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24 Sept 2002 : Column 94—continued

5.49 pm

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) on a speech that crystallised the central and essential concerns of the British people. I have heard those concerns directly from my constituents and via my postbag, to which my constituents and people from the wider United Kingdom contribute.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the paradox of American power. My constituents are confused by what they perceive as the paradoxical attitude of the United States Administration to the United Nations. They are equally bemused by their own Government's perceived attachment to what they define as an abuse of the United Nations, which came into being at the end of the second world war with a very simple idea—that there was a better way for nation states to solve their problems than going to war. My constituents are confused, as I am up to a point, by the way in which Saddam Hussein, for whom neither they nor I hold any brief, has become the

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quintessence of evil when, not long ago, he was actively supported, maintained and financed by, for example, the United States. How has he has become a greater danger in the past year than he has been in the previous 11 on the issue of weapons of mass destruction?

I was grateful that the Government responded to concerns and agreed to the recall of Parliament. I am less happy about the fact that in some cases being able to voice our constituents' concerns has been presented as a privilege for the House, not a right. I am not particularly pleased that the dossier was published only at 8 o'clock this morning. However, to be honest, I did not expect, as has already been said, to find a smoking gun within its pages—there is no such gun.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) highlighted concerns felt across the United Kingdom—what is the desirable outcome if we go to war against Iraq? I feel strongly about any kind of military action being entered into without the validation of the UN, and I know that my constituents do too. I feel equally strongly about the fact that at one point we were being told that it was imperative that we go to war against Iraq because it had the temerity to ignore UN resolutions. It is not the only nation state to ignore UN resolutions, so are we setting a pattern for the future? Having flattened Iraq, will we go into Israel, Pakistan, India and Turkey?

More than once this afternoon the argument has been made that Saddam Hussein is the quintessence of evil because he has an appalling record on human rights—no one would contest that—but if the argument is that the way in which nation states treat their citizens can warrant military action, what about Burma? I cite Burma because my constituents and I feel strongly about the issue, but should the abuse of human rights become an immediate argument for a pre-emptive strike against a nation state the list of such states would be endless. The idea that we are in real and present danger from one rogue state has yet to be proved to the satisfaction of myself and my constituents, who are concerned that we could dragged along on the coat-tails of the American Administration. I use the word "Administration" advisedly as "America" and "Americans" have sometimes been used too loosely in this afternoon's debate. I have many American friends and have always been treated with great generosity and courtesy by America and Americans. There is a powerful body of opinion in the nation state of America that is appalled by its own Government's proposals and the way in which they keep pushing for some form of validation for an attack on Iraq.

As I have said, I hold no brief for Saddam Hussein or his regime, but I am extremely concerned about the fact that we may act without proper examination or without calling his bluff. It is as simple as that—call his bluff. He has said that he will allow UN inspectors in, so they should go—let us see whether he affords them open access to all the areas they wish to examine. Heaven knows, they know which areas they wish to examine. If, indeed, he puts barriers in their way, the UN should act, but we should delay for quite a long time before we risk military action against Iraq.

There is no question but that the war would be won by the most powerful nation in the world, but I am concerned about who will win the peace. We have had quite a few history lessons this afternoon and the second world war

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has been cited on more than one occasion. At the end of that war, the world was almost destroyed and the two major aggressive nations were put into a process that transformed not only their political basis but their cultural attitude to politics and what a nation state should be. I am obviously thinking about Japan and Germany. In Japan, that task was almost exclusively the preserve of the United States, but in Germany it required co-operation between four countries that have since become permanent members of the UN Security Council. A great deal more was required—these nation states were clearly committed to staying in Germany for a considerable period. Year after year, there was a massive commitment of money, materials and personnel to bring about change.

Are we prepared to commit ourselves to that in Iraq? As hon. Members have said, the idea that regime change will automatically bring in an infinitely better Government is absurd. The three Opposition parties in Iraq cannot agree with one another and it is highly unlikely that they could create any kind of Government who would receive a modicum of respect or loyalty from the Iraqi people. Do we really think that Saddam Hussein and his cohorts will sit quietly in one of his palaces until they are killed or captured? Of course not. Women, children, the elderly and the sick will, as always, be victims of attack, but Saddam Hussein and his cohorts will be outside the country, plotting and acting as a focus for opposition to any Government who are imposed on Iraq. As hon. Members have said, they will act as the best kind of recruiting sergeant for extremist fanatics from any religion the like of which the world has not seen before.

