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18 Mar 2003 : Column 847—continued

6.11 pm

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), because, as leader of his party, alongside the other party leaders in Northern Ireland, he has shown the way in going the extra mile when the point is reached at which they are as frustrated with the peace process as any Member of Parliament is with the present international impasse. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that.

The imagery of the past few weeks has included some disturbing contrasts. We have seen 1.5 million people on the streets of London—one of the biggest demonstrations ever. We have seen the images of the Iraqis sending old al-Samoud missiles off to the knacker's yard and the awesome sight of an army of modern weaponry on the border of Iraq, prepared to invade and occupy a small but strategic and historic country in the middle east. There is always something distasteful and unpleasant about overweening might being used in war against a much smaller nation. It is the imagery of David and Goliath, the bully in the playground, the Soviet invasion of Hungary or the tanks rolling into Czechoslovakia, the bombing of La Moneda palace in Chile in 1973 and, indeed, the despotic acts of Saddam Hussein in oppressing minorities in Iraq.

I disagreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister today when he compared this situation with that in 1938. In that situation, we faced a country that

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itself was using overweening force to impose its will on other smaller countries. It was right to challenge the US Administration and go through the UN last autumn, but it became apparent that that approach could be interpreted in two ways. The danger was that the US would see the UN approach as a vindication of something that it always intended to do and would pay only lip service to resolution 1441. On the other hand, resolution 1441 could be seen as the consensus between those nations—I count Britain among them—that genuinely felt that it offered the potential of disarmament without military action.

The effectiveness of the peaceful approach was undermined every time that we saw Donald Rumsfeld or other members of the US Administration on television saying, "We will take military action to enforce our will in Iraq, but we would prefer a UN resolution." It was undermined every time that Britain failed to offer a strong rebuttal of such statements or to demand publicly that the US should declare that it was prepared not to use military force if that was the consensus reached in the UN. It was undermined whenever Members of Parliament said that the UN mandate would not prevail and that nothing would stop the US. It was undermined when the President of France, Jacques Chirac, threatened recently to veto rather than negotiate the terms of a second resolution, which we all wanted desperately to see negotiated in the Security Council.

Resolution 1441 required that the Security Council consider the outcome of the weapons inspections and it clearly left the UN in control of whether action was taken. Our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary understood that very well, and I applaud their efforts. The collective view has not been secured, however, and that imposes constraints on everyone, whether they comply or not. As matters stand, we are no longer in compliance with the international will and Kofi Annan has not lent his authority to military action.

When I was in Africa last week I was struck by the shock and incredulity of people in the small country of Malawi at the British position. They said, "But we thought that Britain was on our side. We thought that you would support small, developing countries that have only international bodies to protect them." Only six months ago, a large group of young constituents came here on the fair trade lobby, feeling totally in tune with a Government who had a proud record of tough international action on the issue. That has been a hallmark of this Labour Government and we have been in tune with the new generation, reflecting their growing recognition that the world is now a smaller place and that we are now more dependent than ever on a collective approach not only to security, but to the joint occupation of this planet.

Two weeks ago, I supported the amendment that considered that war was not yet inevitable. The decision and judgment for MPs is more difficult today, because further efforts have been made and there is a serious question about where we should go from here. First, we are all united in supporting the troops. Secondly, we hope that the new smart bombs that are supposed to be able to destroy everything within 600 yd will try not to destroy too many people. Thirdly, we hope that the excellent section of the Government motion—if it is passed tonight—on Israel and Palestine will be realised.

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I remain sceptical about any war that is said to end wars; I remain sceptical that this war will secure defence against international terrorism; and I remain sceptical, finally, that this will reap—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Lady has had her time.

6.20 pm

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Our difficulties in this debate are as nothing to those that confront our armed forces, who deserve our unqualified support. It has been a principled decision of my party to uphold international order and institutions—in particular, the United Nations. We have consistently argued, first, that military action should not take place to enforce resolution 1441 without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, and, secondly, that no British forces should be committed to any military action without a debate in the House and a substantive vote in favour. I personally have engrafted a further condition to my constituents—I would in no circumstances do anything that I consider would undermine our armed forces.

I am grateful to the Government for—uniquely, I believe—providing an opportunity for this debate and vote. The whole country is well aware of the lengths to which the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and his team have gone to secure the further resolution from the United Nations to authorise military action. There has, however, been a failure of diplomacy. Considerable criticism has been directed at the United States Administration for adopting a bulldozer approach and displaying a cavalier insensitivity towards a number of our allies and a number of their potential, and crucial, allies. However, I support our strong links with the United States. Despite one or two hiccups, for the past century our close links with the United States have served both countries well.

The position of France has always been pivotal to the negotiations on a further resolution of the United Nations. It is deeply disappointing that France's final position was that, whatever further resolution was passed, it would veto any measure that provided authority for the use of military force in the event of failure. France's position was pivotal: if she had been prepared to vote for a resolution, not to vote at all, or not to veto a resolution, I believe that it would have caused a domino effect and that the resolution would have passed. Whatever criticisms can be directed at the allies, France does not come to this matter with clean hands. France has her own view of the world and the French have major contingent contracts and commercial interests with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

The Prime Minister has not spared himself in endeavouring to secure a second resolution, which demonstrates the importance that he and his Government attach to that second resolution. It would have been crucial to my party's support for any military intervention. The courageous men and women of our

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armed forces are now about to be sent into battle. They simply cannot be kept hanging around any longer. I offer them my wholehearted support. In the terms of the main amendment, I express my

I not only hope but believe that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides.

I cannot vote against a motion that offers support to Her Majesty's armed forces who are now on duty in the middle east. Of course, there are matters in the Government motion with which I do not agree and which I cannot support. Nevertheless, there is much in the Government motion with which I do agree and which I can support. I shall, however, vote for the main amendment. I concede that it took the imminent threat of overwhelming force, but the weapons inspectors were having significant success. I strongly believe in world order, the reverse of which is anarchy and chaos.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): The hon. Gentleman was following impeccable logic until the last moment. If his preferred amendment is defeated, will he—given what he has just said—vote in favour of the main motion?

Mr. Burnett: I will make my position quite clear. I shall probably have to abstain. There are aspects of the Government motion that I support and aspects that I cannot support.

Pre-emptive action must be reserved to deal with the threat of an attack on a nation or its allies, or there must be compelling evidence of imminent, impending attack, or there must be the sanction of the United Nations Security Council. There has been a diplomatic failure, which I deeply regret. However, for all its flaws, I believe in the United Nations and the rule of international law.

In his speech, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) described the decision on this amendment as finely balanced. I very much agree with him. He went on to say that this debate was a battle for the credibility or the unity of the United Nations. I submit that the United Nations cannot be credible without unity.

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