, he has his reputation among his fellow lawyers to maintain, and he is a man of stout independence. I urge my hon. Friend to look carefully at the conclusions that he reached.

Our Prime Minister made a strategic decision to stand alongside the United States on the basis that it would give him influence—it certainly has given him influence in terms of the UN route and of the middle east peace process—and on the basis that Saddam Hussein, given his past conduct, only responds to pressure with the credible threat of force. I am confident that that was the correct decision at the time. We could not have foreseen that the UN route could lead to the current impasse. One or two hon. Members have spoken of a spectacular failure of diplomacy, but all the advice available to our Government—not only from our diplomats but from conversations with leading members—was that there was a likelihood that 1441 would be obeyed.

The US has many vocal critics—I have frequently raised my concerns about its unilateralist policies in other areas—but the blame for the collapse of the diplomatic process lies with the wilful obstruction of the French Government, who said in terms:

The French is clear: whatever the circumstances, France will vote no. There is nothing clearer than that. The French ruled out negotiations on the proposals put forward by the UK Government even before the Iraqis did. That approach, which has led to a crisis in the international organisations and put at risk the transatlantic alliance, is based essentially on a Gaullist view of the world—the idea that Europe can be an effective rival or counterweight to the megapower of the United States. France has played into the hands of Saddam Hussein by blocking the UN route. Do we seriously expect Saddam Hussein to make concessions and to co-operate with the weapons inspectors now that the pressure has been taken off him—or would have been taken off him if the French had had their way? In short, France has dealt a mortal blow to any hopes of a peaceful, negotiated outcome.

I recognise the uncertainties and the high risks, and I share many of my colleagues' suspicions about the unilateralism of the US Administration. However, I am confident that the French position can only encourage that unilateralism, while our policy will help to keep the US engaged internationally, and will ensure our national influence for the good. Despite all the uncertainties and anxieties, I fully supported the Prime Minister when he lined up with the President to disarm Saddam Hussein voluntarily, or by force. That was done for the best motives, and on the basis of a correct analysis at the time, and it has had significant results. Disarmament is now impossible through the preferred route, so serious consequences are now imminent and inevitable. In my judgment, if we prevaricate, we lose credibility. To uphold the UN's credibility, we should hold our course. I shall support the Government tonight.

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