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24 Sept 2002 : Column 99—continued

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman's time is up.

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6.9 pm

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I welcome today's debate on Iraq. It is about time Parliament had the opportunity to discuss the Government's position. Everybody else in the world seems to have been doing so for months.

I want to make two points. The first concerns the dossier that the Government have finally managed to publish after all this time—we have been asking for its publication since March. The second concerns the wider significance of the issues before us.

The Government have done their very best in today's debate narrowly to cast around for the evidence—or otherwise—of Iraq's capability of developing weapons of mass destruction. The contents of the dossier have been trailed in the press and on the air for days, but Members of the House received it only a few hours before the debate and have had little time to read or digest it. If I were being cynical, I might say that that was deliberate, so that anyone who is a sceptic, like me, might have less time to expose all the holes in the Government's case. There are many others who are sceptical about the Government's position.

I believe that this is an attempt to put an official seal of approval on speculation. The fact that all of us in the House believe that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man does not make a case for war. Indeed, some of us have a more honourable record of opposition to his antics, going back many years, than some who have spoken today. Indeed, I remember my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) leading campaign after campaign to highlight the wickedness of this particular regime.

The Government are doing their best to confuse two issues, and we have to ask ourselves why. I could not disagree more with hon. Members who have said that all the evidence is here in the dossier. Because I have been sitting here for eight hours, I have now had the chance to read it three or four times. It is light on fact, and heavy on conjecture. It is also light on argument and heavy on emotion. In fact, if it were an A-level answer, the examiners would downgrade it with no hesitation whatever.

Speculation is no longer necessary, because the United Nations weapons inspectors are due to return in a few weeks. We have to ask ourselves why, after having procrastinated for half a year, the Government have rushed the dossier out now, at the very point when the situation is poised to be resolved without recourse to war, and when a non-military solution is practical, possible and immediately on the agenda. Why should we bother to speculate, when the United Nations is on the point of being able to observe the situation for itself, and when Hans Blix has told us that he can have the inspectors in, and up and running, by the middle of October?

Why move the goalposts now? It could not be—could it?—that the Prime Minister is hunting for a way to support President Bush and the United States in going to war. I think that that is their intention, with or without UN approval, regardless of whether weapons monitoring is re-established. The Prime Minister has already said, when he addressed the press in Sedgefield, that he would support the United States. A lot of Members of this House think that the Prime Minister wants to support the United States regardless of the UN, and I agree with them. What other reason is there for the Government to publish a

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dossier that we have all been clamouring for since the beginning of the year, allowing it to be leaked and speculated on in the press for days, but withholding it from this country's elected representatives until three hours before the debate in this Chamber?

I want to turn briefly to the broader issues—issues that the Government are seeking to obscure in the flurry of speculation about this redundant document. Saddam Hussein has not used these so-called weapons of mass destruction. He did not use them in 1991, when we were flattening his country and killing his people. He has not used them for 12 years, and he would invite annihilation if he used them now. I go along with the annihilation argument. I think that he is rational, even if he is wicked, and I do not think that he would invite his own annihilation.

It is clear that George Bush has decided to go to war against Iraq, regardless of the matters before us in the Government's dossier. It has been said that the Prime Minister was instrumental in getting President Bush to go to the United Nations, where he made his speech. Well, if he was, President Bush has betrayed him, because just a few days later, we got the Bush doctrine. We found out that President Bush was taking it upon himself and America to launch pre-emptive strikes if he came across anybody he thought was against America's interests. Colin Powell announced that months ago, when he said on American television:

That is the United States' case, and it has betrayed the Prime Minister if he was intent on persuading it to go down the United Nations route.

It is clear that President Bush is set on regime change, not because Saddam Hussein has, or is capable of developing, weapons of mass destruction—the United States bears considerable responsibility for encouraging Iraq to acquire them in the first place—but because George Bush wants a different Government. We have to ask ourselves why. It is because Iraq is sitting on top of huge oil reserves, and the United States—the world's biggest oil consumer—wants to make sure it can get its hands on them.

Before we are prepared to participate in what the United States is doing, we should ask ourselves an important question—particularly in the light of the Bush doctrine revealed last Friday. Who is next? Will it be Syria, Iran, North Korea, Yemen? The list is endless. Who will be next if we allow ourselves to go down this route?

The Bush Administration are taking upon themselves the power to decide which country is likely to pose a challenge to United States interests in future, and to act in advance to stop that happening—by force, if need be. Who made George Bush the judge and jury of the world? Who gave him that absolute right? If this is allowed to happen, we can kiss the rule of international law goodbye. We can kiss goodbye to arms limitation treaties and arms inspections as well. More countries will be looking for access to weapons of mass destruction, seeing them as their only means of counterbalancing a rampant United States. The Bush security doctrine represents the militarisation of American foreign policy. It makes me

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shudder to think about the kind of future my children and grandchildren have in store, and it should make every sensible Member in this Chamber shudder too.

The matters that we are considering today could end in the Government following the United States to war against Iraq. They would be doing so without the support of the majority of the British electorate. Although some of us have been able to speak today, many have not; many are still hoping to be called. It is a travesty of democracy that we have not been allowed a proper vote on this matter. The only option for those who want to show our disgust that we might be dragged down this route to war is to vote against the motion on the Adjournment tonight. The public are expecting that. It is a betrayal of public trust that we have not been given a vote.

