Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): We must all be concerned about the threat of international terrorism and about the defence of our civil liberties. I do not believe that there is a contradiction between those two things.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 144

Before I deal with some aspects of foreign affairs, I want to preface my remarks by saying that it is unfortunate that the ceremonial state opening of Parliament has not changed for such a long time. Certain other changes have taken place recently, as Mr.   Speaker reminded the House yesterday. For example, we no longer have the Sessional Orders, which were pretty meaningless anyway. It was about time that they went, and the statement made by Mr. Speaker was far more appropriate. I remember that when I first came here, the Commons was interrupted from time to time because hon. Members had to go to the House of Lords for Royal Assent to be given. That was done away with quite a long time ago, and parliamentary democracy was not undermined as a result.

When I watch some of the proceedings involved in the state opening, it seems to me that although we are always lecturing the country with familiar words about modernisation and ending restrictive practices on both sides of industry, our own ceremonies and procedures are no longer necessary in this modern age—and certainly not in the 21st century. Needless to say, that is no reflection on the monarch, and should not be taken as such.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The hon. Gentleman is an extraordinary killjoy and his anti-cultural view would enrage my constituents. No one who comes to this wonderfully historic building fails to express great sympathy for its traditions and rich cultural history. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is so uncomfortable with his history, but I can tell him that my constituents—young or old, schoolchildren or old-age pensioners—all take great pride in the institutions that we have here. As long as tradition does not undermine our work, I believe that it serves as a quaint reminder of all that has gone before.

David Winnick: The hon. Gentleman expresses his point of view, which is quite likely to be held by a number of his colleagues. That is fair enough, but if that approach had always been adopted in the past, we would never have changed anything. We should not be ashamed to say that one of this country's greatest blessings is Parliament, and everything that flows from the House of Commons and our parliamentary democracy. That is what I am concerned about. When I show people around, I take as much pride as anyone else would in emphasising what I have just said about the great benefit to the country that this House provides, but that does not mean that every form of tradition and ceremony should be retained for ever, as the hon. Gentleman clearly believes.

Jeremy Corbyn : Before my hon. Friend leaves this point, he should be aware that what he has described is not a pageant of history, but a demonstration of the shortage of democracy in our society. Ours is an elected Chamber, but hon. Members are commanded to go to an unelected House to listen to an address. That does not seem very democratic to me.

David Winnick: Again, that is a point of view. There may be a case for using the word "request" rather than "command", but I did not intend to be particularly
24 Nov 2004 : Column 145
controversial in this preface to my remarks, although some of my colleagues know that I am not very keen on too much dressing up and all the rest of it.

I come now to foreign affairs. I make no apology for having supported the overthrow of Saddam's tyranny, but it was never my view that the foreign occupation—and especially western foreign occupation—should be indefinite. That is why I hope that it will be possible to hold elections on 30 January. Whatever one may say about the Government who have been appointed in Iraq, one thing is certain: they have no electoral legitimacy at all. As was noted earlier, the controversy between those who were in favour of the war and those who were not will last for a very long time, but those who opposed the war must face up to the fact that Saddam would have remained in power indefinitely—

Sir Menzies Campbell indicated assent.

David Winnick: I see that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) agrees with that, as he is nodding in approval. It is also certain, and should be borne in mind, that when Saddam finally went, he would have been succeeded by one of his murderous sons.

However, the longer the occupation lasts, the more it becomes part of the problem and not the solution. The vast majority of Iraqis are not involved in terrorist violence. I am sure that most of them oppose what is being done, allegedly in their name, but the events of the past few months have meant that we are losing the hearts and minds of those non-violent people. I think that most Iraqis were very pleased that Saddam was overthrown, but they are very unhappy about what has happened in the past four to six months.

Of course, the situation is difficult. Many American soldiers have lost their lives, as have some of our troops. The fact remains, however, that the sooner we find a way to end the occupation—particularly the western occupation—the better. Iraq has a proud tradition, and Iraqis are a proud people. They no more want to be occupied indefinitely than would UK or US citizens. I am sure that that is the view of the British Government.

I want to pay particular attention to the middle east and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It is very good news that the outgoing US Secretary of State is visiting the region and meeting both Israelis and Palestinians. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is also there, which is why, as we have been told, he is not in the House today.

The planned evacuation from Gaza is welcome, of course, but the unilateral manner of its inception was not. Moreover, it has been stated that the Gaza evacuation was going to be the end of the matter. Instead of being the beginning of the evacuation of Israeli forces from the post-1967 territories, it was assumed that the Gaza evacuation over the next 12 to 18 months would be the end of the story. Unfortunately, that assumption was endorsed by President Bush.

The House should bear it in mind that the population of the Gaza strip totals about 7,500, whereas the population of the illegal settlements—and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife reminded the House that the settlements were indeed illegal—totals about 400,000 settlers. The strong impression is that they will remain.
24 Nov 2004 : Column 146

Dov Weisglass, the Israeli Government's senior adviser, has stated:

He went on to say that all that had been done

Inevitably, the suspicion is that it is the aim of the present Israeli Government to go no further than the evacuation of Gaza.

David Cairns: My hon. Friend referred to the statement by Dov Wiesglass, who I believe is Mr. Sharon's personal lawyer and was not speaking in any official capacity. Even if his statement reflects the views of Ariel Sharon—and I do not believe that they do—does my hon. Friend agree that it is a very short-term view? The momentum of withdrawal from Gaza will create a degree of expectation among the majority of Israeli citizens, who also want there to be a withdrawal from the west bank. Irrespective of Mr. Wiesglass' view, once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be very hard to contain.

David Winnick: Well, that would be more persuasive if the Israeli Prime Minister had dissociated himself from the remarks made by his senior adviser. The expectation among the Israelis may be as my hon. Friend suggests, but what is the expectation among the Palestinians? They expect that the Gaza strip will be evacuated, but that the rest will not be. No one could condemn terrorism more than I do. The suicide bombings are a blot on humanity, as I have said time and again, but what should those Palestinian representatives who are opposed to violence say to Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Should they say, "Stop your violence and we will use political means"? Those Palestinian representatives who are against violence and who want a dialogue with the Israelis—who want to find a way out of the impasse and to negotiate a Palestinian state—are undermined time and again by Sharon's Government. Of course, Sharon has an appalling record. We cannot forget what happened in the refugee camps in 1982. We should not forget that General Sharon, as he was then, was condemned by an Israeli commission of inquiry for what happened, although of course the actual atrocities were not carried out by Israelis.

I have not changed the view that I had in 1948, when I was some 15 years old, that, given what had happened to the Jews—not only during the second world war, when 6 million lives were lost simply because of race and for no other reason, but over 2,000 years in which Jews were demonised and persecuted—it was just and right for the international community to bring Israel into existence. I say that without being a Zionist. I have not changed my mind in the past 56 years.

Next Section IndexHome Page