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2.50 pm

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): It gives me the greatest pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). I add my congratulations to the many that I am sure she has already received on her remarkable by-election victory at the expense of the Labour party and, I have to say, my own party. On the strength of her maiden speech, I can say to her that she need have no worries whatever about either her age or her height. She spoke with confidence, lucidity and, clearly, great knowledge of her constituents and her constituency, and we look forward to having the pleasure of hearing from her on many future occasions.

One of the most sobering experiences of this calendar year, 2003, for me has been to go and see at close quarters the Israeli security wall. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has, apparently, flown over it recently, and I hope very much that he and his colleagues from the Foreign Office and other Departments will go and see it for themselves at close quarters, because the wall needs to be seen closely for both its scale and its impact to be fully appreciated.

During the cold war, I, like other Members in all parts of the House, had the opportunity on a number of occasions to see, both from the ground and from the air, the Communist wall down the centre of Europe. I did not go as close to it as I did to the Israeli security wall, because that would have guaranteed a bullet in either one's back or one's front, but one was able to see it at reasonably close quarters. The Israeli security wall is pretty well a carbon copy of the cold war wall built by the Communists. It comprises a combination of wall in built-up areas, electrified razor-wire fencing beyond the built-up areas, watchtowers, lighting, anti-vehicle ditches, smoothed sand strip for the detection of footprints, and military road, with dogs available. The only things missing, so I was assured by the Israelis, were anti-personnel landmines. They, happily, are not present, but the wall is a formidable construction.

I do not in any way deny the right of the Israeli Government, or indeed of any other Government, to take what measures they feel necessary on their own soil to provide for the security of their people. The significance of, and the element of controversy arising

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from, the Israeli security wall is not those of its sections that follow the line of Israel's border, the green line, but those increasingly long sections that have already been and continue to be constructed inside the occupied territories.

In this matter we have some experience to bring to bear. If, to try to deal with the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland, we in this country had ever contemplated the creation of such a wall along the entire length of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, we would agree in all parts of the House that it would have done virtually nothing to contribute to security, and it would have been absolutely catastrophic for our attempts to achieve a political settlement and a resolution of the difficulties that we have experienced from terrorism in Northern Ireland.

I hope that, inside Israel, there will be a continuing and accelerating debate as to whether the wall provides any reality of security or simply an illusion. I have welcomed the recent public statements by no fewer than four former members of the Israeli security service, Shin Bet, who have expressed doubts about the value, in security terms, of the policies being pursued by the present Israeli Government. Even more significantly, those doubts have been expressed by no less than the current Israeli chief of army staff, General Moshe Ya'alon. That debate most certainly needs to continue.

What is not in any doubt is the impact of the wall on the everyday lives of Palestinians: farmers unable to get to their crops; mothers in labour unable to get to hospital in time; workers unable to get to their jobs; and businesses unable to secure delivery of their goods and services on time. Some of us on the Foreign Affairs Committee had the opportunity of going to the town of Qalqilya, which was alluded to by the Foreign Secretary in his opening speech. Qalqilya is a town of 43,000 Palestinians, and as of today, right now as we have this debate, that town is encircled, 360 degrees, by the massive Israeli security wall. There are just two entry and exit points.

The impact on the town has been absolutely devastating. If one goes up and down the main street one sees shops boarded up, one after the other, because they no longer have the business contact and trade that they once had. Of course, if the businesses close down, that impacts directly on the standard of living and well-being of those in the town. It is a bitter historical irony—some might say a historical inversion—that in Qalqilya now there is the spectacle of 43,000 Palestinians effectively in a ghetto, walled in by an Israeli wall, watched over by Israeli guards in towers. I have to hope and believe that inside Israel there are plenty of people who are appalled by that spectacle, and I hope and believe that there are many people in the Jewish community worldwide who are equally appalled.

The United Nations, in its recent compelling and important report, which was put out by the office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs in east Jerusalem, assessed the impact on the lives of Palestinians of the construction of the security wall. If I may, I shall read the few concluding sentences of that

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report, which was published at the beginning of this month. Under the heading, "Humanitarian consequences", it says:

The Foreign Secretary said that the section of the new security wall inside the occupied territories is illegal, and I welcome his acknowledgement of that. However, it will not be sufficient for the Government or other Governments simply to wring their hands and say the wall is illegal. What is at stake is far greater than the legality or otherwise of the security wall. What I believe is at stake is the entire future of the peace process between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. As the wall is constructed and extended in the occupied territories, mile by mile, any prospect of being able to achieve a viable—I stress viable—Palestinian state is being destroyed. The issue is becoming time-critical as the wall continues to expand.

