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18 Mar 2003 : Column 873—continued

8.4 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies), who set out his case with passion and clarity.

Each of us must examine our consciences and determine how we will vote at 10 o'clock, for this is surely one of the most significant decisions that we will make as a House of Commons in this generation. It seems to me that the choice we have to make is not between an obvious right and an undeniable wrong. We are being asked to choose between two imperfect propositions. In my judgment, it is not obviously right to go to war now and not obviously right to seek more time for the inspectors to do their work. This is a murky and complicated choice and each of us must balance the arguments and decide where we stand.

In coming to our judgment, it is difficult not to be influenced by the certain imperfections and inconsistencies of US foreign policy over many years. It is interesting that we have had so many different objectives for this potential conflict. We must take into account some of the doubts that have been expressed in this excellent debate about the legality of the action. It is definitely true that the dodgy dossier and some exaggerated claims from the Government have not helped us in forming our judgment.

However, it is equally hard to believe that President Chirac has suddenly become the principled saviour of human rights and international legitimacy. It is hard not to see Saddam Hussein, the father of lies and master of deception, continuing to play cat and mouse with the UN inspectors, however long they are given to do the job. It is hard to imagine that this Iraqi tyrant will be disarmed other than by force. If we do not deal with him now, we will have to do so later. Who knows how many people will suffer in the meantime?

Many of us have said that we hate the prospect of war and I am no different. I hate the thought of war and all its gory consequences, but I hate even more the thought of Saddam Hussein continuing in office. I hate the thought of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of suicidal terrorists and of the west once again showing weakness in the face of terror and threat when we should show strength. I have made my decision and I know where I stand: I will support the Government tonight and back the motion to use "all means necessary" to disarm this tyrant. At the same time, I respect strongly those who have reached a different conclusion, but I am convinced that that is the right way forward.

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I pay tribute to the leadership that the Prime Minister has given to our country in recent weeks. He first attracted my silent admiration when he said that, for him, the special relationship with America was an article of faith. I also believe that it is our current destiny as a nation that we should support this only superpower. That is the reality of modern-day global politics. The Prime Minister has done his utmost to achieve a second resolution and has articulated the need for action in a clear and compelling way. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, whom I am glad is in his place to listen to this rare tribute from me. He has been steadfast in his position on Iraq not only for months, but for many years. That should be recognised and respected. He is also to be respected for not seeking to exploit the potential political difficulties of the Government on this issue, but focusing on doing the right thing. That is certainly what I came into politics for.

I want to make two other points. I was pleased to see that even the amendment expresses strong support for our troops who are about to go into action. Many of the armed forces now on the brink of conflict live or are based in my constituency—notably the Royal Marines of 42 Commando. They are highly professional and very brave. They will acquit themselves well and we in the south-west are all rightly proud of them.

Whenever I speak to a soldier, marine or person in the Navy or the Air Force, I am always most impressed by the fact that they are trained for action and, when the time comes, they want to undertake it on behalf of their nation. They are ready to do that despite the risks. It is vital, as they cross the desert, risking their lives in the national interest, that they know that the country is behind them. I hope that, after we vote tonight, the House will unite and send to our troops with one voice the clear message that they have our full backing.

It is also crucial that their loved ones at home know that. My family is experiencing its first taste of the personal agony of war. Our daughter married a fine young trooper in the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment only two and a half months ago. She remains by the television, constantly awaiting news of the conflict. However, she is surrounded by people in her university—we Streeters marry young—who demonstrate against what her husband is risking his life to do. That does not help. I therefore implore those outside who are planning their protests, marches and placards to think, once battle is engaged, of the thousands of troops who risk their lives and of their families at home. I ask people to show some common humanity and postpone their political protests until the conflict is over.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Streeter: I appreciate that that was a moment of fine rhetoric, but I had not finished.

I want to speculate briefly on the future of the international community. We need a credible United Nations if we are to try to build a safer world. However, the stark reality, whether we like it or not—some colleagues have stated today that they do not like it—is that the world has only one superpower. It is not perfect, and often speaks and acts in a way that baffles many of

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us. We should certainly not give it a blank cheque. However, without positive American engagement, the United Nations would be a useless talking shop. The Prime Minister was therefore right to go the extra mile in persuading the US President to take the UN route. He is also right to make full use of our special relationship and be the closest ally to the only superpower.

President Chirac plays a dangerous game when he waves his veto around, reckless about the consequences. Driving the USA out of the UN would be one of the most serious things that could happen to global security. President Chirac and everyone else would rue the day.

8.12 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Today is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a debate about Iraq and I am grateful for the opportunity.

It is a time to draw on one's inner beliefs and vote according to principle. I want to put my views on record for my constituents and the community where I live and which I work hard to represent so that they know and understand what I do today.

