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24 Sept 2002 : Column 123—continued

7.51 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The Prime Minister helpfully set out in his statement this morning that, first, the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq was high on his list of priorities, and secondly that for him the objective was the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction held by Iraq. Although that was very helpful, the Prime Minister's case has been massively undermined by the confusion that has arisen as a result of very senior sources in the American Administration talking consistently about regime change and very different objectives.

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That voice, heard in this House and throughout Britain, has led to an extraordinary degree of cynicism about the American Administration's real objectives. I share that cynicism because I know of no way that this Government would be in a position in the end to constrain the actions of the United States Administration. The United States most certainly has the capacity to make war unilaterally and to win that war in military terms if it chooses to do so.

The most bizarre thing about the recent announcement of the new American doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and unilateralism is that it flies so much in the face of what we thought that the Americans and the world had learned when this House met just 12 months ago in the aftermath of the events of 11 September and talked of the recognition of the fact that the coalition against terrorism was not just a military one but operated at every level. It was a coalition in which the United States was a very important partner, but only a partner. I was one of those who supported military action against Afghanistan and al-Qaeda because I believed in building that coalition. At the moment, the United States is risking the destruction of that concept of coalition. Indeed, as partners in the venture, we risk such destruction too if we get it wrong.

The odd thing at the moment is that, as one of my hon. Friends said, we should be calling Saddam Hussein's bluff. We should be saying, "Look, if you accept weapons inspectors into Iraq again, we will ensure that we get them in and that existing and, indeed, new UN Security Council resolutions will be a basis for that." Like others, I call strongly for a resolution to make clear at every stage the expectations of Saddam Hussein and—this is important—of the world community, including Great Britain and the United States. It is important that there is no room for doubt over where the world goes from here.

It is important, for example, that if the weapons inspectors return to Iraq and discover default, obfuscation or deliberate attempts on the part of Saddam to prevent them from carrying out their activities, that it is reported not by politicians but by the inspectors themselves. Then it would be for the world community to make a decision. Under those circumstances, with UN support, I would support military action to enforce the UN resolutions, as at that point it would be clear that Saddam Hussein was intending to flout them. Long before that, however, we must get those inspectors into the country and call Saddam's bluff. That would give us the opportunity of a peaceful resolution.

I must say iconoclastically that no one has answered the question about what happened to the policy of deterrence. Perhaps the deterrence argument has disappeared, yet such an argument still exists and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) made it. There is no doubt that Saddam is an evil man. He has done some horrendous things to his own people and his neighbours. I watched him over many years when Saddam-watching was not a high priority in the House, but I do not think that he is suicidal. I do not agree that he would resist the concept of deterrence if it were clear that he would meet overwhelming force from the United States and, indeed, Great Britain in the event of use of weapons of mass destruction against ourselves or his neighbours.

Although the concept of deterrence is still important, the argument has gone beyond it. We are now committed either to weapons inspectors or to war. Therefore, I must

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say that the deployment of weapons inspectors is massively cheaper in global terms than the alternative of a conflict.

Various Members on both sides of the House have drawn parallels with past events, 1991, and so on. We most certainly take on board the fact that there is a fragile world opinion, especially in the Arab world, which sees itself as having been humiliated over recent years. We must consider not just what the house of Saud thinks but what is thought by 15 and 16-year-olds growing up in Saudi Arabia and by people throughout the middle east. We must disabuse ourselves of the perception that Saddam is always seen as the villain. Although he most certainly is a villain, we would be very stupid if we did not recognise that we have allowed him to paint himself as the hero of the dispossessed and of those who feel that there is no justice on this planet for them and their condition.

That brings us to the situation in the context of Israel and Palestine. I disagree with my hon. Friends who say that Iraq is only as important as Burma. That is not true. Iraq probably possesses weapons of extraordinary capacity, unlike Burma, and could threaten peace in the middle east and the world. However, the one situation that threatens that even more is that between Palestine and Israel. I ask our Government and the American Government to put just one tenth of the effort directed towards Iraq into resolving that situation. Then we could begin to transform this world and opinion in favour of action against those such as Saddam. We must say clearly to the present Government in Israel that their actions are now so far beyond any level of acceptability that they are part of the whole problem and most certainly not a separate issue that can be dealt with later.