I was born into a party in which a Prime Minister crossed the Atlantic to prevent his friends from using nuclear weapons in Korea. Another Prime Minister kept us out of the Vietnam war, with all the horrors that that involved, when the United States used chemical weapons and killed 2 million Vietnamese and 55,000 of its own young people. I want my Prime Minister to pursue pathways to peace, and to pursue non-military solutions to what is a very difficult problem for us all.

6.18 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I have just returned this morning from the United States of America, having flown out there on 11 September. Subjective as it is, my impression of the mood in America is very different from some that we have heard in the Chamber today. My impression of that mood is that it is one of grief, reflectiveness and a steady determination not to suffer the sort of horror that they suffered 12 months ago.

On my return today, I am therefore disappointed—although not entirely surprised—to find comments being reported in the press from the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, in which their leader stated there that there was

about what America was doing. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I hope that the record will show Liberal Democrats cheering those remarks. Another Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman is similarly reported as having described the United States' democratically elected Government as a "regime"—[Interruption.] I hope that the record will show Liberal Democrats laughing and sneering in support of those remarks in today's debate.

We heard today the Liberal Democrat hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) describe the United States, after all that it has been through in the past year, as nothing better than a "playground bully". A little more surprising than the facile and hostile comments of the Liberal Democrats are the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), who seems to think that the United States has not had significant success in the war against al-Qaeda. I beg to differ. Any look at the recent record of what has been happening in the war against al-Qaeda bears out the interpretation that the United States has been doing very well indeed.

On 11 September this year, Ramzi bin al-Shibh was arrested in Pakistan as a result of American intelligence tip-offs. That follows a successfully established pattern of reeling in key terrorists one by one. It may well be that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is believed to have been

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the military head of al-Qaeda and who boasted in a recent broadcast that he had first conceived the idea of flying aircraft into American buildings, may have been captured or killed in the same raid. We know about the previous capture of Abu Zubeida, al-Qaeda's chief of operations. So it is stretching the imagination to suggest that America's concern with Iraq is based on nothing more than a diversionary need to compensate for as yet inadequate action against al-Qaeda.

It has been asked today whether a state can act without United Nations' authority. I suggest to the House that there is at least one set of circumstances in which a state can do so: when the United Nations fails to enforce its own resolutions if those have been flagrantly disregarded. I have in mind the letter that was quoted in part during the Prime Minister's statement earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The letter was sent by the weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, at the time of his resignation in 1998, before he suddenly decided, years later, that Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat from mass destruction weapons after all. The letter stated:

Mr. Ritter concluded:

If even Scott Ritter, who has become something of a hero to Labour Members who are against war, felt at the time when he had adequate knowledge that the enforcement of those resolutions was worth fighting for, perhaps the Prime Minister is not too far adrift in expressing a similar opinion in the light of his up-to-date knowledge—his full knowledge, awareness and concern, which we as a loyal Opposition have supported consistently—about what Saddam Hussein may well try to do.

When is pre-emption justified? I suggest it is when someone with evil intent seeks to acquire devastating capability. It would be very hard to justify overthrowing Saddam if he were seeking mass destruction weapons for deterrent purposes, but that man's record is not one of deterrence; rather, it is a record of aggression, invasion and mass murder.

When Afghanistan was attacked and the Taliban were overthrown, far fewer voices were raised against Anglo-US action than are being raised in today's debate. Why is that? It is because the attacks against the United States had already taken place out of the blue. I was impressed by the Prime Minister's argument, used in his earlier press conference although not in the House today, about pre-emption. He pointed out that had he or President Bush come to their electorates on 9 or 10 September 2001 and said, "We have intelligence information that makes us believe with a reasonably secure level of assuredness that al-Qaeda is about to launch an horrific attack; we do not know the details, the precise timing, or the location, but we wish to take pre-emptive action against this group," the reaction would have been similar to that being shown by Members on the left of the Labour party and

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by the Liberal Democrats as a whole to the suggestion that pre-emptive action may be necessary against Saddam Hussein.

The difference between those two situations is this: it is one thing for a terrorist group to kill 3,000 innocent people without warning out of the blue, but it is quite another for a mass murderer, a dictator and a tyrant to be able to launch out of the blue an attack with mass destruction weapons, especially when—I was delighted when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) brought this out in his speech—it may be done by proxy. It may be done by means of supplying the weapons of mass destruction to third parties, while Saddam Hussein sits back, washes his hands and says, "It's nothing to do with me."

The Arab world has a pretty good idea of what Saddam Hussein is like and is unlikely to be set ablaze in the cause of protecting him. I remember well when, in 1991, Saddam tried to declare a holy war and claim that his aggression was part of a jihad. In reality, the Arab world took little notice.

I conclude on a hopeful note. A recent report of the comments of the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, shows that perhaps after all Saudi Arabia will allow the US to strike Iraq from Saudi bases. That is against what the Saudis were saying previously, but they know that ultimately Saddam Hussein is no friend of the Arab cause any more than he is a friend of democracy or of the Iraqi people.

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