I shall vote against the war and for peace. I shall walk through the Lobby with many members of the socialist Campaign group, but one will be missing. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will not be with us tonight, and I send him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Last week, in a desperate attempt to gain support for war, the Ministry of truth at No. 10 tried to portray the Campaign group's position as a challenge to the party leadership. Let us make it clear that today's vote has nothing to do with the leadership. It is a vote on principle: one is either for war or against it.

The Prime Minister said that he wants people to vote not out of loyalty but on the basis of understanding and supporting the argument. I respect him for that. I would respect him even more if he gave us a free vote instead of a three-line Whip, and if the Whips were called off from trying to persuade people in their normal manner.

I shall vote for peace tonight because the Bush war plan is immoral. It fails the test of the basic just war principles of not only last resort but right intention. I do not accept that Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle and Bush have the right intention for the future of Iraq.

I believe that war is illegal. We cannot simply erase the US ambassador's commitment to UN Security Council partners that resolution 1441 contained no hidden triggers and "no automaticity". Many will perceive war against Iraq as an act of international vigilantism by a superpower state that increasingly appears out of control. We will reap unforeseen and incalculable consequences for the world, our citizens and constituents for generations. People will suffer and die. No matter how few die, it will be too many for me.

If we go to war, we must be clear that we have the support of our people.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): My hon. Friend has been eloquent about what he believes to be unacceptable. How would he disarm Saddam Hussein's regime?

John McDonnell: We will work through the UN. We will use weapons inspection and implement the proposal

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for UN human rights inspectors. We will support the Iraqi people because a tyrant falls best and hardest when he is pushed by his people. We will not bomb but support them.

Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way with his usual courtesy. Did not we hope that the Iraqi people would get rid of Saddam Hussein in 1991 when we left it to them? They rose up and were massacred.

John McDonnell: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not believe that the Basra road is a good example of supporting the Iraqi people. We inflicted carnage on them. Many were simply conscripts who did not wish to fight.

If we go to war, we need the clear support of our people. In the past 12 months, we have been treated to a global propaganda exercise to persuade us of the need to attack Iraq. We have been subjected to a global stream of new-Labour-like publicity stunts, cynical in intent and increasingly ineffective. The lasting inheritance is the perpetrators' inability to tell the difference between truth and falsehood, even when lives are at stake.

Most people have seen through the global propaganda exercise. The great persuaders have failed to persuade. People have seen through the dodgy dossiers and the forged nuclear weapons evidence. They have been offended by the use of the memories of those who died on 11 September to justify dusting off Rumsfeld's five-year-old plan to invade Iraq. They understand that the war has no link to the war against terrorism and will exacerbate the terrorist threat for years. They have grown wary of pleas for and justification of war on humanitarian grounds by those whose humanitarian credentials are compromised by their military, economic and political support for the tyrant Hussein and who, after 20 years, have suddenly discovered the plight of the Iraqi people.

Even those who believed Bush and would have been held to the principles of the UN by the Prime Minister have been rapidly disillusioned. We now know that the Bush military regime had set a timetable for invasion of Iraq that was based not on the outcome of the UN weapons inspections but on the climatic conditions of the middle east. A second UN resolution was not an act of faith in the UN and the rule of international law. It was simply another part of the propaganda exercise to bring states, and especially the British electorate, on side. When not enough states could be bought or bullied, the UN route was cast aside.

We reached the height of cynicism last week when we were promised the Palestinian-Israeli road map. It comes from a President who was forced by world opinion to send Colin Powell to Israel when Sharon sent his tanks to demolish Jenin. To give Sharon the time to murder enough Palestinians, Powell took the longest route from Washington to Tel Aviv in the history of travel. Where was the road map then? Where was it this week when Israeli bulldozers drove backwards and forwards over the peace demonstrator, killing her outright?

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When rational argument fails, we find a scapegoat. Who better than the traditional enemy, the French? The language that has been used in the debate against the French verges on xenophobia. Yet any criticism of the Bush regime is pounced on as anti-American.

It might be impossible to prevent the Bush regime from going to war, but we can still prevent Britain from being party to this international atrocity. Our vote tonight could withdraw any moral or political authority to take this country to war. Without the overwhelming support of the House, no Prime Minister can be confident that he has the backing of the British people for war, or the right to lead our people into this unknown risk.

If the Prime Minister proceeds to take us to war in this coalition—not of the willing, but of the killing—I shall say clearly, "Not in my name. Not in the name of thousands of Labour party members up and down the country. Not in the name of the British people." To our communities, we say, "Continue the campaign for peace, to shorten this war and to prevent the next." To the British troops, we say, "Safe home." To the Iraqi people—the parents—we say, "Hide your children deep in the shelters, but we wish you safety. We will stand by you when the bombing stops." To the peoples of the world, we say very clearly, "We will not let this coalition destroy the United Nations as the arbiter of international order." We must form a new coalition to build institutions of global governance capable of safeguarding the world from the new superpower that is globally dictating its policy to the rest of the world.

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