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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has spoken for 10 minutes.

6.51 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Like most hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) rightly concentrated on the dreadful events that are unfolding in Israel and Palestine even as we speak. At this stage of the debate, it might be helpful if I pick up the various more casual remarks that have been made about Iraq because this will be one of the few opportunities that we have to question a Foreign Office Minister and express some concerns about British and American policy, which could lead to military action against Iraq in the near future. I hope that it goes without saying that I do so as one who abhors everything that Saddam Hussein has done and who, as Tom King's Parliamentary Private Secretary during the Gulf war, saw at something fairly close to first hand the effects of Iraq's invasion of its neighbour, Kuwait.

The first set of questions that I should like to pose to the Minister who will respond to the debate deals with the implications of any such military intervention, and the implications for Iraq itself. Most hon. Members have been impressed that America and the international coalition have identified people who could lead Afghanistan in the future. In fact, if anything, almost too many people have been identified and delicate negotiations and diplomacy will be needed to ensure that good people run Afghanistan. But there is no such opposition in Iraq that could take over from Saddam Hussein.

There is no point whatever in military action to remove Saddam Hussein and replace him with someone just as bad. The further implication would be the almost certain break-up of Iraq as a nation state, which is not necessarily

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desirable for the stability of the middle east. When I was Tom King's PPS, I visited northern Iraq and saw the excellent work that our soldiers were doing to protect Kurdish Iraqis from attacks by Saddam Hussein. There is no doubt that the Kurdish people in the north would wish to have an independent state. The possibility of a greater Kurdistan would lead to instability and have a huge effect on our NATO ally, Turkey.

Equally inevitably and, I suspect, rightly, the Shi'ites in the south would wish to have independence. They would probably form a statelet very dependent on Iran. That would lead to greater instability because it would give even more power and influence to Iran, which is far from a force for good. There are grave implications for Iraq itself and for its neighbours, and the fragile international coalition against terrorism could well break up, as other hon. Members have said.

I noted, as other hon. Members must have done, the Arab League summit in Beirut earlier this month, when even Kuwait rejected military intervention in Iraq. Our many moderate friends throughout the middle east would be at least embarrassed and, at worst, heavily destabilised by any such military action. I need hardly say that the harm that it would do to the present awful crisis in the middle east—the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians—does not bear thinking of, so, on that count alone, I urge caution.

The second set of questions that we should ask deals with what exactly is new. Saddam Hussein is a very bad man—he has been for a very long time. He has inflicted gross cruelty on his own people and, some 10 years ago, he invaded his neighbour, Kuwait. But what has happened in the past two, three, six or nine months that requires military intervention to be considered that had not happened before? We are not told what weapons of mass destruction he has now that he did not have then.

If we were to take military action against every rogue state and every disagreeable dictator who has dangerous and serious weapons, we would have to consider many other candidates. There is Libya, which used its weapons of mass destruction in neighbouring Chad. There are Iran, North Korea and even China, but there is rightly no suggestion of military action against those countries. Instead, there is a sensible policy of containment and deterrence.

I have repeated time and again the self-evident truth that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man indeed, but he is not mad. I believe that he understands a deterrent and there has been no further incursion into neighbouring countries because, by and large, the no-fly zone over Kurdish northern Iraq has been maintained by us and our allies and because, after the Gulf war, he knows just what would happen if he were in any way implicated in any terrorist activity.

There is therefore no justification whatever for our American allies, supported by our own Government, to take military action against Iraq in the foreseeable future. In the long term, such action would be highly dangerous and destabilise not just the region, but world peace and the world economy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would take a huge amount of convincing before our armed forces joined the Americans in any such military adventure.

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6.59 pm

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): It is significant that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) said, we are having this debate on the eve of the 54th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.

I last visited Israel in 1999 with a delegation from Labour Friends of Israel. One of the things that those delegations always do is speak to Palestinian representatives, as many of my hon. Friends and colleagues who have taken part in those visits will know. Indeed, on my first visit as a Member of Parliament we met Marwan Barghouti, who has just been arrested. We had an hour or so with him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) will remember. In 1999, we had lunch at the American Colony hotel in east Jerusalem with Palestinian representatives, one of whom was the Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Ziad Abu Ziad, whom we have seen on television from time to time. He said something very significant, which has stuck in my mind: "If you are truly Labour Friends of Israel, you must also be Labour Friends of Palestine. That means that you must support a Palestinian state, a true state that lives not back to back but face to face with Israel in peace." Those words have always struck me as very important and very wise. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) said, it is significant that more than three quarters of Israelis would support a Palestinian state if it brought them the security that they are so desperate to achieve. It is, of course, also significant that so many Israelis support the current leadership of Ariel Sharon, who is causing so much violence, death, destruction and mayhem among innocent Palestinians.

