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18 Mar 2003 : Column 891—continued

Lynne Jones: Although it is extremely unfortunate that President Chirac used the words "regardless of the circumstances", is it not time to consider a more accurate portrayal of what he actually said in the context of the assessment that the weapons inspection process was working and the acknowledgement of the role that the threat of force has played? President Chirac says:

Mr. Ancram: I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Lady; I had not realised that she is an apologist for the French President. The French President knew exactly what he was saying when he said it, and he knew its impact.

Serious concerns have been expressed today and, as we have said throughout, we must respect the sincerity of one another's views. I heard the views of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg); my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed), for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) and for Billericay (Mr. Baron); and the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham). I do not agree with their conclusions, but I respect their views and pay tribute to them for the way that they expressed them today.

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I also tried to listen with respect to the leader of the Liberal Democrats. He knocked me off that attempt very early in his remarks. He lectured us on the need to listen to the voice of the House if it were to vote against the Government tonight. He then told us that he would not accept the judgment of the House if it voted for the Government motion tonight—some democrat. He made false accusations that the Government sold arms to Saddam Hussein after he gassed the Kurds, and then he refused to accept an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who would have proved him wrong—not much moral fibre in that. He talked of consistency; his only consistency is his inconsistency. He makes the Grand Old Duke of York look like a paragon of decisiveness.

The debate has revolved around a number of key questions. First, does Saddam Hussein—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Too much conversation is going on.

Mr. Ancram: First, does Saddam Hussein really pose a risk to international peace and security? Well, the UN certainly thinks so, and it has thought so for the past 12 years because all but one of the 17 resolutions was passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals with threats to international peace and security and which, under article 42, permits the use of military force if necessary to deal with them.

It was interesting that the words of resolution 1441 deliberately replicated the language of article 42. Nobody who signed up to it, including France, can be in any doubt as to what that resolution means. They knew at the time when they signed, and they still know it. Nobody denies that Saddam Hussein has failed to comply with resolution 1441. It is incomprehensible that any of the signatories did not accept the need for the action that must flow from it.

The second question is: does Saddam pose a threat to us? The Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in powerful speeches today, made a compelling case, to which I do not need to add. Hans Blix's 7 March report demonstrates the terrifying weapons of mass destruction that are missing, and that must still be assumed to be there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) said, they are clearly a threat to us today, and they will be a growing threat in the future if they are not dealt with now.

Why should we act now? There is no doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) argued effectively, that if we were to withdraw from action now and withdraw our troops, we would not only destroy the credibility of ourselves and our policy but of the United Nations and international security, too. There can never be an absolutely right time, but history teaches us that action delayed or postponed is rarely action avoided. Putting off what needs to be done almost always leads to more dangerous challenges later. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) said, if we do not deal with it now, we will have to do so later. To me, that is the most compelling reason why we must vote for action tonight.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) said that it was not enough to know what must be done if we do not do

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it. We do not have the moral right to turn our backs on a threat in the certain knowledge that we will leave to those who come after us something far worse and far more dangerous. There can be no more dishonourable political act than that.

The next question is: is military action legal? I accept the Attorney-General's advice. It is not the advice of an individual lawyer or legal expert but the considered legal advice of the person who is charged with the constitutional duty of advising the Government and the House on the legality or otherwise of actions. The House should give exceptional weight to that advice.

Mr. Lansley: Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in 1991, in the Gulf war, an inherent right of self-defence enabled us to repel Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, but the British and US Governments sought and received specific approval from the United Nations? Many, such as me, feel that we should have continued down the path of seeking specific approval from the UN. In the absence of that, however, the question we must resolve tonight is: will we vote for this amendment, the only result of which would be for the American Government to go it alone, knocking away the last remaining central pillar of British foreign policy, after all the damage that has already taken place?

Mr. Ancram: I agree with my hon. Friend on his last point. On his first point, if he looks at the Attorney- General's advice, he will see that, under resolution 1441, consequent on the previous resolutions, the legal authority is there.

What we must realise tonight is that we vote but our armed forces fight. We must never forget our armed forces as we debate conflict. We must never take them for granted. They are brave, professional and courageous. They will do what is asked of them, and they will perform magnificently. They must know that they have our unequivocal and wholehearted support.

What we are doing is right in the national interest, but it must also show positive results in meeting all our objectives, and I was pleased to see that those objectives are set out in full in the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay was correct in saying that the House and the Government must address them. The first of those is the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. We must not forget that that is the objective of the United Nations resolution: it was never regime change; it was the elimination of those weapons.We need to be sure that our military operations will specifically target Saddam's weapons of mass destruction—whether it is the nerve agents, the mustard gas, the illegal warheads or the other vile weaponry that we have heard about.