The argument for a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq has not been thought through sufficiently by the main protagonists. There should be an immediate return to the United Nations. If we need another mandate, we should not make it impossible for Saddam Hussein to acknowledge its time scales. I have heard it said that the American Administration are pushing for military action by the new year because if they leave it any later it will be too hot and dangerous for their troops and any others who may be engaged in fighting in the desert.

The weapons inspectors are ready to go back in. They have made it clear that it will take time for them to get there and examine the areas that they believe could be dangerous. It should be in the interests not only of this country and the United States but the whole free world and that vast stretch of the world that longs to be free to afford those inspectors the time to make a genuine inspection and report. Only then should we seriously consider some kind of military action against Iraq.

5.59 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I shall not follow the points made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) in her powerful speech, save to say that I prefer the advice given to the House by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). We are not about to go to war either this week, next week or next month, and some of the points made by the hon. Lady are based upon a misunderstanding, perhaps an exaggerated misunderstanding, of the situation.

It is never easy to take part in debates such as this because, despite the publication of the dossier of information before us today, only a few people in government can know the whole truth. What we have

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today is what they want us to have, and I welcome what we have been given, but we are arguing this matter from a position of some ignorance. We do not have the detailed intelligence reports, and we do not have access to the signals traffic or the material that the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary have from people on the ground or from their discussions with the United States Government.

It would have been helpful to our deliberations had the dossier been published some time before this morning. I am sure that there is nothing in it that was not available last week, and if it is right to let us have the information today it was surely right to let us have it last week or even earlier.

Equally, this debate is taking place too late. Had it been open to us to question the Government, and in particular the Prime Minister, earlier about their plans, their policy, their hopes and their fears about the worsening situation in Iraq and in our relations with that country's regime, and their discussions with the President and Administration of the United States, much good, I suspect, would have flowed from that and far less of comfort to Saddam Hussein. The delay has allowed frustrations to grow, and, unwittingly no doubt, has allowed the impression to be gained in Iraq that we are not resolved to do anything, that we do not have the political will as a country to shoulder the responsibilities of which the Prime Minister has spoken.

If it is said that we had nothing of substance to debate earlier than today, I fundamentally disagree. The prospect of war is substantial enough for Members of this House to want to express their collective or individual views, and if information of the kind that can be shared by the Prime Minister becomes available subsequently, the House can be recalled once more if necessary. This is not an argument between Parliament and the Executive, or about the prerogative powers of the Crown in matters of foreign policy. It is a matter of common sense not to allow tempers to remain too hot for too long as elected Members of this House accumulate their frustration and anger at being apparently ignored while events outside the House that concern us continue.

I welcome the recall of Parliament, but at this time of crisis we need to see the Prime Minister metaphorically, if not literally, chained by one wrist to the Dispatch Box, so that he and the Government are reminded of their relationship with the electorate. At this time of crisis we should not only do our duty to the electorate and our country in standing up for the rights of Parliament, but show the regime in Iraq that parliamentary democracy matters and that parliamentary democracy can play its part in vanquishing terror. That does not mean that Parliament should listen only to the electorate. It also means that Parliament and Members of it have a role in shaping and leading public opinion.

On 19 November last year during the debate on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, I admitted that the decisions that have to be taken by the Prime Minister at times like this are truly awful. He is in the lonely position of having to make the final decision about whether we should commit troops to theatres of war, to places of actual or potential danger. All of us, no matter whether we are Government or Opposition Members of Parliament, have our responsibilities at this time, to our constituents, to our families, to our country, to our allies,

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and, of course, to our consciences, but we cannot shirk from our duty to take difficult decisions if that is what we must do.

The burden on a national leader at times like this is great. I sympathise with the Prime Minister. Indeed I do more than that. I support him and the stance that he is taking in being prepared to face head on the issues that a man such as Saddam Hussein puts before us. The right hon. Gentleman has been derided for behaving as though he were no more than President Bush's poodle, jumping to his every wish and command in order to increase his standing as a world leader at home at a time when domestic politics are proving less inviting. He is accused of being out of step with the majority of the parliamentary Labour party and the party's membership outside.

