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18 Mar 2003 : Column 843—continued

5.56 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I would like to begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I worked closely with him when he was shadow Foreign Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and I have a deep respect for his genuine internationalism.

Like many Members of the House, I have thought long and hard about this complex issue. I have great respect for everyone who has spoken in this debate and

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for the many people with whom I have had discussions on the issue over the last couple of weeks. I want to say clearly that I support the Government. I do so not out of any sycophancy or blind loyalty, but because I believe that the position that they have adopted is morally correct.

Equally, I would like to say that I am not naturally a great ally or fan of the United States of America. I remember going to Nicaragua on two occasions in the 1980s, and I saw at first hand the extremely negative aspects of the US foreign policy of the time for the people of that country. Furthermore, when I turn on the television and see George W. Bush, I frequently cringe when I hear the vacuous rhetoric that he often employs. That is not a reason, however, to oppose the US position on Iraq. It is incumbent on all of us carefully to study precisely what the American position is, and what it means in practice.

Like many Members of the House, I had strongly hoped that we would have had a second United Nations resolution. However, having studied carefully the transcripts of various statements by President Chirac of France, there is no doubt in my mind that the French are primarily responsible for the fact that we do not have such a resolution. They threatened to use their veto in a quite unreasonable way, and many of us who wanted a second resolution did so on the assumption that all parties on the Security Council would approach the issue in a constructive, objective and fair way. That clearly has not happened.

We have to ask ourselves why the French have adopted this position. Some people might cite French commercial and oil interests. We have to bear in mind, however, that the French are playing a longer and bigger game plan here. They are concerned, it would seem, with developing an alternative global vision to that of the United States. They see themselves as the new and natural leaders of the European Union. I find that perspective extremely worrying, and I think that we in our country must ensure that there is a bridge between the United States and Europe enabling us all to work together as far as is humanly possible.

We must also never forget that, time and again, Saddam Hussein has been given the opportunity to resolve the situation. The onus has rightly been placed on him. If he had said at any moment—not during the last few days or months, but at any time during the last 12 years—that he was prepared to comply with United Nations resolutions, we would not be in our present position. We should never, ever forget that.

A clear choice is before us today. Many have talked of the consequences of military action; let me briefly refer to some of the consequences that I envisage in the event of no military action. First, I believe that the UN's influence would be reduced still further. Our Prime Minister's approach has, I believe, been the right approach. We must ensure that once military action has been taken, the UN continues to play a major role in world affairs and, in particular, plays a leading role in the creation of the democratic Iraq that we want to see. If we abdicate our responsibilities, the chances of that will be significantly less. Secondly, I believe that if we vote against military action there will still be a war: there will be a war if the United States alone attacks Iraq. I think that that more than anything else would reinforce the inclination of many in the US Administration to go

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for unbridled unilateralism, which would constitute a huge step back for the global community. I fear, too, that the much-discussed road map would be that much more difficult to fulfil.

If the United States and we do not take action, however, Saddam Hussein will have been given the all-clear to keep his weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, he will have been given the OK by us to develop them still further. Let us not forget, too, that when we talk of weapons of mass destruction we talk of some of the most appalling weapons that humankind has developed—anthrax, mustard gas, VX gas, sarin gas and so on.

Finally, let me say this. If we do not take action—if we abdicate our responsibilities—the consequences for the people of Iraq will be dire. No one can doubt the barbarities of Saddam Hussein's regime: the torture, the persecution, the intimidation, the rape, the murder, the sheer inhumanity of the Ba'athist regime. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has depicted that inhumanity more graphically than anyone else I can think of. If we back down now, we will not be forgiven by thousands of ordinary people in Iraq.

Yesterday I was privileged to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister of Kurdish northern Iraq. The message was crystal clear: "Please stand by us. Please stand by the people of Iraq, the Kurds and the Shi'ites, so that we can have a better life—a life free of tyranny and free of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein".

Like all other Members, I have given this issue careful consideration. I believe that there are powerful and genuine arguments on both sides; but I also believe that at this crucial time we must stand by the people of Iraq, do what we believe is right, and support the Government's motion.

6.4 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): As someone remarked earlier, there is a sense that this debate is a continuation of what we discussed at some length a few weeks ago. I dare say that we will come back to the subject in the next week or two.

