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Mr. Lilley: Surely the difference between the Falklands and Iraq was that in the case of the former Ministers resigned for underestimating the threat, whereas on this occasion Ministers have refused to accept responsibility for overestimating the threat—the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Beard: With the Falklands, Ministers encouraged the threat by withdrawing ships and not sending any cruisers to sea to persuade the Argentines that we were serious.

The case for an inquiry may be to establish the facts that led to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Or it may be an investigation of the decisions based on the evidence available. Those two are quite different. I want to explore both of those potential justifications for the proposed judicial inquiry.

The media have made much of the intelligence dossier published in September 2002 as though it and it alone was the trigger for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. It was a presentation of the intelligence information that was available to the Government at that time. As with all such intelligence reports, it was incomplete and no doubt partly inaccurate, but it never pretended to be more than an appreciation of the situation derived from raw intelligence, which had been assessed by the procedure long established for that purpose. Under that procedure, the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the final professional evaluation before the case was presented to the Government.This House's own all-party Intelligence and Security Committee has examined the way the dossier was compiled and, essentially, approved it as a reasonable interpretation of the available intelligence.

If anyone still believes the BBC's discreditable and preposterous assertion that the Government, to stir up war fever, invented and inserted the claim that Iraq would be ready to deliver chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, I remind them that the inquiry by Lord Hutton has covered that point in some depth. People have heard the evidence, and Lord Hutton will deliver his conclusions shortly. There can be no grounds there for adding another inquiry to the Hutton inquiry.

The media, for their own purposes, gave overwhelming emphasis to that September dossier as the basis for the invasion of Iraq. I did not vote on that basis

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in this House and I know no one, whichever way they voted, who was solely or mainly influenced by that dossier. The case presented to the House by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in 12 statements and five full debates was deeper and more comprehensive than was provided in the dossier.

Let us discard what was not said in those debates and statements, although some commentators have enriched their indignation by their creative recall. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary claimed that the threat from Iraq was imminent, still less did they use the American phraseology of the threat from Iraq being a "clear and present danger". What they did say was that the containment of the Iraq regime through sanctions was failing and that Saddam Hussein was determined to acquire an armoury of biological and chemical weapons and the capability to produce them. Moreover, following the 11 September 2001 outrage in New York, and given Saddam's past record, my right hon. Friends said that there was a danger of that capability being used to arm terrorist organisations—not just al-Qaeda, which was, I agree, the most remote possibility, but Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and others yet unknown—which could pose a threat to north American and western European cities.

The case for believing that Saddam Hussein still had those weapons was that he had them before the first Gulf war. Iraq still had the weapons and the scientific expertise. If not, why did Saddam Hussein refuse to co-operate with the United Nations inspectors and to give them free range, as he had agreed in the 1991 ceasefire? Why did he put his country through 12 years of UN sanctions, bringing suffering, destitution and death to the Iraqi people, when co-operation with the UN inspectors and evidence of the destruction of the biological and chemical weapons would have lifted those sanctions?

Throughout the 1990s, culminating in resolution 1441 last November, why did the UN Security Council unanimously recognise that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons that were a threat to world peace? Why did it demand that Iraq disarm? Are we to suppose that all those nations, which voted 17 times in the UN Security Council to demand co-operation on disarmament, were the hapless puppets of right-wing American zealots?

Some might argue that the implication was only that there was a technological capability, not necessarily the intention to use such weapons. However, the evidence of a policy of aggression and expansion is shown by the invasion of Iran, when more than 1 million people were killed. It can be seen in the invasion of Kuwait, a sovereign country that could never be a threat to Iraq. We do not need to infer likely intentions. The evidence of psychopathic ruthlessness was shown by the gassing of the people of Halabja and by the brutal treatment of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. It was seen when 300,000 men, women and children were executed by the regime for political reasons.

Those are the facts. We no more need a judicial inquiry to establish them than we needed such an inquiry into Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland, Czechoslovakia and Poland to understand the case for war in 1939. The Government faced those inalienable facts and recognised the possible consequences of

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indefinite inaction. The first question to arise was, "If not now, when?" If the time was not ripe to deal with Saddam Hussein, when would it have been right?

