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24 Sept 2002 : Column 83—continued

5.2 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): After five and a half hours of debate, there is still a great deal to be said. The speeches with which I identify most closely have been those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and the remarkable speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), which was brimming with common sense.

Some 12,000 of my constituents are working at the sharp end of this debate. Hundreds of them are world-class scientists, technologists and engineers, thousands of them are members of Her Majesty's forces who are prepared to die for their country and thousands more are civil servants and private sector support staff. All of them are just as much citizens of our country as you or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They and their families are part of our community. They go to work, come home, go to the pub, play sport and share our values and aspirations for our country and the world. I salute them and their families. Too often we either take them for granted or assume that the people who will do the Government's bidding are a separate group of people. They are a part of us.

Perhaps it is because for nearly 20 years I have represented so much of the British Army in and around Salisbury Plain that I found were few surprises in the dossier published today. Perhaps it is because I represent the people who work at the Centre For Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down who develop the vaccines. Perhaps it is because I have learned so much from the people who work at the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down whose job it is to find detection systems and develop systems for protecting our military personnel, vehicles, ships and aircraft, or because I represent so many people who work at the Nuclear Biological and Chemical Centre at Winterbourne Gunner, who are responsible for training, not just British forces, but other forces to protect themselves against chemical, biological and nuclear attack.

Of course the Government should not give us raw intelligence—their most secret intelligence—but they must tell the British people enough to gain their trust. I believe that the Government have achieved that. It may be a cliché to say that the world changed on 9/11 last year, but many people have not got that message yet. We have to face the fact that when we are dealing with regimes like Saddam's or terrorist movements, the old cold war concept of deterrence simply will not work any more. Saddam Hussein does not see weapons of mass destruction as weapons of last resort; he sees them as tools of current policy to be used as he has already used them

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and, I am confident, will use them again. Consequently, we must recognise that the traditional interpretation of the United Nations charter may need to be rethought. We have to be realistic about the definition of "immediate threat" as a justification for pre-emptive action. The old thinking of the cold war simply will not do, and Saddam knows that.

For 10 years, the west has not been prepared to defend its values. The United States—it has no greater admirer than myself—was weak through the Clinton years in failing to respond to the earlier attacks on the World Trade Centre, failing to respond adequately to attacks on its embassies in Africa, and failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole and to the expulsion of the UN weapons inspectors. The USA has now thrown down the gauntlet to the United Nations to test its authority. That is a crucial point. Our objective must be to find a new United Nations resolution which is focused on the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) for laying that out so clearly as the Opposition's policy.

Regime change may be a consequence of that and we should not recoil from that concept. The rules have changed and we must think this through maturely, not least because Saddam Hussein is making it harder to make progress in resolving the Israel-Palestine crisis. After all, he is also causing untold suffering to his own people, especially children. The impact on the neighbouring states, particularly our brave ally in NATO, Turkey, but also Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, will be great.

We underestimate the reasons why the Arab and Islamic world has been so united in its opposition to military action against Saddam to date. It has been partly out of fear—win or lose, anyone who thwarts Saddam is in trouble. It is partly out of the recognition that he and al-Qaeda provide a focus for millions of disaffected people who either have nothing to lose in their miserable lives of poverty and hopelessness or who resent our affluence and the domination of the world by the nations of the west. This group includes a large number of people who live in the United Kingdom, so this is nothing like the Gulf war and we should realise that.

I hope and pray that we will not go to war, but if we do I believe that our cause is just. War would be a last resort, but we would win. The evil and damage that war necessarily entails would be proportionate to the evil and damage prevented. It would, then, be a just war in terms of the western, Christian, ethical tradition. I listen with respect to Christian leaders whose job it is to promote peace. They are right to do so for the greater the risks and the more devastating the impact of conflict on military personnel and civilians alike, the more cautious we should be. Such caution is a strength of western civilization. It underlines the weakness of terrorists and tyrants alike who have always exploited our preference for peace and our reluctance to do battle.

How long do we watch and wait until a judgment has to be made? I trust our Prime Minister in this matter. I agree with him that knowing what we know about Saddam I would not want it on my conscience that we let him carry on unhindered.

Many of us today will have received briefing documents from organisations, particularly charities, and none more important than the Save the Children

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document. I read it carefully. The briefing note which points out what is happening in Iraq is the best argument yet for quick intervention against Saddam. It is outrageous that he is allowed to get away with such actions in his own country. That briefing note had the opposite effect on me to that which was intended.

Looking beyond this crisis, I think that it is extremely important that we, as a nation and as an ally of the strongest nation on earth, should ensure that a new world order includes a deliberate policy of ensuring that the rich and powerful nations of the world do very much more to assist, and sometimes to persuade, the poorer nations to reduce poverty and invest in health, food, education and water. I ask the Government, whether or not we go to war, what is their intention when it comes to reconstruction—to building the confidence not only of Iraq but of other countries in future? We must harness our science and technology in their interests as well as our own, because poverty breeds fear and instability. That suits Saddam fine, even in his own country, where he deliberately starves children of food and medicine.

