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18 Mar 2003 : Column 888—continued

Mr. Barnes: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who will vote against war and will later, when war starts, be opposed to it, are not thereby against our troops in any way, and that we will wish to support and sustain them as well as we can, even though we think that they should have been pulled out? Indeed, it would be difficult for me to adopt any other position. When I was 18—many moons ago—I was in Iraq as a member of the forces, never having heard a shot fired in anger.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman speaks with singular personal authority on that issue. I do not doubt the sincerity of any hon. Member , and nor will I doubt their credentials. I wonder whether we have paid sufficient attention to the humanitarian consequences of war, and whether the promised regional initiatives will come to pass. However, my biggest concern is that the consequences of this war are incalculable. I hope that they will be very much less than may prove to be the case, but I fear that there will be a knock-on effect not only in the region, but across the world.

In my more despondent moments, I feel that since 11 September, we have entered into a new hundred years war—a war not between religions, but certainly based on religion. If that is the case, my fear is that conflict in Iraq under these circumstances—without the support of the United Nations—can only inflame that situation: that it can only create more opportunities for conflict; that it can only reduce the influence of the United Nations and of other international bodies. For all those reasons, I believe that I am right to support the amendment, and to vote against the Government's position.

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9.6 pm

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this debate—it is a very difficult debate—in making a decision on which way to vote. I have been approached by many of my constituents, by party officers and by others in this House in the past 24 hours, and they have given me advice as to which way I should vote. I say that the debate is difficult because, as an officer in the Labour party for some 45 years, this is one of the most difficult decisions that I have had to take. The last thing that I want to do is to damage the Labour party and the Government, who are so ably led by our Prime Minister. They have done an excellent job since 1997, and I recognise the part that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have played in the past few weeks in trying to get a second United Nations resolution.

At the end of the day, of course, the decision has to be mine. I have decided that I will vote for the amendment, although I would have preferred one that included a timetable. I would have liked to incorporate amendment (b), which was not selected, into amendment (a), on which we will vote. I would have preferred a timetable, because a line must eventually be drawn in terms of how long we are prepared to give Saddam Hussein to disarm, and of how long the exercise can go on. I shall abstain on the main motion. I cannot support it because it contains a passage that effectively gives the power to go ahead to war now; however, I do support almost everything else in it. It refers to what will take place after the conflict, assuming that it happens, and I fully support that. It is with great regret that I will not be able to support the Government tonight.

I accept that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant and that he possesses weapons of mass destruction, although exactly what they are we do not know. However, I recognise that the weapons inspectors have asked for more time, and it is for that reason that I will vote for the amendment. It is wrong for Hans Blix's report to be rejected. He has clearly said that he wants more time—months, not years—and I believe that we should give him that time.

I also believe that it is very important that we do not fall into the trap that some seem to have fallen into today. They say that war is inevitable in any event, regardless of tonight's vote, and in doing so they are implying that it is essential for us to go ahead, so that we can influence the United States after the conflict has taken place, and that if we do not join them, they will totally ignore us in future. That would be an appalling tragedy for the whole world. I want us to strengthen the United Nations.

Lynne Jones: I am perplexed by my hon. Friend's speech. If the amendment falls, by voting for the Government motion, he will be voting for war.

Mr. Pike: I did not say that; I said clearly that I would abstain. We all have to make our decisions and defend them. I shall defend my decision because it is based on my personal view of the situation. It is my vote and I shall vote for the amendment and abstain on the motion.

As I was pointing out, I do not believe that if the US chose to disregard the views of this country, there would be no future for unity or for the credibility of the United Nations.

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I am concerned about stability in the middle east. We must also consider countries such as Pakistan where the National Assembly was prorogued last Thursday. I am a supporter and sympathiser of President Musharraf; he should be assisted. I want the infant democracy of Pakistan to succeed. If Musharraf fell, there would be an extremist Government, which would be appalling.

Wars do not result only in death and injury; there are also massive refugee movements. On my last visit to Pakistan, I saw refugees from Kashmir and the 2 million refugees from Afghanistan. They had not fled from recent events in Afghanistan but from the Soviet invasion of 20 or 30 years ago. There are many such displaced persons all over the world.

I can remember the end of the second world war. I was living in London when the flying bombs and rockets started so I know what it is like to be bombed. Indeed, to this day, I remember my seventh birthday. Just as I picked up my present, we heard a flying bomb overhead. We panicked because the engine cut out and we thought it was coming straight at us, so I never saw my present again. After that, we moved north to Burnley, which is why I ended up as its Member of Parliament. Burnley suffered as a result of my evacuation.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) referred—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Conversations are breaking out throughout the House. I appreciate that we are coming to the end of the debate, but the House should do the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) the courtesy of listening to what he is saying.

Mr. Pike: My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham referred to the Suez invasion. I am no pacifist and I was doing my national service at that time as a member of the Royal Marines. I was not called to Suez although I should have been if the conflict had continued.

Suez shows that some conflicts do not yield the aims that we set out with. That is why I am worried about the present situation. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the aim of Suez was to end the middle east problem and to keep the canal open: but what happened? Ships were sunk in the canal and it was blocked for years. We had to develop supertankers because we could not use the canal.

The other fiasco was that there were tragic deaths. A marksman in my squad was killed by the Egyptians as he was disembarking from a helicopter. I shall never forget that. We were only 18 or 19 years old. The consequences of war can be extremely serious.

I do not think we have reached the stage where we need to go to war. We need a few more months to allow the weapons inspections to be completed. The inspectors should be allowed to say whether disarmament is taking place. We could then make a decision.

The action that we are taking is tragic. I realise that 11 September changed the world. Wherever we were at the time, we saw what happened then. I support the Prime Minister in his fight against terrorism, especially the fight against the causes of terrorism, which we must always keep in mind. I believe that the Prime Minister has a 100 per cent. commitment to settling the problems of Palestine and Israel—unlike President Bush.

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We also need to solve the problems of poverty and illiteracy throughout the world. Our Prime Minister is committed to that and I give him my full support, but I cannot vote with him tonight.

9.15 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): This has been a remarkable and extraordinary debate. We have heard from 55 hon. Members—too many for me to refer to them all, I am afraid, and I hope that those to whom I do not refer will forgive me. It has been a passionate and sincere debate in the best traditions of the House, and may I say what a pleasure it is to see the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) in his place this evening? We could have done with him earlier in the debate.

None of us can derive any pleasure from where we find ourselves tonight. We had all hoped that the UN would provide a route to disarming Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) said, sadly, we were wrong in that hope. We had all hoped that a united international voice would bring Saddam Hussein to his senses. We knew that only a united and determined voice, backed by the credible threat of force, would work.

Now, sadly, we will never know whether a second resolution would have brought Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily. What we know is that that chance has been sunk by the ill-considered action of France, and I hope that, as the transient euphoria and popularity fade, the French will reflect on the chilling consequences of their ill-considered action. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) in their judgments on France; I do not believe that history will treat France kindly.

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