Although the Foreign Secretary referred to greater pressure being applied on the Israeli Government in connection with the wall, we shall need an unprecedented degree of pressure—a greater degree of pressure than has ever been applied before—by the UK Government, the European Union, the United Nations and, above all, the United States Government, to try to persuade the Israeli Government to stop the construction of the wall inside the occupied territories, and to take down those sections of the wall that have been constructed inside the occupied territories. I sincerely believe that unless those steps are taken by the Israeli Government, there is no prospect whatever of being able to bring the road map policy to fruition.

Mr. Gardiner: I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman said about the illegality of the wall in the occupied territories and the negative effect that the whole of the wall is having, but will he consider that, this far into his exposition, he might have presented a more balanced picture had he mentioned the suicide bombers and the very real threat and danger that the people of Israel feel from that?

Sir John Stanley: I am certainly ready to acknowledge that, and I have already referred to it in my remarks. I said at the outset, and I hope the hon. Gentleman heard it, that I totally defend the right of the Israeli Government to take whatever measures are necessary within their own territorial boundaries to protect their own people. I do not have, and I do not believe that the Government have, any difficulty

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whatever with the construction of the wall along the green line. That is not the issue. The issue is the construction of the wall inside the occupied territories.

The second matter that I want to raise is Iraq. Last week, during President Bush's state visit, I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said on the subject. He called on us in this country to stop raking over the coals as to why we went to war in Iraq; it was time to move on and to focus on the benefits that the war was bringing to the people of Iraq. I felt that that was a somewhat self-serving invitation from the Prime Minister, which I do not intend to accept. I do not believe that we can airbrush away any future debate about the circumstances in which we undertook war in Iraq.

As the Prime Minister has acknowledged on more than one occasion, the decision whether to take the country to war is the single most important decision that any Prime Minister and any Government can take. It is a very serious matter also because more than 50 British servicemen have already lost their lives during and since the war in Iraq, and because the issue does not concern merely the Government. It concerns each and every Member of the House of Commons because the Government, uniquely on this occasion—I give the Government credit for it—decided to seek the approval of the House of Commons on 18 March for the decision whether we went to war. To that extent, each and every one of us participated in that decision.

I shall not rehearse the case that the Government put forward on 18 March and in the weeks and months beforehand for going to war against Iraq. The House is intimately familiar with the arguments. They are encapsulated in a single sentence in the opening paragraph of the Government's paper which they published days before the war started, entitled "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives". In that paper, the Government stated:

The justification for the war was to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

What we all know, and the Government, I am sure, privately acknowledge, is that since the war ended and the weapons of mass destruction have not been found, the Government have shifted their grounds of justification for the war. Every criticism that is made of the Government as to whether the grounds for going to war have proved valid is met with the response with which we are all too familiar: "We have toppled Saddam Hussein, the old regime has gone, the Iraqi people are much better off, so what are you complaining about?"

I want to answer that. We would have no grounds for complaint if the Prime Minister had made a different speech in the House on 18 March—if he had come to the House and said, "The reason why we are going to war is to remove Saddam Hussein and change the regime." He could have made a powerful speech arguing that case. He could have said that Saddam Hussein was guilty of mass murder. In his opening speech the Foreign Secretary referred to 300,000 Iraqis killed or missing. The Prime Minister could have said

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that Saddam Hussein was guilty of mass imprisonment without trial, torture and rape, that Saddam Hussein was guilty of massive crimes against humanity and that, for those reasons, the Saddam Hussein regime must go.

The Prime Minister would have had to add that, although that was a powerful moral case for going to war, it would be illegal. He would have had to make that clear. He could well have argued from the Dispatch Box that notwithstanding the illegality, on this occasion the moral imperative was the greater and justified the military intervention. But that was not the speech that the Prime Minister made. It is hugely significant that the justification of going to war for regime change was explicitly and emphatically, in black and white terms, rejected and repudiated by the Prime Minister on 18 March, because that justification would have been illegal.

I remind the House of two critical sentences in the Prime Minister's speech on 18 March. They are there in black and white in Hansard, as follows:

Today, the country and we in the House of Commons face an extraordinary and deeply concerning situation in which the Government's original justification for going to war in Iraq has so far proved to be invalid, and the Government are now using to justify their action a justification that on 18 March they repudiated and said was illegal.

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