In my view, physical and intellectual prosperity is the enemy of dictatorship. That is why, if we do not get the United Nations resolution, and if we do not get the inspectors back and the removal of the weapons of mass destruction, in my judgment regime change would indeed be justified—if necessary, by military means.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because hon. Members have today rightly focused their attention on the debate in the House, they may be unaware of the fact that earlier today there took place a devastating terrorist attack on worshippers at one of the largest Hindu temples in the world, the Swaminarayan Akshardham Mandir in Gandhinagar, in which I understand that 28 people have been shot. Would it be in order to advise Members of this, so that they might express their horror and sympathy?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): That is not, strictly speaking, a point of order for the Chair, but the House will have heard the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, and Members will make their own judgments and have their own thoughts about them.

5.11 pm

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): I suppose that it is far too early to try to reflect on who could have been responsible for this atrocity, but I think that the whole House will share in the shock and dismay at this news, and would want to express sympathy for all those who have been injured and their families.

I suppose that the news also tempers some of the comments that we might want to make in the debate. We have been trying to respond as a group of parliamentarians to a threat that we know exists—a threat that we have seen demonstrated. The continuing failure of the international community to respond to the various problems that exist in all parts of the world will put even more pressure on all of us who take part in the debate to measure the words that we use in this Chamber and to ensure that we do not ourselves inflame any of those organisations or individuals who feel at the moment that they are not being listened to.

The news also demands from us that we send a clear message to those who have used this method of raising their particular grievance—shooting innocent people at a

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place of worship is no way to resolve a grievance. People should be able to go to such a place to join with others to celebrate or commemorate, or just to exercise their free will as far as their religious beliefs are concerned. They should be able to trust that they can do so without fear that it will bring their life to an end. We need to send a clear message that, whether it is in India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the middle east, New York or anywhere else, democracy will respond by ensuring that those who use terrorisim to highlight their grievances will not win. If that message goes out from this Parliament today, although it will not reduce the pain of people who are suffering, it will at least assure them not only that our thoughts are with them but that we are determined to build a better world in which some of these problems might well be resolved.

Before the recall of Parliament, many people expressed an initial scepticism that any evidence existed of anything except the fact that some people believed that we had a United States President who had a hit list of two or three countries and was determined to finish some unfinished business that his father had not managed to secure some 10 or 11 years ago. I believe that all of us, whichever side of the debate we are on today or tomorrow, were anxious to ensure that our Parliament, our political processes, would not be directed into that scenario. We were looking forward to finding some way of coming together as a group of elected politicians in a democratic forum and having a meaningful discussion about any evidence that might exist.

The document that was produced today does not prove or disprove any side of the argument. It re-emphasises some things that we knew. It re-emphasises the fact that we knew that Saddam Hussein's regime was uniquely evil—we knew that it had used weapons of mass destruction against its own population. In that sense, the document did not provide any new and telling evidence, but it did assemble in one place enough evidence to suggest, I would hope, to most reasonable people that there was a need to deal with the issue now.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I was discussing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who was then a shadow foreign affairs spokesperson, what our reaction should be as an Opposition. I think that we took the right decision. Although we were concerned about other issues—I was particularly concerned about the middle east peace process, as I am now—we were convinced that the latest intervention should be dealt with there and then. We now need to answer the questions whether the regime needs to be dealt with and how should we deal with it.

The way in which the Government have suggested that we move forward—the way the Government have used their best influence on the American Administration, who were quite clearly split and probably still are quite split, as to how to resolve this issue—has been a lesson for us all.

I welcome the fact that we have been able to hear our Prime Minister tell us the role that the United Kingdom has played. It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been able to help those in the American Administration who regarded international law as the way forward, in preference to the approach of drawing up a select hit list, followed by removal.

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Those of us who have argued in the Chamber, on many different occasions, for the supremacy and legitimacy of international law and who wish to see it implemented much more rigorously all over the world should be heartened by the fact that we have been determined to help the United States of America to get in line with international law—to bring the matter back to the United Nations.

I should have hoped that my right hon. and hon. Friends who have disagreed with actions that have been taken in the past, and who have argued that the Security Council resolutions were ambivalent here or there, would welcome our determination to go back and obtain a new Security Council resolution. I have doubts as to whether it can be as specific as it needs to be—I have yet to read a UN Security Council resolution that was so specific that it did not allow someone to point to some ambiguity in it. However, I hope that our determination to go back and secure a new Security Council resolution will be enough to allow my hon. Friends who feel that they want to have some other debate to stay with us tonight and allow us to go to the United Nations Security Council and introduce that resolution.

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