The Prime Minister's behaviour is made all the worse, his critics say, because the United States Government are headed by a President with an eccentric command of the English language, a man on a personal mission to finish off what his father failed to complete in 1991, and a man who heads an Administration staffed by men and women with no real understanding of the delicate state of the political world in the middle east. Indeed, it is fashionable in some quarters here to belittle the imagination, the sophistication, the ability to think strategically and the generosity of spirit of the American people, their President and his close advisers. If the Prime Minister is on side with them, say his critics, he must be badly awry.

Those critics may be sincere, they may be reflecting the views of many others in this country and for all I know they may represent the majority. But they are wrong and they are giving the cause of peace in the middle east and in the wider world no assistance, either by the style of their criticism or by its content. The caricature that they paint of the President and his advisers, and thus of the Prime Minister, is inaccurate and is, in my view, at the very lowest, unhelpful in bringing Saddam Hussein to see reason. No one who has sent troops to war can be unaware of what that could mean for the individual service men and women involved or for their families. But if we avoided preparing for war because we knew that it would bring casualties, we would not have a Government worthy of the name, nor a country or a way of life worth living in or protecting.

No President of the United States will lightly decide to commit forces overseas just because he has almost unlimited military might at his disposal. A wrong decision by the world's only superpower has repercussions for it as well as for the rest of the world and I find it unbelievable that President Bush is mindlessly about to set off on an adventure for the sheer bravado of it. Any operation against Iraq—if it comes to that, and we are a long way from that—will be considered with great care and, I have no doubt, with advice and warnings from his own staff, Congress, the press, the academic world, members of the United Nations Security Council and other opinion formers, as well as, and this is not an insignificant factor, from the British Government.

While other countries who stand to benefit from what the United States and Britain are having to contemplate shuffle uneasily from one side of the argument to the other, it is reassuring to find that the United Kingdom Government is not proving so pusillanimous. The United Kingdom has a long-standing and high reputation for persuasive diplomacy and resolution drafting at the United

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Nations, and now is the time that our Government must urge those who are working for us in New York to demonstrate those skills quickly and effectively.

Hussein is a murderous tyrant who unfortunately survived the Gulf war to continue his regime of terror, torture, assassination and extermination of racial groups and individuals who have inconvenienced him. We know from his pre-1991 behaviour that he is not a man to be trusted and that his military and political subordinates are either as bad as him or terrified into obedience. We know that since 1991, despite the best efforts of the United Nations weapons inspectors, he has been producing chemical and biological weapons and attempting to produce nuclear weapons with long-range delivery systems. We know that his interest in their manufacture is not merely academic. A man who is prepared to use chemical weapons on his own citizens is hardly likely to be too scrupulous to use them on the citizens of other countries. A man who was prepared to fire missiles at Israel and risk another regional war between Israel and the Arab world with the chance that it might lead to war on a far wider scale will not now shrink from doing so again if that is what he thinks will achieve his ends.

I said on 4 October last year in the post-11 September debate at column 724 that I accept that in times of crisis any Prime Minister must be provided with the freedom to act quickly and effectively to protect the integrity of the country and its institutions and to safeguard its people. I applaud what the Prime Minister has said and done so far. I accept that not every decision that has to be taken can be taken following lengthy deliberations in the House or consultations with every interested party. I accept without question that if the Prime Minister says that he has evidence against Saddam Hussein that he cannot share with us in full, he is speaking the truth.

But the threat to this country may not come from warships or aircraft, from nuclear missiles sent from Baghdad or a land army invading one of our allies. The modern adversary may well travel by bus, with a belt loaded with explosives or a briefcase full of germs in one hand and a laptop computer in the other. He will not wear a uniform, he will not announce his coming and he will not share his plans. But what he may well be is a person trained, funded and armed by Saddam Hussein, prepared to kill himself and many others so that Saddam's murderous aims can be fulfilled. It is that sort of threat that Iraq poses and it is that sort of threat that we must compel the United Nations to take on board.

It is no good us asking the Security Council to pass further resolutions unless we and it are prepared to take action when they are ignored or broken. The new Security Council resolution that has been spoken of today will be ignored or broken by Saddam Hussein, just like the others since 1991, unless he knows that he is faced with countries and leaders with the determination, the resolve, the political will and the military might to deal with him swiftly and decisively in the event of default. That means—

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