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18 Mar 2003 : Column 884—continued

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is not another problem with UK involvement in this adventure that we are the old imperial power in Iraq? People in Iraq and throughout the Arab world must understand that. Even in 1955, we had Crown territories in the area, and Iraqi military recruits had British officers. Will not that pose a serious problem for how the Arab world perceives the UK?

Mr. Curry: I suspect not, as a matter of fact. I think that that history has died. I believe what is said about the relationship of the Iraqi people to their regime.

However, the question of how we cope with the world's only hegemon, especially after 11 September, is a real issue. I hope that the Government do not believe that the right answer is to ride postillion. There is an urgent need for us to repair relations in Europe, and for Europe to rebuild transatlantic partnerships. A Europe of 25 member states will be more flexible and open to influence than one still dominated by historical and traditional axes. If 11 September brought a new world to the American continent, enlargement will certainly bring new politics to Europe.

All European states ultimately have an enormous stake in the EU, the UN and NATO. Those structures are now badly fractured, but they are still of proven resilience.

I share the bewilderment of millions of Britons as to how we got here. It is reasonable for that unease to be registered in this Chamber tonight, but one thing that we must conclude is that the UK has to think hard about its role in the world, and about how its interests are best served in that world.

The decision tonight is not about whether there should be peace or not, because that decision has passed us by. If it had not passed us by, I should have had no hesitation about going into the Lobby that stands for peace. However, I must decide what my country's legitimate role and influence are. I have to decide how best I can propel my country to be that force in world affairs that is part of our historical destiny and which, to use a Gallic word, is our vocation.

That is why, with much heart rending, I shall go into the Government Lobby tonight. We must throw open the debate to deal with what happens in the aftermath of war. We must discuss how we reconstruct and rebuild, and how we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. If we do that, the conflict—which we all pray will be as short and clean as conflicts ever can be—will have taught something to us, as well as to our enemies.

8.48 pm

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): We all face a difficult choice tonight, whichever way we decide to vote, but we will all respect the choice that each individual Member makes. When I came here today I intended, reluctantly, not to support the Government, but I have listened to

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Members on both sides and that has made my life very difficult. The expectation that we will do the right thing makes life difficult, and life is about difficult choices.

This week we have been told that the Prime Minister is reckless, but I do not believe that. No one could have done more than the Prime Minister. I must also support the Foreign Secretary for the way in which he has backed our Prime Minister. It is difficult and hard, and I wonder how we have ended up in this position. Hindsight is a great thing and we can look back and say that we would have done things differently. Unfortunately, we cannot change things now, and we all face a tough decision tonight. I am not yet sure how I will vote tonight. At first, I was fairly confident that I could not support the Government, but the conviction that I hear from both sides persuades me that I must question right up to 10 o'clock whether I am doing the right thing.

The Prime Minister deserves credit for what he has done to avoid war so far. Without doubt, we would have been at war already without our Prime Minister. What worries me—my quandary—is how we can rebuild the UN. I said that our Prime Minister has been called reckless, but the French Government and President are the reckless ones. I do not seek to blame them, but they have been reckless in this matter.

The credibility of the Government is what will count tonight. I am concerned about the credibility of the map that has been drawn for the future of the middle east. We will be united by the fact that we all fully support the British troops whose lives will be put at risk. It is not easy for me to say, "Go to war and risk your life." It will not be my life on the line, but that of an 18-year-old from my constituency and many others. Every hon. Member has constituents who will be put at risk. Two Territorial Army regiments have already been called up from Chorley, together with many full-time regulars. Their lives will be put at risk. I would like to think that we still had the opportunity not to put their lives, or the lives of civilians in Iraq, at risk.

Sir Patrick Cormack: What will those young men and women—our constituents—feel if the Government are holed below the waterline tonight, which is what would happen if the amendment were carried?

Mr. Hoyle: That would be an interesting scenario and I think we would then pull back our troops. The Government would be left with no alternative. The point is that the troops are now ready to go. We could have had an easy choice tonight if the Prime Minister had already committed the troops. We could all have got behind him and our lives would have been made easier. But tonight is not about easy choices: it is about difficult choices. We all face a difficult choice. I cannot easily face up to that choice, but I must do so later.

Many of my constituents genuinely believe that there should be an alternative to war, and I fully support that view. I wish that I could give them an answer, but we no longer have an alternative. It has now gone, and that is the difficulty. The press, the Churches, the constituency parties, other hon. Members and the general public all have their views, and we should listen to them and uphold their wishes, but sometimes we have to stand up and be counted.

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Tonight we have to make a difficult choice, and hon. Members on both sides of the House will be represented in both Lobbies. The split will not be straightforward, down party lines, because this is a matter of conscience. We should have a conscience on this issue. We should consider not what will happen to us, but what will happen to our armed forces. They will risk their lives, and that is what worries me. People say that the troops signed up for the job that they do, and that is true, but we should always seek to explore any alternative to war. We should grasp any opportunity to avoid war as firmly as possible, but my worry is that it is not there for us to grasp. That is what makes our choice tonight so difficult. When I vote tonight, I will upset people whichever way I go. I hope that we can all make the right decision.