Undoubtedly, if matters had drifted, with sanctions weakening and Saddam Hussein triumphant in his defiance, he would have been a threat to stability in the middle east. The United Nations would have lost its credibility to handle such crises in the future and it would have sunk into impotence, as the League of Nations did before it.

The second consequence of inaction was the increasing risk to the United Kingdom of chemical, biological and possibly radiological weapons falling into terrorist hands. The threat is all too real, as intelligence services have warned. It is the threat of an anthrax or radiological weapon exploding in London, Washington, Paris or Berlin and—quite apart from the casualties—making a major part of the city a no-go area for decades. After 11 September 2001, do not let anyone pretend that such a scenario can be discounted.

The third possible consequence of inaction for the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union is the risk of America defending national interests with no allies and ultimately reverting to a fortress America strategy. We are not talking about Britain as America's poodle here. I believe Britain and the rest of the European Union have a vital strategic interest in maintaining the strength of the Atlantic alliance.

It was those major consequences for this country, not the minutiae of an intelligence dossier or the bruised egos of those compiling it, that the Government had to consider and judge in deciding to join in the invasion of Iraq. It is the intention of the Opposition motion, it seems, that a judicial inquiry be held to second-guess the strategic judgment of a democratically elected Government. The House was involved in the decision to an unprecedented extent and voted to join the invasion of Iraq. Are we to have the constitutional innovation of decisions made by Government and Parliament being subjected to a judicial review? We are elected to the House as representatives of our constituents, with a duty to exercise our judgment on their behalf. Executive decisions are devolved to Government, from whence comes their democratic authority.

Mr. Garnier: Would the hon. Gentleman allow me?

Mr. Beard: I really do not have time.

There could be no legitimacy in a judicial review attempting to overturn or question the decisions of a democratically elected Parliament and Government. The sovereignty of Parliament, derived by great sacrifice over centuries, is at issue in this resolution.

That great champion of representative democracy, Edmund Burke, set out the principle 230 years ago when he told his constituents that a Member of the House should not sacrifice his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment or his enlightened conscience to any man or set of men living. Today the members of his party are willing to sacrifice those principles of representative democracy as they thrash around, desperately and cynically, in search of political advantage. That is the true meaning of the motion.

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6.7 pm

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): I very much enjoyed the speech I just heard, not least because the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) put an excellent neo-Conservative case for the action that was taken in Iraq. Sadly, he has been a lone voice in much of the debate, certainly in terms of Back-Bench contributions, because we have largely heard from people who opposed the war and voted against it, whose opinions are well known and who have expressed those opinions again today.

It is worth reminding the House that on 18 March the House voted by a huge majority to go to war. As I said in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), I do not believe that the result of that vote would have been substantially different if we had known then what we know now. It is also worth stating in the House that the decision taken that day was right, and that those who supported it should not be defensive about the way they voted.

Moreover, those who supported the decision should not feel defensive about saying that those who opposed the war in that vote were wrong. They were wrong when they prophesied a long and bloody war of attrition. They were wrong when they prophesied a mass slaughter in Baghdad. They were wrong when they forecast a humanitarian catastrophe, which never arose. They were wrong when they predicted an exodus of millions of refugees, which did not happen. Indeed, they are wrong now when they say that post-war Iraq is a disaster and that the world is a more dangerous place because we have got rid of Saddam Hussein. We who supported military action should have the confidence to take on and demolish the arguments that we successfully took on and demolished in March.

The first argument that is made is that post-war Iraq is a mess, that our forces are unwelcome and that, in the words of that infamous BBC report, ordinary Iraqis are somehow now worse off than they were under the Saddam regime. Well, I prefer the words I read recently from an Iraqi university lecturer, who lives above a bakery in Baghdad where political prisoners used to be burned alive. He says:

Indeed, when an opinion poll—itself a sign of political freedom in Iraq—was held last month, 62 per cent. of Iraqis thought that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the suffering and 67 per cent. thought that their lives would be better five years from now.

