Previous SectionIndexHome Page

18 Mar 2003 : Column 880—continued

Jeremy Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend accept that numerous people in the United States passionately oppose American military foreign policy? In the demonstrations in New York, Washington and San Francisco, many carried placards reading "41 million Americans have no health care, yet we have money to bomb Iraq".

Mr. Banks: Of course I accept that. We could equally say that we have the money to send large numbers of troops to the Gulf, but we cannot get the Central line running.

What really worries me, though, is that we in this country are now trapped between a bunch of right-wing religious bigots in the White House and Islamic terrorists in the middle east. That worries me, and it should worry all Members. We are being dictated to by the demands of United States domestic politics. Just think about it: would we be here if the Democrats were still in control of the White House? Would we still be arguing the case for the invasion of Iraq if the Labour party were in opposition? Thank God we are not, but I

18 Mar 2003 : Column 881

think that if we were I would hear people saying "No, we must stand by the United Nations. We in the Labour party have always been an internationalist party, and we must do nothing that would undermine the authority of the United Nations".

I am old enough to remember Suez. I recommend a reading of Anthony Eden's memoirs, which, ironically, are entitled "Full Circle". In that book, Eden suggested that the British Government wanted to use the invasion of Suez "to secure a solution of middle eastern problems". That is exactly what we are now being promised in the context of the invasion of Iraq. We have now come up with something called the road map. Well, it is a pity that we did not have that road map 46 years ago. Where has that road map been for the last 46 years? I can only say that it must have been in the hands of Mark Thatcher.

In 1957, we were forced out of Suez by the Americans—by President Eisenhower. I believe the Americans were right then, but they are wrong now. Regrettably, we were wrong then and it looks as though we are going to be wrong now. Clearly, we in this country learn very little from history.

I am not a rebel, and I really object to being described as one because I happen to disagree with what the Government propose.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: No, I will not. Yes, I will: the hon. Gentleman is a lovable fellow.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am extremely grateful to my old friend. Does he accept that the logical consequence of his vote this evening, whether or not he regards it as a rebel vote, would be the defeat of his Prime Minister?

Mr. Banks: I do not accept that at all. We have all agreed that this is a matter of conscience and judgment. I think that this is the place, in a democracy, where we can have disagreements, although I do not want them to be rancorous. I do not want the Prime Minister to get a bloody nose. I am not one of those who want to see him go. The Prime Minister has led this country and our party well, and I want to sustain him. On this occasion, I am afraid I cannot do that—but that merely underlines the strength of my loyalty, for I feel very unhappy that I will be voting against the Government tonight.

Ultimately, my decision not to support the Government is not a result of my wrestling with my conscience all night and then clinging to office. My decision to vote against the Government is based on a cold calculation of what I think is in the best interests of the country. The disadvantages of this clearly outweigh the advantages. Yes, we will get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the potential problems are enormous: a Pandora's box could be opened in front of us. We will have a divided country, a divided party, a divided Parliament, a divided UN and a divided European Union, which I think is terrible; and there will always be the chance of more terrorism in this country and around the world.

18 Mar 2003 : Column 882

That is my analysis. If I am wrong there is no damage, but if the Government are wrong we really are in deep do-do.

8.38 pm

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Tonight's vote is not about whether there is war or peace. It is a vote about whether there is war with us or without us, and, by extrapolation, about whether there is reconstruction with us or without us—and, by further extrapolation, about whether there is a rebuilding of international institutions with us or, perhaps, not at all.

I will go into the Government's Lobby tonight after travelling a rocky and reluctant road, and without enthusiasm. I want to explore why so many people are concerned about the prospect of war, and why this war has commanded so little general support in comparison with previous conflicts.

When the Prime Minister put British troops into Sierra Leone, I thought that that was an act of outstanding courage. There were no votes in it, and no issues that would sway British electors; the Prime Minister saw it as a moral concern. When we participated in Kosovo and Afghanistan, it was apparent to me that that was the right thing to do. Humanitarian and security issues were at stake, and ethics and politics met.

