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24 Sept 2002 : Column 135—continued

8.42 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) for confirming what many of us have long believed—that joining the Liberal Democrats involves a Faustian bargain.

Let me say at the outset that I support the way in which the Government have handled this situation in recent months, in terms both of the objectives they have pursued and the manner in which they have pursued those objectives. They have been strengthened in their resolve by the speech the Prime Minister made to the TUC a few weeks ago, and by today's publication, albeit necessarily

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limited, of the dossier. They have also been heartened—I shall return to this shortly—by the speech made by President Bush to the United Nations.

I feel that today the House may, to an extent, have been in danger of overstating the role and capability of the United Nations. Let me make it clear that I am not against the United Nations; along with, presumably, every other MP, I am a strong supporter of it. I believe that the UN is all that we have, and that we need to work with it as vigorously and constructively as possible. Nevertheless, while the United Nations has power to wish for the ends, it often has no power to deliver them. That is a difficulty that we have seen repeatedly over many years, not least in respect of world opinion on Iraq.

How do we resolve the difficulty? It is not easy. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) said that we should call Saddam's bluff. I agree with that, but we cannot do it simply by passing another Security Council resolution, important though that is. I hope that the Security Council will pass a resolution stating what should happen, with a deadline for various stages of arms inspection, but we know from experience that Saddam is likely simply to ignore it.

If we are to call Saddam's bluff, it is first necessary that he believes that if he flouts a further Security Council resolution there will be action. For him to believe that, he must believe that we believe it. If he believes that debates here and in other forums are all about words and not about actions, he will carry on in his own sweet way, as he has in the past, because he knows that he can get away with it.

I want to touch on two further issues. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) was the most coherent exponent of a view echoed by many others, and he gave detailed evidence to support his contention that the American Administration want to go far further than most hon. Members, and perhaps even our own Government, would want to go over Iraq and perhaps other issues. It is difficult to respond to that. He gave detailed quotations and named names, quoting what people had said not only in office but before they were elected.

Clearly, there is cause for concern, but we are not responsible for the American Administration. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have some influence in that direction, but we cannot accept responsibility for what may at any time be in the mind of people in the American Administration. What we have to go on is what President Bush said on his most recent visit to the United Nations, which I believe was perfectly reasonable, even if I am not entirely happy with elements of his argument. His general thrust and policy direction were clear, and they are certainly not as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton and others portrayed them.

I do not know precisely what is in President Bush's mind—I certainly do not know what is in the mind of the many advisers who have been referred to today—so all I have to go on are the words that he used in a very important international forum. We should accept those words for what they are: they were sensibly measured and on the whole a reasonable statement of America's position, although I have some reservations, and not a thousand miles from the sentiments expressed by our Government over recent months.

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The second issue was referred to by the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor): the question of where Russia fits into all this. Courtesy of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central and I, along with others, were invited to speak to Members of the Duma in Moscow, in an effort to forge better relationships and better understanding there. I was grateful for that interesting experience, even though it was minus 20 degrees there at the time. I make a plea to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench: if the Government want me to go on any such ventures in future, I would rather that it was somewhere slightly warmer than Moscow in December.

It became clear to us on that visit that President Putin and those in the political system in Russia want to do the right thing. They want to play the full part that they are entitled to play, given their status on the world stage, but they feel on occasion that they are pulled in certain directions without there being any proper understanding of their own problems. I am not talking about a quid pro quo situation, with Russia getting something that it wants in return for supporting action in Iraq. However, Russia has concerns about terrorism in Chechnya, its developing role in NATO and its continuing and growing relationship with the European Union, particularly in the light of enlargement. I believe that greater regard needs to be paid to Russia's concerns. Whatever happens in the coming months, Russia will clearly play a part.

In conclusion, I believe that until now we have done the right thing. What is proposed—the actual words spoken by the Government and others—is supportable. I also believe that the alternative of words without the threat of action would mean that Saddam Hussein had won. Iraq would pose a continuous threat in the middle east and, above all, the people of Iraq would have no hope for the future.

8.52 pm

Sue Doughty (Guildford): It seems sad that in a debate in which we are contemplating the quality of life for families in the middle east and the worry and anxiety of people across the world, so few women have spoken.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), I wish to express my concerns about the debate and where we will go as a result of what we have heard today. I am sure that no Member remained unmoved on 11 September this year as we listened to the roll call of the people who died last year. They were clearly family members; some families lost one, two or even three people. We pondered on the impact of such a loss of life on individual members of many families from America and from other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom. We grieved once more with those people, but unilateral action would not have brought back those lives or prevented what happened.

