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18 Mar 2003 : Column 840—continued

5.42 pm

Hugh Bayley (City of York): In July last year the Prime Minister took the decision to work through the United Nations. He was the first person to call for UN weapons inspectors to be readmitted to Iraq. France was not calling for that, nor was Germany, nor was the peace movement and CND, nor was the United States, so it was a major achievement to gain unanimous support in November for resolution 1441.

I deeply regret the divisions on the Security Council that have opened up since then. Those divisions, as I said earlier, have had the effect of disarming the United Nations, rather than disarming Iraq. On 24 February France, Germany and Russia submitted a memorandum to the Security Council that stated:

So why the talk of a veto? Why not negotiation with other members of the Security Council? Why not compromise on a defined period for disarmament to be followed by military action, as was proposed by our Government?

I wanted to see a second resolution carried in the Security Council before UK troops were committed to military action, but unfortunately the opportunity for that debate has been taken away by the French decision to wield its veto. I do not agree with the French or German view that if we give Saddam Hussein a little more time, he will change his mind and disarm, but I respect the German position when they say that they will not participate in military action. I would respect the French position if they said the same, but I cannot accept that France, Russia or China have a right to use their veto to prevent others from enforcing UN resolutions.

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In the absence of the second resolution that I wanted to see, I simply ask two questions. First, has Saddam complied and disarmed? The answer is no. Secondly, does it matter? As far as I am concerned, the answer is yes. Given that we, the Americans and others have built up forces in the region, we now face only two alternatives—to commit those troops in the very near future to military enforcement of the UN resolutions or to pull them out of the theatre. If we pull them out, Iraq will immediately end what limited compliance it has shown with the UN's requirements. We cannot keep those forces on stand-by in tents in the desert and bobbing up and down in ships on Indian ocean for a further 120 days, as the French proposed. Every Member of this House knows that. Indeed, France knew that when it put forward its 120-day proposal.

I detest the prospect of war every bit as much as the many constituents who have written to me opposing it, but I do not believe that we can ignore the threat that Iraq poses to neighbouring states, the gross violation of the human rights of the Iraqi people or the risk that the Iraqi regime will at some point in future supply chemical or biological agents to terrorists who might use them in this country or elsewhere in Europe.

I am deeply concerned about the humanitarian consequences of war. There is an urgent need to ensure that responsibility for distributing food under the oil-for-food programme is transferred from the Iraqi authorities to the United Nations and that there is adequate funding to ensure that that happens, because 60 per cent. of Iraq's population depends on that food aid. We need to ensure that neighbouring countries open their borders to refugees and that refugee camps have water, sanitation and health facilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) said, we need to ensure that the UN runs the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Without UN leadership, many donor countries simply will not make the contributions that will be necessary to rebuild Iraq.

I am pleased that our Prime Minister has put Palestine on to the agenda. There cannot be peace in the middle east without the creation of a Palestinian state and security for the state of Israel. Members of this House cannot ignore the fact that security for the state of Israel will be impossible as long as Saddam in Iraq is providing funding and support to the families of suicide bombers.

Finally, and importantly, I pay tribute to the almost 600 men and women of 2 Signal Regiment from my city, York, who are currently on active service in the Gulf. We in this House do not face the dangers that they face and we in this country are fortunate to have brave and professional soldiers in the British Army, and our other servicemen and women. They are deeply respected for their professionalism throughout the world and my thoughts are with them now.

5.48 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Securing the approval of the United Nations has become the rallying cry for some who oppose military action in Iraq. For them, no war without a second UN resolution has actually meant no war at all in any circumstances and

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whatever the provocation. That evasion is deliberate. However, the United Nations cannot absolve us from exercising our own critical or moral judgment. Although UN approval is useful in garnering international support, a democratic sovereign nation state has the right to defend itself from external aggression, even if the UN or its Security Council has not given its blessing.

