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18 Mar 2003 : Column 837—continued

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Will my hon. Friend give way.

Mr. Sedgemore: No, I will not give way.

The public find much of the background to this war difficult to comprehend. So do I. Shortly after Saddam Hussein did use chemical weapons of mass destruction against his own people, I sought to go to Iraq with my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and a chemical weapons expert to find out just what had happened. I do not remember any of us being given any support, either by the then Government or by the then Opposition. The heroic efforts of my hon. Friend, for whom I have unstinting admiration, to help the Iraqi Kurds, were met with her dismissal by the Prime Minister on the advice of the then Labour Chief Whip . I find that appalling.

More recently, my hon. Friend has been thwarted by the Attorney-General in her attempts, as an alternative to war, to indict Saddam Hussein and his henchmen for crimes against humanity. The Attorney-General's response, as my hon. Friend told the House in withering terms, was woeful. His legal opinion, which I have seen myself, was scorned by experts.

So now it is to be war on the basis of another bad legal opinion by the Attorney-General. I have it here in my pocket. I do not want to be rude to the Attorney-General, but he is a commercial lawyer who, frankly, seems to be out of his depth when trying to deal with this problem. Let us not forget too—I apologise to my learned Friends for this—that the law is a marketplace and if one shops around, one can always get some poor soul to give the opinion that one wants.

Of course there are laws, domestic and international, and they should be adhered to, but it takes people of clarity and understanding at the top to enable systems to work fairly and properly. In my view, we lack such

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people at the moment. History frequently tells us that tragedies are rarely as bad as they seem at the time they occur; ominously, however, it sometimes tells us that they are worse. I suspect that the latter will prove to be the case this time. In the end, politics, like most other things in life, is about trust. Sadly, I do not trust some of the people who are leading us in this issue, so they cannot rely on my support tonight.

5.35 pm

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): That was fairly indigestible. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) indulged his usual understatement, but apparently one can safely make that sort of speech from inside the Cabinet as well as outside.

I shall pick up the point about legality and spend a few minutes examining it. Seventeen United Nations Security council resolutions and the opinion of the Attorney-General are enough for me—although apparently not for some people—and I cannot see how one more resolution can make moral something that is otherwise immoral. However, to examine the issue strictly in terms of legality, the opinion of the Attorney-General seems to me powerful and well argued. No doubt, as the hon. Gentleman said, if one got a different lawyer, one would get a different opinion. I note that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commissioned an opinion from a QC and got an opinion that was precisely the opposite of the Attorney-General's. How surprising. There is no point in paying one of those expensive people if they are not going to say what one wants to hear.

I wish to explore the views of many of those who are rebelling against the Government over Iraq but were perfectly content with the action that the Government took in Kosovo. We did not get even one United Nations Security Council resolution for Kosovo. We relied on a doctrine of so-called humanitarian intervention that almost certainly does not exist—certainly the point had to be stretched. The United States may be stretching the concept of pre-emptive self-defence if it uses that as an argument for intervening in Iraq, but at least that doctrine exists, unlike the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. What we did in Kosovo was illegal.

A great many Labour Members and some Conservative Members seem to have problems with what the Government are doing now, when there is a strong case that the action is legal, even if the case is not watertight. In Kosovo, the action was clearly illegal. There were three major debates in the House on that action, and no one voted against it, even though they could have forced votes on the Adjournment. There was nothing like the plethora of activity that we are seeing now. One cannot help wondering what prejudices this policy on Iraq has tickled.

The leader of the war party at the time of Kosovo, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who spoke yesterday—I told him that I would refer in this debate to what he said—is now apparently the leader of the peace party. At the time, he argued strongly for the intervention in Kosovo on what I consider were powerful and compelling moral grounds. There was indeed a strong moral case for intervening, but there was

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not a legal case for doing so. Are we now saying that Milosevic was a bigger threat to international peace and security than Saddam Hussein, or that Milosevic was committing worse breaches of human rights than Saddam Hussein? Milosevic did not have weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein almost certainly did.

Those who wrap themselves in principle and say that on this occasion they are behaving out of principle, as the right hon. Gentleman does, at least owe us consistency. If people base their views on foreign policy on principle and morality and they are inconsistent, one is entitled to ask about their sincerity. Those who will oppose the Government tonight out of their principles cannot have been acting on the same principles when they supported the Government on Kosovo.

Mr. Savidge: In the Balkans, Milosevic had started a series of wars in the recent past, and Kosovo was just one more, whereas Saddam Hussein, evil though he is, has been contained for more than a decade.

Mr. Maples: I do not want get sidetracked into the history of the Balkans, as we could be there for a very long time. All I will say is that our intervention in Kosovo was an intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Kosovo was part of Serbia. The then Foreign Secretary engineered a conference at Fontainebleau at which Milosevic was presented with a wholly unacceptable set of terms and conditions, which was then used as a pretext for starting a war. We intervened in the internal affairs of another sovereign state, without any legal basis for that action. I do not argue that there was no moral basis; there certainly was, and in that respect the intervention was successful, but nobody could argue that it was legal.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: No, I have taken an intervention on that point and I want to pursue my own argument.

We must understand that the world has changed since 11 September. If we do not think that it has changed for us, we must understand that it has changed for the United States. Things that were previously acceptable as nuisances or pinpricks no longer are. We must also accept that only the United States will sort out the problems. We will not do it; the French will not do it. If we and the French could talk to each other, we could not do it together. We are going to rely on the United States to do it.

The idea that our foreign policy can be carried out legally and morally only if it is the subject of a United Nations Security Council resolution is a dreadful hostage to fortune. It gives any of the five permanent members of the Security Council a veto over what we decide to do.

On my second point, I turn to what will happen or not happen tonight. I have read the amendment with more than 100 signatures against it. Presumably, rather more hon. Members will vote for it. The case could have been made until two or three weeks ago, but do those hon. Members really think that it is sensible, at this late stage in the day, to try to defeat the Government on the matter? Let us consider what the consequences would be if the Government were defeated.

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If, on the verge of battle, with our troops and their command structure integrated into an alliance with the United States, playing vital small parts in that military effort, they were withdrawn, that would destroy the credibility of British foreign and security policy for a generation. Just reflect what happened at Suez. It took 26 years, till the Falklands war, for the credibility of British foreign policy to be reasserted. If we withdraw—

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: No. I am in the middle of making my main point.

If we withdrew our support for the alliance at this late stage, we would destroy the credibility of our foreign policy for a generation. We would damage immensely, if not terminally, our alliance with the United States. We would damage our relations with a great many countries in Europe that support the stance that the Government have taken, and I venture to say that we would never be trusted again while most of us are in the House, and probably long beyond.

I believe that the Prime Minister's actions will be vindicated. Even if one disagrees with what he is doing, the time has come to stop criticising and undermining him and to let him get on with the job. The best that most of the rest of us can do is hope and, dare I say, pray that the conflict will be short and that very few people will be killed.

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