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24 Sept 2002 : Column 139—continued

9.1 pm

Mr. Calum MacDonald (Western Isles): This has been a good debate. I shall concentrate on some of the points that have been made, particularly by those who have expressed scepticism or opposition to the course of action outlined by the Prime Minister in his statement this morning.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned the doctrine of pre-emptive strike or attack. Most hon. Members who have expressed some scepticism about the British and American positions have mentioned this notion. I agree that the notion of a pre-emptive strike is a problematic doctrine that most of us would not rush to embrace. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) that it is important to look at the wider context. Nevertheless, the emphasis on the concept of pre-emptive action has obscured what is at the heart of the issue.

Nobody is suggesting a Pearl Harbour—a pre-emptive attack upon Iraq completely out of the blue. The issue is not pre-emptive action; it is long delayed and long overdue enforcement of UN resolutions which cover the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction and which Iraq has been flouting for more than 10 years. Moreover, it has not been emphasised strongly enough during the debate that the terms of these resolutions, particularly 687, were part of the conditions of the ceasefire agreement at the end of the Gulf war in 1991. So by refusing to

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implement those resolutions from 1991 until today, Iraq is in breach of the ceasefire agreement that it signed in 1991 as well as of numerous UN resolutions since.

In our efforts to get Iraq to comply with the resolutions, we have been grappling politically and militarily with the Iraqi regime for a decade. We have made regular bombing attacks to enforce the no-fly zones and international sanctions have crippled the Iraqi economy. All this has been done at a cost in lives and in misery for the Iraqi population. It has also been done at considerable diplomatic and political cost for western countries, particularly in respect of their perception by the Arab world.

That is the background against which we have to weigh up the course of action before us and decide between the various options. One option that has been advocated today is simply to continue this pattern of bombing and sanctions year in, year out, into the future. Nobody has said how long it might be necessary to continue that mix of bombing and sanctions. Would it be another five years, 10 years, 20 years or whenever Saddam's son, who is even more unstable, succeeds him? If we pursue that option Saddam will continue to defy the United Nations, to develop his weapons of mass destruction and to keep the Iraqi people in the grip of poverty and tyranny. Under the status quo option the credibility of the UN will continue to erode and crumble.

Let us recall the terms of resolution 1154 of March 1998 which said that non-compliance by Iraq would lead to "the severest consequences". Iraq did not comply, but there were no consequences. That has been the pattern for the last 10 years. The result has been a steady but critical erosion of the credibility of the UN and an erosion, too, of the willingness of the international community to see the resolution enforced.

Another option, which has been mentioned in previous debates on the topic but which has not been suggested today, is to lift the sanctions and stop policing the no-fly zones. If we follow that course, it will give Saddam all the revenue he needs to accelerate his weapons programmes, and allow him to take revenge at a time of his choosing upon the Kurds and others who have defied him, and it would in effect reward the Iraqi Government for 10 years of persistent and flagrant breaching of UN resolutions. The Security Council would be shown to be toothless.

Caught between those two alternatives, the international community is right to try a new approach. The UN must make it absolutely clear to Saddam that he must uphold UN resolutions and disarm without any preconditions. There not being any preconditions is an important part of these resolutions. The UN must make it absolutely clear to Saddam that he must comply or else risk the end of his regime.

Of course that means a return of inspectors and allowing those inspectors time to carry out their task. Those who call so strongly for the return of the inspectors as the necessary way forward out of the current impasse must accept the consequence of the inspectors coming back to the UN and reporting, as they did over the last decade, that they have not been allowed to carry out their task.

This must genuinely be the last warning. If Saddam resists or tries to get round the UN disarmament requirements in any way whatsoever, the international

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community must make him comply by force. There must be no more last chances. The UN must not shrink from enforcing its clear and repeated resolutions.

Those who worry about the consequences of a confrontation express genuine concerns, but we should not overstate the strength of the Iraqi regime. Where a Government lack popular support and where they are no longer able to enforce their will through terror, recent precedent shows that they can quickly collapse.

I want to emphasise what is for me the central point. For 10 years the UN has been trying to get the Iraqi Government to comply with its resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. For 10 years the Iraqi Government have defied the UN. Sanctions have been only partially successful and at considerable cost. Earlier, somebody suggested offering to lift sanctions in return for disarmament. That offer has already been made. It was made in resolution 1284 in 1999, which laid out a timetable for lifting sanctions, but that too was rejected by the Iraqi Government.

Some argue that Saddam is at bottom rational, so presents no threat to the west. Those who argue that Saddam is rational must explain why, over those 10 years, instead of giving up his weapons programme, he has preferred his country to be a diplomatic pariah and an economic cripple. If he is rational, he must have a truly frightening use in mind for these weapons to risk so much to hold on to them.

Others have asked why deterrence cannot work in the way that it supposedly has for the past number of years. Deterrence cuts both ways. If Iraq would hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction because of the danger of massive response from us, the same would apply to us if Iraq possessed an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Saddam would also make us hesitate in future about how we chose to confront him, and that would change the regional balance critically.

Sanctions have been tried. Diplomacy has been tried. The waiting game has been tried. Ten years is long enough. It is time for the UN to enforce its will.

9.11 pm

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): It is more than appropriate that this issue is at last being discussed here, in the House of Commons. After all, this Chamber where we, the elected Members of Parliament of this country, sit should be the fulcrum of our national debate. It is more than absurd that the possible further deployment of British armed forces has been the subject of debate everywhere, but has only now been brought to the House for discussion.

It has been an excellent debate and I particularly want to comment on some of the wonderful speeches that we have heard from the Back Benches. The speeches by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and by the hon. Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) were truly remarkable. They questioned the Government in a way that Members on the Conservative Front Bench have not done. Indeed, the only questioning of the Government has come from Conservative and Labour Back Benchers, and indeed from the Liberal Democrats.

I remind the House that it was not the leader of the Conservative party who first called for this Chamber to be recalled; it was actually the leader of the Liberal

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Democrats. I would suggest to those Conservatives who have questioned our resolve, in the final analysis, to take military action that they read the Official Report tomorrow and see the response of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) when he was intervened on by the Leader of the Opposition. I am afraid that his response to the Leader of the Opposition was not proportionate: it was overwhelming.

The publication of the dossier today has been welcomed, although it could have been published earlier. However, I am not convinced that this publication has thrown any light on the issues that we are discussing. The objectives of a course of action remain unclear. Yes, Saddam Hussein must give up his weapons of mass destruction. Yes, he must not seek to develop them and yes, disarmament should be the first objective of international action. But if Britain is to join with others in ensuring that Iraq complies with its obligations to disarm, are we clear in our mind about what the role of any military force may be?

The Foreign Secretary has claimed that regime change is not the policy of the Government, nor will it be an objective of military action; so how do the Government propose to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions, should that be necessary? Would it be by bombing Baghdad? Would it be by invading Baghdad with ground troops?

Regime change appears to many to be outside international law, so how do the Government and our US allies intend to conduct a military campaign that does not have regime change as an objective? In short, what exactly is it that we are threatening Saddam with?

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