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18 Mar 2003 : Column 877—continued

8.21 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): We conduct this debate, 18 months after the horror and tragedies of 11 September, with our institutions impotent, with no coherent solutions to the threats facing civilisation, and with the old world order split asunder, possibly irrevocably. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) that international diplomacy has failed. The United Nations has shown that its structure is not equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. The European Union is split, and its plans for a common foreign and defence policy are in ruins. The future of NATO is threatened as the different aims, objectives and outlooks of its members are exposed. Out of this carnage of shattered institutions, a new world order will emerge. Rebuilding those institutions must be a priority, but this is not how it should happen.

Many will ask how we got ourselves into the position in which we find ourselves tonight. I have sat here for months listening to Ministers confidently predicting that those institutions would accept the challenges before them. I have waited for Ministers to produce the killer piece of evidence that they gave the impression was there. It has not materialised. With hindsight, their optimism was misguided, misplaced and misleading. There is no smoking gun. There is no clear link between international terrorism and Saddam Hussein. The dodgy dossier and the false claims of attempts to buy uranium in Africa have undermined the argument. There is some evidence that the tyrant is disarming.

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These are all strong arguments for opposing involvement in this conflict, yet I pause. What would be the consequences of turning our backs on this motion tonight? In my judgment, it would simply make things worse and, if I had any doubts, I was persuaded by the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon.

As a young politician, I was brought up to believe that democracies do not start wars. It is not for civilised nations to interfere with the internal affairs of another country, no matter how much we disapprove. But now, the tyrants hide behind that principle and terrorise their own people, believing that they are immune. We need no further evidence than the stream of refugees fleeing from cruelty and torture in Iraq. If we couple that with the new emergence of the unseen enemy who leaves no fingerprints and dies for his cause—the suicide bomber and the man who flies a plane into a building—we realise that the rules of the game have changed.

We must never forget the horror and traumas of the 11 September nightmare in New York. Since then, the American people have been marching to the sound of a different drumbeat from the rest of us. I understand the view of a President who says that he does not distinguish between terrorists and countries that support terrorism, and my gut instinct is that Iraq is one country on a short list of countries that threaten the peace and stability of a world of democracy, opportunity and prosperity. I believe that those countries possess weapons of awesome capacity and that they will give them to terrorists who are prepared to use them. Saddam poses a threat to us all, and we must not shirk from addressing it.

The cry of those who oppose this war—for whom I have huge respect—is not to leave Iraq alone, but to persuade that country to disarm by peaceful means. That is well meaning and well intentioned, but, in my judgment, it is unachievable. If we were to give Saddam Hussein an extra six months to comply, we would be back here in six months' time having the same debate. He has already flouted endless UN resolutions. That is what has brought us to this point. If France said that it would support a UN resolution, provided that certain conditions were met, I would understand—we all would. But if it continues to prevaricate, I cannot see the point of further delay. Despite serving in the Royal Navy for nine years during the cold war, I am as appalled as anybody by the threat of war. However, I believe that it is only a matter of time before 11 September repeats itself in a European capital. I ask myself, as I am sure many hon. Members do, whether I would regret not supporting the motion tonight if such a thing happened. The answer is clearly yes.

Failure to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict is at the root of the discontent in the Arab world. The announcement of a new impetus to solve that crisis once and for all is persuasive and warmly welcomed. Along with rebuilding Iraq and restoring confidence in our institutions, that must be our priority.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman referred to the Palestinian crisis. Does he not think that 50 years of arming, financing and not condemning Israel, and

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allowing it to possess nuclear weapons, are contributory factors to the destabilisation of the whole political process in the middle east?

Richard Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, but that is not the question before us tonight. The question that we are being asked to address is about the here and now, and whether we involve ourselves in this war. Of course his point is relevant, but it is not the central point.

A successful outcome to this conflict will not end terrorism, but it will contain it. It will send a message to those who engage in or support terrorism that there will be a price to pay. In a powerful speech, the Chief Rabbi recently said that we were not looking at the difference between night and day. He said that we were in the twilight areas of dawn and dusk, and that this was not about the difference between right and wrong, but about which of the two wrongs we should choose.

This is a defining moment in world history. Our policy of being at the heart of Europe is in ruins. We are witnessing the emergence of new principles in international affairs. We must play our part in the new order that will emerge from the rubble of this conflict. It is with a heavy heart that I will support this motion tonight, but to me it is the lesser of two evils.

8.28 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I say that it is with a heavy heart that I will not be supporting the Government's motion this evening? I feel it necessary to put a few things on the record about what one is not, when explaining what one intends to do.

I am certainly not anti-American. I agree very much with the points made by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) about what we owe to the United States. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. As ever, he made a characteristically strong and authoritative speech. There must be many Conservative Members who wonder why he ever stood down and left them with his father as leader. I endorse his point that we owe a great debt of honour to the United States. If it had not been for the intervention of the United States in the last war, who knows, we would probably have been overrun by the Nazis, and many people in the Chamber would have been growing small moustaches and polishing their jackboots—those, that is, who had not already been eliminated.

I am not pro-Saddam Hussein. I was speaking against him in the early 1980s when the then Conservative Government, the German Government, the French Government and the Russians were all arming him, trading with him and sustaining him. I need no lectures on how evil Saddam Hussein is, but to compare him with Hitler is absurd. There is no comparison between the ramshackle state of Iraq and the military and industrial might of Germany in the 1930s. This is not the occupation of the Rhineland; it is not Czechoslovakia; it certainly is not Poland. And George Bush sure is not Winston Churchill.

I am not one of those who think that all leadership automatically leads to treachery. The Prime Minister has worked himself almost physically to a standstill to try and resolve this issue peacefully and through the United Nations, which is enormously to his credit. But,

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tragically, we have failed in the process, simply because the case for war has not been persuasive in the United Nations, in Europe or in this country as a whole.

It is far too convenient to blame the French. Legally, of course, we might or might not have needed a second resolution as well as resolution 1441—you get your lawyers, and you get whatever view you are prepared to pay for—but politically, securing that second resolution was crucial. If it truly was only the French who opposed it, we should have pushed for a vote in the Security Council in order to isolate them. Their veto would then have been seen as unreasonable, if they had used it. But the threat of the veto was not, in fact, what it was all about.

While we are talking about vetoes, let me say that it really is time that we proposed getting rid of the veto in the UN Security Council. It is a legacy of the old cold war. Anyway, I do not think that this was about the threat of a French veto. We did not push for a vote to see whether we could isolate the French, because we knew that we would have been in the minority in the Security Council. It is simply not credible for us to say now, having not done that, that we propose to uphold the authority of the United Nations. What is being proposed will undermine the authority of the United Nations and replace it with Pax Americana.

I accept that the Prime Minister has been a restraining influence on the US Administration, but it is becoming clearer by the day that President Bush and/or his advisers have always wanted a war with Iraq. Now he needs one; he desperately needs that war for his own domestic agenda. For the Americans, Saddam Hussein has become a symbol of everything that is wrong in the world. No one could seriously suggest that Saddam Hussein poses a direct threat to the security of the United States, but the world has changed for the United States, dramatically and traumatically, and the Americans need the war for that reason. They need a war against the symbol, Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately—if I may use that old Texan cowboy cliché—we in this country, the British Government, have been led into a box canyon.

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