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24 Sept 2002 : Column 58—continued

3.10 pm

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): I share the scepticism expressed about the motives of President Bush, but we have been asked in this debate to focus on the Prime Minister's belief that Saddam Hussein has developed weapons of mass destruction and what should be done about it.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made it clear that the Government have two aims: first, to ensure the return of United Nations inspectors to Iraq; and secondly, to ensure the destruction of any weapons of mass destruction discovered by the inspectors. They have also made it clear that they believe that the threat of military action should be used to achieve those aims, but those aims and that threat raise two questions which the Government have yet to answer in this debate. First, when should the decision to use military action be taken? Secondly, who should take the decision that military action is necessary?

The answer to the first question must be that no decision can or should be taken until we know the response of Saddam Hussein to United Nations' insistence, expressed in a new resolution, on the return of UN inspectors—or, if they return, until we know the results of those inspections. A decision cannot and must not be taken in advance. We should take care—the Government should take care—that any new UN resolution does not contain any loose words or phraseology that could be used or abused at some time in the future and without any reference to the UN to authorise or to claim authority for military action that was not intended by the UN.

As for who should authorise military action, I share the view expressed by several Members in this debate that the decision to do so should be taken by the Security Council of the United Nations. It is not enough for the decision to be taken by one man—not even President Bush, or perhaps especially President Bush. The United Nations should decide whether the inspectors' findings, and Iraq's response or lack of it to them, justify the use of military action. Of course United Nations resolutions should be enforced, but the method of enforcement should be specifically authorised by the UN Security Council and not determined by a self-appointed vigilante.

This question and the answer to it are important because President Bush made it clear in his speech to the United Nations—and those authorised to speak on behalf of his Administration have also made it clear in their statements—that he believes that the President of the United States, with at most the authority of the US Congress, is entitled to take the decision to enforce UN resolutions. I do not agree; I think that a lot of Members do not agree with President Bush's position. I hope that our Government do not agree either and will make it clear to the United States that it is not acceptable to many of us that it should take such decisions alone and without the authority of the United Nations.

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3.14 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I wholeheartedly support the position taken from the Front Bench by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I particularly pay tribute to the brave speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who spoke so powerfully about his objections to going to war. I should add that many of us in the House would profoundly agree with the admirable speech of the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

The House should have been recalled some time ago in order to discuss these matters. Britain is not a country lost in some futile pacifist dream. This is a mature democracy, whose people have every right to be told in a timely manner the truth about the reality of the great issues that must be dealt with, and whose long history, fortified and sustained over many years by the experiences of many similar hard and difficult days, should have absolutely required the Government of the day to have had the confidence to produce all the information at least six weeks ago, as well as to recall Parliament earlier.

Many of my constituents and my friends are truly affronted by the Government's patronising impertinence in not coming before Parliament much earlier to make a perfectly good, sound case, as the Prime Minister did this afternoon. That task has been made much harder by their ineptness and by the bellicose rumblings of our allies, which are now mercifully more suitably directed.

However, I congratulate the Prime Minister, the Government and British diplomacy on the role that they have together played in persuading our allies of the essential requirement to obtain United Nations backing to deal with this matter. Indeed, President Bush was—admirably—right in his speech to the United Nations when he asked whether it was truly prepared to see the UN's will flouted and wronged and cast aside, and whether the authority and credibility of the UN were to be trampled in the dust or upheld. If that authority and credibility is not upheld, there will be anarchy and the UN's credibility will be destroyed for ever.

Ultimately, any foreign policy or established international order that allows a country such as Iraq to acquire and retain weapons of mass destruction while violating solemn UN and other guarantees and agreements is in breach of all its obligations and is a guarantee of a world on the edge of greater terrors to come. This matter must now be brought to a conclusion in order to prevent what President Bush rightly called the gravest possible danger to our freedom, which lies at the crossroads of terrorism and technology. We must have a clear and unequivocal new UN resolution, containing obligations of absolute crystal clarity, fortified by a non-negotiable timeline and with the clear message that, if Iraq defaults, steps will immediately and effectively be taken to force it to remove and destroy all illegal weapons.