Many arguments have been made and points touched on, but the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) spoke of containment and deterrence as a way of dealing with the problem. Those concepts worked well during the cold war, but the world has changed since the cold war ended. We must recognise that containment and deterrence will not work in the situation that confronts us.

In the modern world, we face danger from what are called rogue states, terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction. As a consequence of the cold war, there is a lot of expertise and matériel floating around the world that is not as well guarded as it should be. Perhaps we did not fully appreciate the problem before 11 September, but the events of that day should have concentrated minds on the matter. In the context of this debate, the significance of 11 September is that it made people realise that a different approach was needed if we were to deal with the problems caused by WMD, terrorist movements and rogue states.

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That different approach was symbolised last year by the passing of resolution 1441. The international community decided to proceed by a route different from that offered by containment and deterrence, and to go back to the weapons inspections that had taken place immediately after the Gulf war. In that way, a serious effort was made to disarm Saddam Hussein.

As I noted in the previous debate on the matter, there was a paradox in the attempt to disarm Saddam Hussein through weapons inspections. The paradox was that disarmament was not going to happen unless inspection was backed up by a credible threat of force. That was how it turned out: Saddam Hussein was not going to disarm voluntarily, and any moves made in that direction would happen only if he believed that massive force would be used against him if he did not comply.

The paradox was that the peaceful, diplomatic route was credible only if a major power was ready to use force, if necessary. However, that approach was no longer tenable after Monday of last week, when the French said that they would veto a resolution whatever the circumstances.

People have talked about the position of other countries, and about the position of Russia in particular. I shall talk about Russia again in a moment, but the French took a unique position because they said that they would veto any resolution that appeared to authorise force, whatever the circumstances. The French were not going to say, "Give it another month or couple of months." If the French position had been to give the approach a little more time, it would have been possible to maintain the credible threat of force. However, as soon as the French said that they would exercise their veto whatever the circumstances, they destroyed the credible threat of force used through the UN channel.

The UN route was therefore blocked. The Government and the US Government spent a week seeing whether they could unblock it, or find some way around the blockage. I am surprised that they spent so long coming to terms with the French position, which effectively closed down the UN route.

Why have the French done this? Their actions are different from the normal French way of operating, with which we are all familiar. In the past, yes, the French have been awkward and difficult. They have hung on until people have met the requirements of what the French regard as their national interest, or until people have recognised the French position. They do not like being taken for granted, but in the past they have usually come into line.

There were indications that the Russians were going to do the same. Whatever their public position, the Russians had a shopping list. I am very glad that the Americans were not tempted to accede to the list, as the reports that I have heard suggest that it contained some pretty gruesome items. Be that as it may, the Russians were operating in their normal way, and one expected the French to do likewise. The question is, why did the French adopt the position of saying that they would exercise the veto, whatever the circumstances?

The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) was getting close to the answer to that question when he said that it went back to the French view of themselves in Europe. The hon. Gentleman said that the French

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believe that they should lead Europe, and that Europe should be another pole of power in the world—a challenge or a rival to the US. However, they discovered that that was not the view of the majority of European countries. That goes a long way to explain the French position and I hope that the Government will bear that in mind when we come to the accession of the eastern European countries to the European Union. I hope that that will not be subject to a veto. We should also remember that point when we consider the outcome of the Convention on the Future of Europe.

For present purposes, we must recognise that the UN route ended on Monday last week. What do we do now? We are not where we wanted to be and the situation is not ideal, but we must operate in the circumstances that now prevail. Are we just going to strike camp and go away? Will the United States allow itself to be humiliated by the French? No, it will not, and nor could anyone reasonably expect that. Nor would it be reasonable to think along those lines ourselves. If resolution 1441 is right, ensuring compliance with it is also right. The French action, therefore, is an unreasonable exercise of the veto.

The Prime Minister made a powerful and compelling speech. I agreed especially with the comments that he made towards the end of it. We must make a choice in the present circumstances. We must consider the consequences of that choice, some of which are unknowable and unpredictable. There is an element of risk in the choice that we make, but we must make it. The situation is imperfect—this is an imperfect world—and the issue cannot be easily compartmentalised. In the present situation, however, we do not have much of a choice and that is why my colleagues and I will support the Government in the Lobby tonight.

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