The stakes that we are playing for are quite extraordinary. There are circumstances where, under proper UN mandate, Saddam would legitimately face military action of which Britain should be part if he continued to default on his obligations. We should certainly be part of building such a coalition around the world in the event that we find ourselves in that unhappy position, but at the moment we should be building a coalition to ensure that weapons inspectors return to Iraq, maximum diplomatic pressure is brought to bear on Saddam and that the message is conveyed to a world ready for such action that the UN, as the Prime Minister pointed out, faces a challenge. Its challenge is not to conform to United States doctrine. Quite rightly, it is under the challenge of ensuring that previous UN resolutions come to fruition. That is a challenge for us all, because those of us who believe in the UN have to see its resolutions backed. The way to do that now is to call Saddam's bluff, get the inspectors in and begin that process. If we do that, there will be huge agreement across the House and it will be possible to move forward on that agenda. The challenge to our Government is to say to the Americans that there are no circumstances under which we would now accept pre-emptive military action, because such military action would destroy the fragile balance that exists. It would not be part of making peace for the long-term future.

8 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): I fear that the Government's behaviour shows that they underestimate the cynicism and detachment that affect politics in this

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country and the hard work that they will have to do if they are to persuade the British people to back the action that the Prime Minister proposes. This dossier makes a strong case, but it is evident from remarks made by Members on both sides of the House that it has not persuaded all of us of the justification for that action. However, it is not us but the public at large—both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere—who need to be persuaded.

The Prime Minister has not merely delayed for six weeks, as the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) suggested. The Prime Minister has delayed for six months or more. That delay has created in the eyes of many people a serious leadership gap. Six months ago in the debate on 6 March, I spoke of the need for the Government to forge a chain of trust. The failure of any link in that chain weakens our country's ability to commit our forces overseas with the wholehearted support of the British people. However, that chain of trust is being weakened by the many members of the public who do not believe that the Government are right. It has also been weakened for me and many of my hon. Friends by the regular failure of the Prime Minister and his colleagues to answer honest questions about this subject and some others fully and expeditiously.

On many occasions since 6 March, the Prime Minister has missed opportunities to reinforce the chain of trust. In March and April alone, at least six occasions arose for Ministers to prepare the British people, but on too many occasions they have restricted their remarks to formulaic statements. For example, the Prime Minister said:

That was the formula virtually throughout.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), was unusually specific for a Minister when he said:

What is the evidence of the Government's success in meeting that ambition? The Prime Minister said in his statement earlier today that the issue of Iraq has come over his desk every week in the past year. Yet he also told us that he came back a few weeks ago and realised that he had to go out to explain the issue to people. That has been his failure. He held a conference in Sedgefield and he spoke to the TUC, but until then he had shown disregard for the British people. The Prime Minister's failure to recall the House until now has again shown his disregard not for us but for the British people whom we represent. In his failure to produce this dossier until a few hours before this debate, he showed his disregard for the British people.

Because of that disregard, the Prime Minister has yet to earn our people's support for the course of action on which he is set. That failure will have a price both at home and abroad. At home, there is great distress and great cynicism among many of our constituents. That has been shown to me by my constituents of all parties and of none. Some of them are robust—retired army officers and their wives—and they are not habitually weak kneed

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in the face of a real threat. However, they say, "Why stir up a hornet's nest in the middle east, which has nothing to do with us?" Some are cynical, and believe that the Prime Minister needs to explain the issue better than he has done so far. They have no belief in the Prime Minister or many other politicians and they use words like "poodle" and "pocket handkerchief Churchill". Some are frankly frightened. A former Labour voter came to me in tears and said, "I fear for the innocent Iraqi women and children. I fear even more for my friends in this country and especially those who live or work in London. But I am angry at my Prime Minister who places his friendship with George W. Bush above the interests of the British people." Those are the sentiments that are expressed to me and it is the Prime Minister's job to answer them.

Many people—it may be news to Labour Members—do not trust the Prime Minister. They did once and they could do so again, but he has to re-earn that trust. He needs to address the issues relating to this conflict that matter to our constituents. International law and the interpretation of UN resolutions, which have taken so much of our attention, are not high on that list of interests.

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