I am one of those who have wondered whether, after 12 years, a few more weeks mattered. I believed that, if the opportunity was there to allow a few more weeks, I would support that. However, during those 12 years, we have failed, along with American Governments. When we saw the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds rise up against Saddam's regime—one of the most evil regimes that we know—we failed them in their hour of need. When they wanted us, we turned our backs. Are we going to mislead them again? There is a danger that they will rise up, thinking that they have the backing of this Government and the American Government.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): My hon. Friend is struggling, as we all are, with these difficult issues. Some hon. Members have portrayed this as a simple issue—one Lobby for war and one for peace. Does he agree that it is not as simple as that and that there is no peace in Iraq to maintain? It is a country in which there is murder, barbarism, torture and oppression. Walking away from that will not help the Iraqi people one bit.

Mr. Hoyle: I agree that there is no simple answer. This is a difficult time for all of us. It will be a matter of conscience. I will not condemn anybody, no matter how they vote, because they will be voting for what they think is right. It is important that we will be voting for what we believe in and not for what we have been told to vote. People may say that we have been put under pressure. There is pressure from all sides, but I will not vote because of pressure but because I hope that what I am doing is right for my constituents.

There is no doubt that innocent civilians will be killed, because we cannot protect everyone. That is a price that I do not wish to pay. However, I am beginning to believe that we are left with little choice. The decision will be hard. I will swing between being with the Government and against the Government. As I say, this is a tough time. We have to make our minds up and do the right thing. We have to make the choice. I must make the right decision—not because of what happens to me but because of what happens to the people of Iraq and our troops on the ground. I must stand by my decision and explain it to my constituents if I let them down.

8.52 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Nobody who has listened to the Prime Minister over the past few months and, indeed, this afternoon, when he made a powerful speech, could doubt his conviction and

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sincerity on this matter. I agree with the Foreign Secretary when he says that no one has a moral monopoly.

I find myself in the same position as the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). Before I start, I want to set out my reasons for taking the view that I have taken. I am certainly not anti-American. Indeed, having shared, at least in a superficial way, the events of 11 September, when I was on Capitol Hill in Washington, I believe that I have at least some understanding of the change in the psychology of the American people that occurred that day. I do not ignore the failings of Saddam Hussein and his appalling regime, which I detest with every fibre of my body. I do not naively accept the actions of some countries and their representatives, which I believe are not without motives. I am not a pacifist. I freely admit that I take a robust line on occasion—as I did on Kosovo when I spoke for my party.

Having taken all those factors into account, I still feel that, at this stage and under these circumstances, the option of war is wrong. I believe that for three reasons. First, I do not believe that the alternatives have been exhausted. That has been largely because of a gross failure of diplomacy. My criticism is not of the energy levels of the British Government and our representatives in pursuing a consensus, but because I believe that the consensus that they were pursuing was on the wrong basis. Throughout the process, there was a ticking clock, and I agree with Sir Crispin Tickell, who asked who started the clock ticking. The British Government were trying to find a consensus on a military timetable rather than on a process of disarmament.

The case for war has not yet been made, certainly not to my satisfaction, but also not to the satisfaction of the people whom I represent in my constituency. Why is that important? Because, as a democracy, we can declare war only with the consent of the people of this country, and that consent is not presently there. The reason why they are not persuaded is partly because of the Government's changing position: first, the pretext was weapons of mass destruction, then regime change, and then some humanitarian impulse. At the last Defence questions, the Secretary of State for Defence seemed to be saying that, if British troops were put into Iraq, they would be attacked by Saddam Hussein's forces, so that was a pretext for putting British troops into Iraq.

Those arguments do not ring true to the British people. We have had a superfluity of dubious evidence that has been countermanded by the inspectors themselves when they have looked at it. We heard about the yellow mud from Niger, which turned out not to have been imported at all, and the mobile biological laboratories that proved to be ordinary trucks. There probably is significant evidence available to the security services, but it has not been shared with the British people.

Any progress that the inspectors have made has been belittled and demeaned by the American Government, and sometimes by the British Government as well. That is not helpful in persuading world opinion that the British and American Governments were serious about disarmament rather than about finding a pretext for war. Any number of fallacious arguments have been put forward, whereby anyone who does not agree with the

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Government's position is held to hold views that are absurd. It does not do much for the body politic for such arguments to be advanced.

The third reason why I find myself in difficulty is that I believe in the United Nations. I do not believe that when the Security Council has not been able to reach a conclusion we can be said to be acting in its name. Without that agreement, action would be illegitimate and wrong. I personally have doubts about action even with that agreement, because it would then be legitimate, but folly. There are very many arguments for not taking military action in the present circumstances. I do not want to get hung up on international law, which is often a chimera that can take any shape that the strongest country chooses to adopt for it, but I do believe that the political legitimacy that the United Nations Security Council offers is a significant factor that has now been thrown away.

As regards the position from now on, I share the view of every Member of this House. I am arguing against war. I am not persuaded for one moment by the ridiculous proposition that, because our troops may be employed, it is wrong for us to argue against their being deployed. This is the only opportunity that we have to make that point. Once the troops are in the field, however, I will give them my every support, and I expect every Member so to do.

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