As we all know, however, there will be the most tremendous consequences to all this. There will be the welcome liberation of the people of Iraq from an appalling and cruel regime. Huge effort will be required to bring stability to that country. There will be the unavoidable requirement—I welcome the fact that it has been much echoed in this debate—for the United States, Europe and all nations of good will to press ahead with resolving the Palestinian question and seeing to the future security of

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Israel. There will have to be a commitment from all involved to a new strand of policy to start achieving democratisation, greater freedom and prosperity throughout the Muslim world and in particular stability among our friends in the Gulf.

What the Arab world needs particularly—and if there is indeed as a result of these actions to be regime change in Iraq—is a model that works: a progressive Arab regime that by its very existence would create pressure and inspiration for a gradual democratisation and modernisation around the whole region. That would provide an engine to deal with the widespread poverty, ignorance, repression and humiliation that form the lethal cocktail driving Islamic extremism, especially among the young, and whose consequences remain such a terrible danger to us all.

We are living at a time when we cannot predict, as we did in the cold war, how the enemy will react or behave. We face a number of undetectable threats for which we will have no warning. Given what we know of the Iraqi regime and its weapons, and given the necessity to uphold the authority of the United Nations, we must press on and deal with this issue by acting and operating, as Britain always has, within the full authority of international law. This is no time for us to avoid the hard choices that have always placed Britain alongside her allies in doing what is right and necessary.

3.20 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): It is a pity that the House was not recalled earlier and it is a bigger pity that we will not be permitted a vote on a substantive motion today.

The biggest pity of all is that the dossier—the dance of the seven veils—finally came to light just a couple of hours before this debate began. Many of us would have liked the opportunity to check with our sources many of the claims that are in the Prime Minister's dossier. I have just done that with that well-known Saddamist organ, The Daily Telegraph whose foreign correspondent was awaiting my call so that I could read him the places mentioned in the dossier. He and other British correspondents then climbed into a waiting car and proceeded immediately to the very venues mentioned in the dossier. Therefore, we perhaps will not have to wait for at least a preliminary report or for the inspectors to go back in a couple of weeks. The Daily Telegraph will tell us tomorrow and give us at least a preliminary idea whether the statements made in the dossier are pulp fiction or have some validity. I hope that we will not get into the situation in which Groucho Marx found himself in that great movie "A Day at the Races". As a horse doctor posing as a top physician, he was finally debunked and forced to fall back on the phrase, "Who are you going to believe—me or those crooked X-rays?"

The truth is that the inspectors—not people with a propaganda interest in drawing up dossiers—are the only people who can be trusted with this information. We will have the inspectors back soon enough unless President Bush makes good on his threat last Thursday to block their return unless the Security Council toes his line.

However, if this were really about the return of the inspectors and weapons of mass destruction, we could all go home and we would not have to divide the House this evening when many Members will vote for us and many

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more will abstain. However, everyone knows that the issue is not whether the inspectors are going back and whether disarmament can proceed. The issue is whether this Government are prepared to join a pre-emptive attack on Iraq by the United States that is not sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

I tell the Government that there are two problems with that approach. The first is the leadership qualities of George W. Bush. The Prime Minister tells us, as George Bush himself might put it, that we have been misunderestimating the President. The problem with that view is that the British people have seen and heard the President and they think they are estimating him just about right as not a man whom we would want to be at the wheel of the car as we drive along the edge of a cliff with ourselves sitting in the back seat.

Are we misunderestimating the President's friends? Are we misunderestimating Donald Rumsfeld whose picture appeared in The Guardian the other day shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war after he had just handed over the latest American satellite surveillance equipment so that the Iraqi regime could better target the Iranians who were our foes in that war? Are we misunderestimating Paul Wolfowitz, a man who used to make even Ronald Reagan's blood run cold? Are we misunderestimating the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, a man who voted in the United States Congress against the resolution for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison?

I am principally speaking to my friends and I have to tell them how much more comforting it is to be on the side of Nelson Mandela in this argument than it is for some of them to be on the side of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. I ask Labour Members how we ended up on George Bush's side of an argument with Al Gore, the Democrats' presidential candidate. Would it not have been better if new Labour had strengthened the new Democrats or even the peace party within the Republicans rather than siding with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush?

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