Like many others, I have had masses of letters, e-mails, telephone calls and messages from my constituents, all asking me to reflect their opposition to war and to action in Iraq. I am glad that Parliament has been recalled; I am grateful to the Prime Minister for recognising the depth of concern that is felt. However, it is still late, and I am concerned that if we do not obtain satisfaction from Iraq, we will send troops into Iraq pell-mell without having the opportunity to vote on such action. I sincerely hope that we will be given that chance.

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In considering the possibility of military action, I ask myself why we are going. What will we do there? What do we hope to achieve? How will we know when we have achieved it? What will the damage be along the way, and is that damage and loss of life justified? I do not believe that the dossier has given us sufficient information to go back into Iraq at this stage. It does not provide proof that Iraq is a threat to the United States. The map does not show missiles that are coming in the direction of the United Kingdom. It does not show us much of which we are not already aware.

We are aware that Iraq is trying to rebuild its biological and nuclear weapons programmes and we are aware of the risk of weapons of mass destruction, but such weapons are held by many other countries including Israel, Pakistan, India and Brazil. Israel has refused to comply with UN resolutions and I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister announce today that there will be much more effort towards securing the long overdue peace in the middle east. It should have been a greater focus of our attention in the past.

Iraq oppresses its people and its human rights record is appalling. We cannot support that. There is no support for war from the Iraqi people, either those living in Iraq or the critics of the regime who have sought sanctuary in other countries. The support comes from those in the United States who are looking to put in place an alternative to the current regime. Is there a natural replacement for Saddam Hussein, despicable as he might be? We do not see an obvious replacement and we are looking at the prospect of civil war in Iraq and in that region for years to come.

A civil war would mean enormous loss of life, particularly of children and families because we know that Saddam has deployed armaments in schools and in the suburbs, but that does not make it acceptable for us to take military action.

Many have said—I agree with them—that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to launch a pre-emptive strike on his neighbours. He knows what it would bring. However, if we were to launch a pre-emptive strike on Saddam, we know that it would involve his neighbours. We know that Israel is capable of launching an immediate further attack and that it is likely that there would be proliferation across the middle east with untold damage and destruction and no way of putting the genie back in the bottle. I do not want that to happen in my name and that is why we are here today.

We need firm evidence that any attempt by Iraq to rebuild its military has a more menacing aim than defending its own security. Our prime concern must be what will happen to the Iraqi people. The Government have said very little about that, although we know that the Secretary of State for International Development is unhappy.

Any action would mean a massive loss of civilian lives and, as in the Gulf war, would involve tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts. Also, there is no doubt that the battle would be drawn into populated urban areas. War would inevitably interrupt the supply of food and medicine. A total of 60 per cent. of northern Iraqis are already dependent on food rations. There would be a huge displacement of people. There are already between 700,000 and 1 million displaced people in Iraq. Many would flee areas in which fighting was taking place and there would undoubtedly be a humanitarian disaster.

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I have talked about regional stability and mentioned the problems for some of the countries of the middle east such as Saudi Arabia, but what would happen to Turkey with its ailing Prime Minister? Would it continue to be a western-facing secular state? What would happen to the Turkish Kurds if the Iraqi Kurds attempted to declare an independent Kurdistan? We would also see the collapse of the coalition against terrorism, which has had support from the Arab nations.

There is much more that we can do on the diplomatic front. We need the inspectors to go in as soon as possible. We do not want them to go in in two or three weeks, we need them to go in now. However imperfect the arrangements might be, they must be more perfect than plans for a possible war. We must give inspectors the opportunity to continue their work so that they can identify the problems. We must allow them to produce their reports so that they can be taken back to the Security Council of the United Nations.

We have to examine our role in the arms trade and the stability of the middle east. We have to find out who is supplying arms and lean on them. We also have to consider future efforts to encourage stability by restricting arms exports. There is much more that we can do.

This is an issue for the UN. It also requires increased diplomatic work with our partners in Muslim states, asking them what pressure they can bring to bear. It is certainly not an issue for unilateral action. Instead, we have to do all that we can to bring peace to a most troubled part of the world, remembering that if we take action it will not be just us who suffer, but many people in the middle east. We will have to accept our part in any action that takes place.


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