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Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale). I agree with almost every word of his speech. It is good that the speeches we have heard so far have been serious speeches about the issue that faces us. We all know the reality of this place: we know that there are assassins of Friday morning Bills who turn up regularly. They are often the same people, with the same briefing from the Whips Office. I have not received any briefing about the Bill from the Whips Office this morning; it must be an oversight. I appeal, however, to Members who may have such misinformation about their persons to ignore it, listen to the serious debate on the Bill, and look to their role as parliamentarians.

Only twice in my lifetime has my country gone to war without the wholehearted support of the entire nation. Those occasions were Suez and the second war in Iraq. At the time of Suez, we were given a good deal of propaganda about this great attempt to liberate the world and stand up for western civilisation, but we all know now that it was actually a squalid conspiracy between Britain, France and Israel. It was an entirely unjustified war, which resulted in loss of life.
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It worries me greatly that, as the hon. Member for North Thanet pointed out, we did not vote on the first Iraq war, but in the Adjournment debate that took place I voiced my support for the invasion because of Iraq's action against Kuwait. There were very few casualties in that war, but one was a young man from a family who were well known, and who lived on the edge of my constituency. I have often thought about how I would justify my action to the parents and the brothers and sisters of that young man. Could my action in supporting the war justify the loss of his life? It is the most serious question that we, as parliamentarians, must ask ourselves. Can we say that a person died in a cause that was noble and worthwhile?

I believe that our troops, particularly in their peacekeeping role, have performed a splendid task in Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and other parts of the world, and that we are doing a job that is worthy of their courage and their sacrifice. But the war in Iraq—

Tony Lloyd : I think my hon. Friend is about to talk about the second Iraq war, but earlier he mentioned the first. He made an important point about his role as a Member of Parliament, and his duty to be accountable to his constituents and our public. He also said, however, that there were very few casualties in the first Iraq war. In fact, there were a number of Iraqi casualties. Every Member of Parliament, in making war, has a duty to consider not just the effect on our own population—devastatingly important though that is—but the impact on, in that instance, Iraqi victims, and on the situation more generally.

Paul Flynn: We have never been told how many casualties there were, but the number is believed to be 200,000.

I took up an issue with the Government at the time. Following what had been done by one of our allies, I asked whether we could classify bulldozers as inhumane weapons under the convention against inhumane weapons, which was designed to reduce the use of, for example, the gas that was used in the first world war. In the Iraq war, in our name—in the name of the coalition—Iraqi soldiers were buried alive on the orders of an American general. Dreadful things took place in that war.

Sir Menzies Campbell : May I take the hon. Gentleman back to the first Gulf war? He will recall that the military action in that case was authorised by a specific resolution of the United Nations Security Council, and that a coalition was formed from countries all over the world that were members of the United Nations. Middle eastern countries were prominent members of the coalition. Indeed, I believe that troops from Saudi Arabia crossed the starting line first when the military action began to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

Paul Flynn: I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. A case was made based on international law and the best instincts of the world to justify that war and to resist wars of aggression by Saddam Hussein. Many will speak here as long opponents of Saddam Hussein. We have no friendship for Saddam Hussein. I prize an answer I had five months before the first Iraq war when I asked the then Conservative Government to beef up the
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International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections of Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programme. William Waldegrave replied that I should know that Saddam Hussein had signed the non-proliferation treaty and, as such, the Government had full confidence that Iraq would not develop nuclear weapons. Iraq, in fact, was developing three programmes for nuclear weapons at that time.

When it came to the second Iraq war, our argument was not that we should stop the war. We could not do that, and most observers knew that the decision to go to war had been taken many months, or possibly many years, before in America. The question, and the decision that we should have had to take in this House was whether Britain should be involved. The outcome had we not been there would have been precisely the same, even if the war might have been a day longer or shorter or lasted hours less.

Clare Short: I am not sure that I agree with that. It is true that the American plans for the war were well advanced before it was ever brought before the House. However, American public opinion, which was misled into thinking that the attack on the twin towers had been organised out of Iraq, was showing 80 per cent. in favour of war in a coalition but a majority against going it alone. The tragedy is that if Britain had used its influence better, the whole crisis might have been handled better and the whole middle east might be in a better position.

Paul Flynn: I take that point, but my right hon. Friend is aware that the document "Project for the New American Century", which was produced by a right-wing think tank in America before Bush was elected, foresaw the takeover of the middle east. The reasons given were the state of the world and its power structures for the rest of the century, and the emergence of China as the second world power. The Americans wanted to ensure that China did not have a source of oil in the middle east, and the necessity was to ensure American dominance not just of Iraq but of the whole middle east. That is what was behind the war.

This Parliament should have taken a decision. I disagree with the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) that having the Bill would have made no difference. It would have made a huge difference. Public anger was aroused by the war, but the public did not concentrate their anger on MPs because it was very late in the day, as a result of many business questions and early-day motions, that a decision was taken to allow the House a vote. That was resisted for a long time, and one might say cynically that it was resisted until the point when the Government were certain they would win.

Next week a book will be published presenting a picture of that process, which strikes me as surprising even though I lived through it. Philip Cowley's book "The Rebels: How Blair Mislaid His Majority" lists the Labour MPs who opposed the war. It was quite a surprise to see that although 139 voted against it in the only key vote, almost 80 more signed motions and EDMs against the war. Those people were very troubled by the war but convinced by untruths that it was essential. We have had no proper investigation or inquiry into the war. Neither of the dossiers has been
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corrected, but they were full of propaganda and packed with untruths. I shall give just one, from page 34 of one, where an illustration showed the size of the Iraq presidential sites in comparison with the bijou size of Buckingham Palace. This vast sub-continent of a presidential palace was shown, and the opposite page explained that the UNSCOM inspectors had never been allowed to inspect it. That was completely untrue: they had inspected the palaces, and more than once. The dossiers were full of untruths, and we all know now the mythology of weapons of mass destruction. We know that decisions were made on the basis of untruths.

Many of those Labour Members who were persuaded against their better judgment to vote for the war feel embittered about how they were treated and how their role as Members of Parliament was undermined. I have sympathy with them when they have to talk to casualties and their families now. The father of one victim of the war stood at the general election and received a sizeable vote, which represents the unhappiness of the country.

I support the Bill and ask that we pass it, not just for the reasons I have given but because of our own position as parliamentarians. We have an anachronistic piece of law that says we have the royal prerogative, but no one really understands it and it is not precisely defined. We had a splendid report from the Public Administration Committee pointing out that if we wish to modernise our democracy and bring ourselves into the 21st century, we need procedures in parliament that are reputable. We need to be accountable to the population and to represent our constituents' views.

If we come again to the position in which there is a disputed war, the whole architecture of disagreement will be changed if the Bill is passed. It is not necessary for 1 million or perhaps 2 million people to go on the streets, as people did, if they can come to us as Members of Parliament so that we may do our proper job and act as the channel for public disquiet about wars. If that had happened in the past, and if the war had never taken place, 97 brave British soldiers would be alive today, and we would have saved a huge amount of money. We might well also have improved the situation in Iraq, which we all pray will turn out to have a peaceful solution. Iraq is still in great flux, which might result in a terrible civil war.

The Bill deals with one of our basic roles as parliamentarians, and we should vote for it today, imperfect as it is. I am sure that we shall hear speeches about its various imperfections, but there are those in every Bill that comes through the House. The principle is absolutely right, and goes to the heart of our duty as parliamentarians.

10.57 am

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