We know from the experience in South African that if a country is committed to disarmament, the United Nations can achieve it extraordinarily quickly. I remember that nuclear disarmament in South Africa was carried out in a matter of days once the Government decided to go down that route. I hope that arrangements are being made with the United Nations to ensure that once relevant areas of Iraq are secure from Saddam Hussein's regime, it will finally be able to complete its mission fully and disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

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We also want to hear the Foreign Secretary outline clearly that the Government are making adequate provision for the swift delivery of humanitarian aid. That is not only to reassure the House and the British people but, more importantly by far, to let the people of Iraq know that with the removal of Saddam Hussein, the aid that they so desperately need will be immediately forthcoming. It is important to get that message to them as early as possible. We are told that all that is in hand, but we have not yet heard what is in hand or how it will be delivered. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge rightly pointed out, in a moving speech, that in Yugoslavia we started but we did not finish. This time we must finish.

We must also ensure that what replaces Saddam Hussein's brutal regime is a truly representative Government, accepted by the Iraqi people and, as Kofi Annan said and the Azores meeting agreed, under the auspices of the United Nations. The new regime should allow the fledgling, functioning democracy of Kurdish northern Iraq to continue to meet Kurdish aspirations for a degree of autonomy. It should recognise the long-ignored Shi'a majority rights and their claim to a share in the Government. It should safeguard the rights of the Sunni Arabs of central Iraq and of smaller minority groups, such as the Turkoman population in the north and the small Iraqi Christian population. If the Administration are not representative—if they are not balanced—they will fail. I hope that the Government are well appraised of that in their conversations with the United Nations. Above all, we must preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, as the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Nations have all recognised. Coupled with representative Government, that is vital in order for that country to move forward to the domestic cohesion, stability and prosperity that it so wants and, I believe, deserves.

But we cannot look at Iraq in isolation, especially when we talk about stability in the region. We know that the focus of so much anger emanates from the continuing Israel-Palestine dispute There will never be a settled peace in the wider Arab world until there is a lasting peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. If action is to be taken in Iraq, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) said, there must also be immediate progress in the nearer middle east. We must urge the United States not only to publish the road map, but to promote discussion and implementation of it. We must also press both Israelis and Palestinians urgently to engage in genuine negotiations that lead to a secure Israel sitting alongside a viable Palestine.

Once that is done, further immediate challenges will face us all in rebuilding, reforming and renewing those institutions that have been the victim of the divisions in the past months. As my right hon. Friends the Members for North-West Cambridgeshire, for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and for Fylde (Mr. Jack) said, the events of the past months have called into the question the ability of the United Nations to act with unanimity when international security is threatened. The events raise serious doubts about the current structures and procedures of the United Nations. When the crisis is over, we will need to generate a debate on how it can be made effective again.

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We will also need to look at NATO. We cannot let a body that has assured our peace and security for 50 years to become a footnote in history, but that is what we face today. Recent events have shaken NATO to its foundations. They have sown severe doubts in the minds of the United States and many new members. We must fully embrace the vision advanced at Prague last year for NATO to develop greater capabilities and specialisations to deal with new threats, crisis management, non-proliferation and, indeed, missile defence. Above all, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in a remarkable and typical speech said, we must ensure that the United States remains fully engaged in NATO and that the Atlantic partnership remains its foundation.

Recent events have also created fundamental rifts in the European Union. They have proved that a unified European foreign policy is a fantasy. I have to say that the Opposition have always said that it was. We need to repair Europe and to restore damaged relations, not within a coercive structure, but as part of a true partnership, and I hope that the lessons of the last months will be well and truly learned before the Convention on the Future of Europe resumes its work.

This debate has highlighted the evil with which we are faced, and it has made it clear why that evil now needs to be removed. It has shown clearly that Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is a threat, that the threat is current and real, that Saddam will not disarm voluntarily, and that the people of Iraq have suffered under this tyrant for long enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) said, we can choose tonight to prolong the misery or bring it to an end.

The time for decision has come, not just for the Prime Minister, not just for the Government, but for the House. The motion asks us to authorise "all means necessary" to remove Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We know what those words mean. Those words mean military action and military action means war. This is not easy for any of us. I say in all seriousness that voting for war is the most serious vote that can be cast in the House. Voting for war in the knowledge that we are committing our armed forces, that lives may be lost, that injuries will be sustained and damage caused, is hard. It is a grave moment for us all. But as Conservatives on these Benches we know what we must do.

Our party has always stood for the national interest. Our party has always stood for the security of its citizens. Our party has always stood for what is right. These are our principles, our instincts, our traditions, and we will remain true to them tonight. We know where the British national interest lies. This debate has confirmed that the Government are acting in that national interest and we will support the Government in doing so.

Tonight we will do what is right. We will be true to our country, to our principles and to ourselves. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to oppose the amendment and support the Government in the Lobby tonight.

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9.32 pm

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