We are right to be optimistic and those Iraqis are right to think that their lives will be better five years from now because thousands of new businesses are opening in Iraq, the markets are bustling and food prices are lower than under the Hussein regime. There is a new currency and a new banking system. Employment is up and real salaries, both private and public sector, are up. Some 1,500 schools have been refurbished and 5 million textbooks are being printed by UNESCO. Finally, it is worth pointing out that 22 million vaccinations have been given to Iraqi children in the past couple of months. So education, commerce and prosperity are returning to a region that was the birthplace of education, prosperity and commerce.

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Perhaps even more importantly, for the first time Iraqis now have a say in their country's future. Torture and imprisonment have been replaced by 200 new newspapers and 70 political parties. The Iraqi governing council brings together for the first time Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turkomens in a range of representative opinion that is unrivalled in the Arab world. Of course, they face massive challenges, not least that of security—we all feel for members of that council who have been killed or intimidated—but let us not detract from the enormous achievements.

Those achievements have been noted by the Iraq Foundation—a totally non-partisan organisation. It reports:

I very much welcome the UN resolution, not least because it sets out a clear timetable for moving towards greater self-government in Iraq. Surely in the House of all places, we should celebrate that fact and value the democratic freedom that we are starting to bring to Iraq, rather than unquestioningly assuming that everything in Iraq is a mess.

The second argument that is used against those of us who supported the war is that, somehow, military action in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place by encouraging the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, as rogue states seek immunity from unilateral American action. That argument is put most persuasively by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), but I am afraid he is wrong. Indeed, current events prove that he is wrong.

What is happening in this post-Iraq-war world? For a start, Iran has this week agreed to sign up to tougher UN inspections of its nuclear facilities, to suspend the enrichment of uranium and to declare that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons. That does not sound like a rogue state seeking nuclear weapons to protect itself against unilateral military action. Similarly, North Korea is apparently now seeking some form of security pledge from the United States in return for ceasing its nuclear programme. Who can seriously think that any middle east state would now consider starting a chemical or biological weapons programme? It is early days, but the Iraq war seems to be achieving one of its explicit objectives: to send a message to rogue states that the civilised world is not prepared to allow proliferation and the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The third argument used against those of us who supported the war is that the presence of American and British troops in the middle east is somehow radicalising Islamic opinion. This is not the time to start a lengthy discussion of what we can do about radical Islamic opinion, but I would just say that the biggest challenge to Islamic terrorists would be an Arab state that was free, prosperous, plural and fairly governed, because the likes of al-Qaeda rely on autocratic, economically stagnant and backward regimes that provide them with a ready supply of frustrated, angry, radicalised young men and women. I am optimistic that Iraq can become a progressive Arab state that can provide young people in its society with real economic and political opportunities and diminish the lure of fundamentalism.

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Indeed, only by creating a plural, progressive and economically dynamic Arab world will we deal with the root causes of Islamic terrorism.

The final argument used against us is that the action by the US and UK Governments in Iraq dangerously undermined the international institutions on which our collective security depends. Of course, it is a great shame that the United Nations felt unable to support the second resolution. The world would be a much better place and it would have been far preferable if the United Nations had supported that second resolution. It is refreshing, however, that so soon after many people said that that was the death of the UN, it has come together and unanimously supported another resolution, and is re-engaging with what is happening in Iraq.

It is also heartening that, around the world, NATO—one of the mistakes of the US and British Administrations was that they neglected NATO to a degree—is now taking over operations in Afghanistan, and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation is calling this week for increased measures to stop the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Those international institutions are vital in demonstrating the collective opinion of the civilised world. It suits the United States' broader interests to support those institutions. After all, NATO, the UN and the World Trade Organisation are the post-war creation of American Administrations. Perhaps belatedly, the United States is coming to understand what the dean of the Harvard school of government, Dr. Nye, has called the soft power of the United States, which comes from its values, cultures and economic prosperity, as well as its undoubted hard power—its military might. It is welcome that a Republican Administration has increased US foreign aid by 50 per cent. this year—a sign that it understands the value of its soft power.

Contrary to the opinion expressed by many people today, post-war Iraq is a place of optimism, a place where self-rule is a real prospect and where we are starting to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in other rogue states. It is an example of where we are providing a challenge to Islamic fundamentalism. In short, we were right on 18 March to support the action in Iraq—I am proud to have taken part in that Division—and we are right now to insist that we finish the job.

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