The judgments that we must make today are whether our country is right to go to war, and, if so, whether it is necessary to go to war now. Anyone who, like me, has voluntarily joined Her Majesty's regular armed forces is unlikely to support the "no war ever" brigade. No one who believes that a major war would probably be initiated by a nation where power was concentrated in the hands of the evil, the insane or the bigoted dictator can be in any doubt that Saddam Hussein poses a potential threat.

I have no doubt that Europe owes its freedom, and that some of its people owe their very existence, to the people and Governments of the United States. We owe that great nation a debt that too many in Europe ignore. Despite all that, I believe that the case for a war now has not been made. Too little has been done to put irresistible pressure on Saddam Hussein to effect the changes that our safety demands.

Any threat has two components: the available weapons and the likelihood of their use. In the past, the Iraqi regime has manufactured chemical, biological and probably nerve agents. They are weapons not of war but of terror, of which Saddam Hussein must undoubtedly be deprived. However, the Government have not demonstrated that they are easily available for use now. Neither have they shown that, contrary to all Saddam's previous actions, Iraq intends to threaten us with their use. I asked the Prime Minister on 12 February

The question remains unanswered.

We were first told that war was necessary as the Iraqi regime had a history of supporting al-Qaeda. Undoubtedly the regime has supported terrorism, and so have Syria, Iran and Libya. But al-Qaeda? Hardly. A godless, ruthless dictator with a history of oppressing his own Islamic people is inimical to such a fundamentalist terrorist organisation.

Mr. Dalyell: Of course, al-Qaeda had a connection with Saddam Hussein. On two occasions, it tried to assassinate him.

Mr. Sayeed: I thank the Father of the House for reminding hon. Members of that fact. It makes my point that Saddam Hussein is inimical to al-Qaeda.

Secondly, we were told that war was necessary because Saddam Hussein had a variety of foul weapons. When the inspectors did not find them, the Prime Minister changed his "just cause for war" again. In

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answer to my question on 12 February, he introduced the concept of a moral war, waged as a humanitarian intervention to save the people of Iraq.

Mr. George Osborne: Surely it was not the weapons inspectors' job to find the weapons, but Saddam Hussein's job to show them where the weapons were.

Mr. Sayeed: I agree absolutely. Saddam Hussein should have done that. I intend to show why he would never do it.

Would the people of Iraq be better off if Saddam Hussein were dead or in exile? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Does the Iraqi regime have weapons of mass destruction? It almost certainly does. They are possibly so well hidden that they would be difficult to use immediately. Has Saddam Hussein supported terrorist organisations? Again, the answer is yes, but, as far as I am aware, to a lesser extent than Syria. None of those factors justifies immediate military action.

Much more could and should have been done to bring irresistible pressure to bear on Saddam Hussein by, for example, extending the no-fly zones to cover the whole of Iraq, by requiring Iraqi military personnel and equipment to be returned to agreed positions or by demanding that the weapons inspectors had unfettered access to sites and Iraqi personnel. Such draconian measures might have received international approval, and might reluctantly have been accepted by Saddam Hussein, provided that the visible threat of war continued. They certainly would have degraded the Iraqi regime's ability to resist military action if it came. Obviously, I cannot prove that my ideas, or any others, would have worked. I believe, however, that much more could have been done, and that much more should have been done differently, so that the effect of prevarication or cheating would have been obvious. We did not do that, however. Instead, we made demands that the Iraqi regime was always unlikely to accept, and which, if it did pretend to accept them, would be easy to cheat or lie about, as its dishonesty was hard to prove.

So, we are faced with war. It is a war whose justification will not be accepted by most of the Muslim world. Too little fresh thinking has been employed in trying to avert it, and its rationale has changed as each reason has remained unproven. It is portrayed as a war of last resort, yet it appears to be born of frustration with a regime and a leader without whom the world would be better off. I will give my unswerving support to those whom we have sent to fight in our name, but I will not support a premature decision to wage war. I hope that we will not come to regret this, but I fear that we will.

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