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18 Mar 2003 : Column 857—continued

6.53 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): I am no peacenik. I supported action in the Falklands and the Gulf. I supported the Prime Minister's excursions in Kosovo. When the Serbian army withdrew, its condition was such that I was glad that Milosevic had decided not to fight. If he had, the outcome could have been much more bloody and horrific.

If there is a war, I, like everyone in the House, will give our troops full support. The Iraqi regime is rotten and the war could be short, so we shall be in the reconstruction and rebuilding phase quicker than we might anticipate. I wonder whether the Government have spent enough time looking at reconstruction, rather than knocking things down.

I made it clear that unless there was a second resolution I would not support the Government. I shall vote for the amendment, but I shall do so with reluctance and regret; in 26 years as a Member of the House, this will only be the second or third time that I have voted against my party.

There are additional reasons for my views. The proposed action will crack unity—if it has not cracked already—in NATO, the EU, the Security Council and the United Nations. I am not saying that Humpty Dumpty can never be put together again, but it will take a long, long time. I take no pride in hearing clever-clever remarks knocking other countries, because sooner or later we shall have to get together and rebuild things. We shall have to bring about international agreement on the way forward. Smart remarks against the French and remarks such as those made by the American Secretary of State are not helpful and I greatly regret that they were made.

The Government produced various arguments that were apparently the best thing to do at the time, which seems to be part of their policy. They have proposed the morality argument. I go along with that. Saddam Hussein is an evil man. I am one of the few Members who have actually met him. If he were to be found dead tomorrow, I would not lose sleep. But where do we stop? It is Saddam Hussein today because he is an evil, wicked man, but who will it be tomorrow? I would have more respect for the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary if they had condemned what was happening in Rwanda at the time and said that we should put forces into that country to stop the terrible genocide. The standard punishment for young girls at that time was to take off their hands at the wrist.

Where will the moral argument take us? I am concerned that the Americans will become the international peacekeepers; they will be Matt Dillon while we are Chester, limping along behind. We must think carefully when we take the path of ending tyrannical regimes.

To try to bolster their case, the Government produced documentation, rightly described as dodgy documents. To lift vast chunks of a person's work, which was already several years old, lard it with words such as "terrorism" and try to pass it off as one's own work is less than satisfactory.

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Another argument is that Saddam attacked other countries. He fought Iran and Kuwait. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) pointed out, several western countries do not have entirely clean hands in that matter; we seem to pick and choose our support or condemnation of various people. The world should be careful about providing equipment and weapons of mass destruction to people of the ilk of Saddam Hussein.

We are told that Saddam Hussein still has weapons of mass destruction, but what will happen if we do not find them when we go in? If I were Saddam Hussein, I would have got rid of them long ago. We could be creating justification for every extremist Islamic group in the world to declare open season on the United Kingdom and the United States.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Page: I should rather not. The magic hour of 7 o'clock is approaching and I should like to finish my speech by then.

I want to look ahead to the rebuilding. I am greatly concerned that we have not spent enough time considering how to rebuild Iraq. Have the Government thought the process through? What exactly will we put in place? I have heard about territorial protection and the maintenance of borders, but has anyone talked to the Kurds of northern Iraq about that? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Has anyone spoken to those in the east of Turkey? Have they signed up to all this?

In conclusion, I have to say that, without world support, I fear that our well-established moral integrity and authority throughout the world will be damaged and that Islamic extremists will take advantage of that if weapons of mass destruction are not found in Iraq.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),

Question agreed to.


Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

7 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): If the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) wants to believe anything, let him read the reports of the inspectors themselves and Hans Blix. I certainly know without any doubt that, whatever measures of progress the inspectors may think they have achieved since resolution 1441 was passed, their reports indicate that there are a lot of unanswered questions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that weapons are unaccounted for and that they are seeking to find chemical and biological agents. There is no doubt that there is cause for concern.

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Saddam Hussein's track record over the past 12 years shows that, time and again, when he has assured the UN and the world that weapons are not there, he has been found out, and the most telling time was when his own son-in-law gave information to that effect and, as we know, he lost his life as a result.

I personally have always believed that, sooner or later, we would have to come back to the issue of Iraq and the UN resolutions, having been a Parliamentary Private Secretary for two years to a Foreign Office Minister who had that as part of his brief and having sat in the Chamber listening to the debates on sanctions policy and whether the containment policy was working. Some of my colleagues who are against the Government this evening were also against the sanctions policy, as well as the containment policy. Despite the best efforts, we have seen that progress was not being made.

I well remember that the whole issue of sanctions and containment was argued and debated during Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions and in Adjournment and other debates in the House before we broke for the summer recess in 2001. Then we had the disaster of the twin towers and 11 September. That changed the world's views, and it made people look back and consider how to move forward. Of course we had the situation in Afghanistan to deal with. During all that time, my personal thoughts were that that was the immediate issue to deal with, but we would have to come back to Iraq sooner or later.

Why? We would have to come back to Iraq because 17 UN resolutions legally require Saddam Hussein and Iraq to disarm. If we are to challenge and deal with the many different factors that create the very insecure world that we live in—whether organised terrorism, or those who are tyrannical in their repression of their own people and a danger to their neighbours and who have the ability not only to procure weapons of mass destruction, but to develop them and sell them on—we have to have a fresh look at our approach to all those matters. We were therefore bound to come back to the issue of Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

People in my constituency and party members have made their representations to me about the issue. I understand that they sincerely believe that war should not be an option, but sometimes war is needed to secure the peace, and I believe that we are at that stage today. I am mindful of acknowledging those hon. Members and other people who sincerely hold views that are against the Government's strategy, but I have also received letters, e-mails and phone calls from constituents and party members who support the Government, the Prime Minister and myself in voting for the Government this evening.

Those who believe, as I do, in force as a last resort, to be used to achieve the greater good are no less principled than those who do not believe that we should vote in favour of that tonight. I certainly do not believe that I have a monopoly on truth or wisdom or necessarily the moral high ground above anyone else. All hon. Members and many people outside have to look at the information and make a judgment call on what they think is the right thing to do.

We have choices to face about Iraq. Those choices are undeniably hard, but we have to make them because the evidence of weapons of mass destruction is there, the

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questions are unanswered and the reality is that, if Saddam Hussein had the will to co-operate and the attitude to take part in realistic disarmament, we would have seen evidence of that by now. There is no way that we can continue to make excuses for that lack of co-operation.

I also believe very strongly that only by tackling the issue of weapons of mass destruction can we seek to tackle Saddam Hussein's repression of his own people in his country. I first came into contact with the politics of the Ba'athist party as a student in the early 1980s, when Ba'athist agents in this country were trying to hound and track down exiled Iraqi students, find their names and addresses and put at risk their families back in Iraq. I have known about that for the past 20 years. In the past week, the reality of life for people in Iraq today has been brought to my attention because of the efforts made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd).

When the northern Iraqi Prime Minister Barham Salih was asked about war and violence, he said that this was not an issue of war or no war. All 22 million people in Iraq live every day in fear of violence and an internal war against them, and we cannot walk away from that. We have the opportunity not only to deal with weapons of mass destructions and to make sure that resolutions that have been passed time and again are finally enforced but to do the right thing by the Kurds in the north, the Shi'a Arabs in the south and the Iraqi people who are opposed by that regime, and I say that as a democratic socialist.

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