I support the recent moves by the Arab League for a peace settlement—land for peace. That is supported by most of my colleagues in Labour Friends of Israel and, I am sure, by the vast majority of Members of Parliament. However, it is not good enough simply to say we will get rid of the Bantustans of area A, area B and area C, and the towns that are isolated from each other in the Palestinian territories; we must do much more than that. There must be investment in infrastructure, the creation of a civil society and the creation of an economic infrastructure, so that the economic development that is so sadly lacking in Palestinian areas can be used to develop the wealth and standard of living of ordinary Palestinians, which fall so far behind those of ordinary Israelis.

On my last visit, I went to east Jerusalem. The poverty there is palpably a factor that gives rise to the militancy of many Palestinians. When one considers that there is a 20-fold difference between the gross domestic product per capita or the annual income of a Palestinian compared with that of an Israeli, one begins to understand why there is so much bitterness. It is not good enough simply to have a Palestinian state; there must also be massive investment so that the standard of living can be increased—perhaps not to that of the Israelis, but so that a democratic, peaceful, civil society can be created in a state of Palestine and that we can have a truly and properly established state and bring justice to those Palestinians.

I want to say a few words about what is happening in Israel. We have heard many stories and many tales of ordinary Israelis and the way in which they have lost their lives, the lives of their children, and the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by the suicide bombers. I was in Cyprus on 27 March on a Foreign Affairs

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Committee visit when I turned on the television and saw, on CNN, the news of the bomb in the hotel in Netanya. My good friends—and my constituents—Debbie and Michael Ziff were in Netanya at the time. They were not going to that hotel, but they knew it well. This was on Seder night, the night before the Passover begins, so it was going to be very crowded. Twenty-seven people died, and many more were injured. I shed many tears, along with many others who saw that news.

What was the response of Ariel Sharon's democratically elected Government? The Israeli leadership says that it was to root out the terrorist infrastructure—there is an infrastructure even for suicide bombs. Brigadier-General Eyal Shlein said:

Is that a justified response to the horror and carnage of suicide bombing? I recently received an e-mail from my cousin who lives in Ramat Aviv. She is now too frightened to go shopping. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said in his excellent speech, the fact is that Israel is becoming a ghetto—that is what the Jews tried to escape from when they set up the state of Israel. It is not good enough for ordinary Israelis to be too frightened to go out of their own homes. It is not good enough for my cousin who lives in Tel Aviv to send me an e-mail saying that he did not know, for six hours, whether his son, who is doing military service in Gaza, was alive or dead, when three soldiers were killed a few weeks ago.

What is the solution? I have been as horrified as all hon. Members by the reports that we have read—the kind of reports that were published recently in The Sunday Telegraph—of murder, mayhem and carnage in some of the Palestinian cities as well as the camps. A significant piece appeared in The Times on 12 April. It was written by Stephen Farrell in Ramallah. Obviously, the Israeli army did not want him to be in Ramallah, and one of the soldiers of the Israeli defence force said to him:

So began the familiar outburst before it headed in an entirely unexpected direction:

Of course, the journalist did so, but those comments were very significant.

I am in an unenviable position as a constituency Member of Parliament who represents about 10,000 Jews and about 10,000 Muslims—I cannot win, whatever I say. I did do something that I felt was right, however—I signed the advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 March. I shall not read it all out, but part of it states:

Three hundred Jewish people signed that; I was the only Member of Parliament to do so—and, believe me, I have had a bit of flak from my constituents for so doing. I do not apologise, however, because, in the end, how many people have to die before there is a solution?

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We know that violence breeds further violence; that is absolutely clear. I agree with Naomi Chassan, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, when she says, "Withdraw the troops now." The moral high ground has been lost through such action. All I can say is this: we know that there will be a solution—eventually, one day, all the parties will have to negotiate peace in the middle east. The only question that remains is: how many innocent Palestinians and innocent Israelis must die in the meantime?

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