I do not have the same conviction over Iraq. For one thing, we have been told specifically that it is not a humanitarian issue. The Foreign Secretary has said clearly that, if Saddam were to give up his weapons voluntarily and easily, he would stay in power. He would then be free to continue his activities, in power. It may be that, by accident and miscalculation, we can turn this into a humanitarian issue, but we did not embark on this venture for humanitarian purposes.

It is a pre-emptive war in its conception. However much I share the loathing for the Iraqi regime, I believe that there must be special reasons for embarking on a pre-emptive war. Of course there is a generic threat to the UK from the existence of weapons that lend themselves to terrorism. That is the reason that President Bush used in his broadcast much earlier today, but it has not been demonstrated that there is a specific threat to the UK.

The Prime Minister says that the national interest is at stake. It is, in the general sense that our national interest is to have a world that is well ordered and democratic rather than one that is unstable and run by despots. However, I and many other people cannot see how that national interest is more threatened today than it was three, five or 10 years ago. Indeed, my understanding is that over that period Iraqi capability has been degraded, and that Saddam has been debilitated and pegged down—that deterrence, in a nutshell, is working. We must remember that, in many ways, the war started a long time ago, with the constant aerial intervention over Iraq.

People say, "Well, the Prime Minister must know something we don't." We have all rather taken in refuge in the belief that the Prime Minister must have access to information that we do not have. The Government speak with such categorical certainty about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction that one is

18 Mar 2003 : Column 883

inclined to believe them. But does Saddam Hussein have such weapons? Will we find the arsenals that we believe are there?

The nuclear inspectors have talked about the matter, but not with the apparentness to which public opinion responds. Moreover, the Government have made some statements that have been at odds with statements in the document that they issued in September, especially in connection with the building of nuclear capacity.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is unlikely that I will be called to speak, so I am adopting all his arguments, but is not the logic of the American position regime change? Trust has broken down so much that the Americans could never be sure that Saddam would ever give up all his weapons. Ever since 11 September, they have been determined to change the regime in Iraq.

Mr. Curry: I agree with my hon. Friend, but the problem is that America's reasons for the war have changed often. The Americans have given a number of reasons for the war, and the UK has always been careful to exclude regime change from our rationale, but there is a dislocation between the logic being brought to bear in Washington and the logic here.

The Government seem to postulate a choice between the forcible disarmament of Saddam, and the inevitable rebuilding of his weaponry. Given the degree of surveillance constantly applied to Iraq, I wonder whether that really is the only choice at hand.

The Government say that they will fight to uphold the will of the UN or of the international community, but we chose the UN route knowing its rules. The Government pulled President Bush down that route, and we all applauded when they did. It is difficult now to invoke a mandate based on furthering the interests of the international community in the UN when we acknowledge that the UN would not deliver the endorsement that we sought.

The problem is that the US has given the impression that its only interest in the UN was to get its approval for war, and not to exploit the potential for progress by non-military means. Every report from the weapons inspectors has invariably been greeted by Washington as a causus belli. The US has shown a palpable distaste for the whole UN operation.

Of course I believe that the French actions would have been a great deal more plausible had President Chirac said that, if Saddam did not conform to UN requirements after a certain period, French troops would take their place alongside other troops in the Gulf. That he did not say that is a signal failure on his part. French policy has failed but, if France stands accused of wanting to veto war whatever the circumstances, many observers drew the conclusion that that was in reaction to an apparent US predetermination for war. The Americans' reasons for war kept changing, but their military build-up was remorseless.

I have real concerns about the position of the UK. I respect the depth and power of the Prime Minister's conviction that the policy is right, but there is a real danger that the UK will fail to meet US expectations, while at the same time it is burning its boats in respect

18 Mar 2003 : Column 884

of relations in Europe. I have doubts about whether the policy—if it is the Government's policy—that the UK can act as influence, harness, guide and tutor to the exercise of power by the world's only superpower is, in the long term, any more than a historical intellectual conceit.

Next Section

IndexHome Page