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17 Oct 2002 : Column 546—continued

5.24 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) said that he thought that there was a new phenomenon of international terrorism. I recall that phenomenon some time ago in the shape of Carlos the Jackal, a rather successful international terrorist, the

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Baader-Meinhof gang and the Red Army Faction. I recall something else about all those terrorist groups. It was always denied that anyone else was behind them and it was denied that they were covertly funded, supplied and supported by the enemies of western democracy. Do you know what happened, Madam Deputy Speaker, at the end of the cold war when the wall came down and the secrets were exposed to public view? It turned out that those groups had been funded by the conventional enemies of western democracy and many of them were dug out from their boltholes in the former Soviet Union and the disgustingly named Xsocialist democratic republics" of its evil empire, which we were so lucky to defeat.

How did we defeat that evil empire? It was by having what the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Llew Smith), who I was sorry to see leaving the Chamber as soon as he had finished his speech, called the US war machine and the British war machine. The funny thing about machines is that they are as good or as bad as the purposes to which they are put. I think that the nuclear weapons of the US and British war machines have rather a lot to their credit. Post-Hiroshima and post-Nagasaki, in all the time that they existed, they never killed anyone. However, weapons, such as the knives and the machetes that were used in Rwanda, killed a great many people. Therefore, to generalise about weapons without reference to the nature and track record of the people who possess them and to the intentions of the people who might use them is to miss the whole point of the debate.

We have heard some interesting remarks about how brave it is of these young men to sacrifice themselves. I do not think that it is very brave to sacrifice oneself in a cause when one has been indoctrinated with blind hatred and with a belief that, if one sacrifices oneself in the cause, one will go to paradise and have a much better existence after one's death than one has now. Far from being brave, it is the essence of cowardice to demonstrate one's so-called bravery by taking it out not on people who can hit back but on those who are going about their lawful business, whether at work in an office building or at play in a discotheque. With due respect to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, who knows I like him very much as an individual, it is very foolish to say such things in the House of Commons because it encourages people who are misguided at best and downright evil at worst.

I referred to the contribution of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, but the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) was a stark contrast. He made one of the most original and thoughtful speeches in the debate when he referred to ballistic missile defence. I believe that I am right to say that he spent much of his working life before he entered Parliament in the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Beard indicated assent.

Dr. Lewis: I am glad that I got that right. The work that he did in the Ministry of Defence with many people from many other political parties probably did a great deal more for peace, security and freedom in this country than the blatherings of those who think that getting rid of our weapons, while allowing dictators such as Saddam Hussein to keep or to acquire them, will lead us to a promised land of peaceful international relations.

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The Americans' determination to get rid of Saddam Hussein this time has, of course, something to do with 11 September 2001. Even if there were no direct link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, it would be relevant for the Americans to consider the fact that, when they dealt with al-Qaeda before 11 September, they knew that it was a highly dangerous organisation that might pose a deadly threat at some unspecified time in the future. They did not act against it, probably because they felt that international and domestic opinion was not strong enough to enable them to act against it. We know what happened—3,000 people were killed. I believe that people at the heart of the American planning machine take the view, and they would be right to do so, that they are not going to make the same mistake with Saddam Hussein.

People say that there is no immediate threat from Saddam Hussein, but what is the converse of that proposition? Surely we are not supposed to wait until there is a threat so close to us that it would be much more dangerous to act against him than it is now. If the truth be told, and I say with no sense of undue pride that I mentioned this in debates dealing with the bombing of Iraq two or three years ago—long before the events that we are now considering—the real mistake was made by the Americans and the British Conservative Government in 1991, when they failed to finish off Saddam Hussein. They were concerned that a coalition might break down, leading to adverse consequences in the political set-up of the middle east. Because they ducked that decision then, we now face a harder decision. That was a mistake; we must not make the same mistake now and store up even greater trouble for ourselves in future.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), who I am sorry to see is not in his place, asked about the circumstances in which Saddam Hussein might use nuclear weapons. He said that the most likely circumstance is that of an attack on Iraq, when Saddam would have nothing to lose. That over-simplifies matters, because Saddam may have nothing to lose, but the military infrastructure around him will still have a great deal to lose. They will know that if they carry out any order from Saddam Hussein in the course of an overwhelming military attack from a western coalition, which is what it will be if it happens, they will face certain annihilation. The best way to deal with the matter is to deal with the threat before it gets more and more certain that Saddam Hussein will acquire more deadly weapons of mass destruction than he already has and be able to hold the region, if not the world, to ransom.

One of the strange things that Saddam and al-Qaeda have in common is that they were too impatient. Both wanted to act but they did not want to wait. As we now know, if Saddam Hussein had waited two years to invade Kuwait, the scenario would have been very different. If he had waited that long, he would have had a nuclear bomb, so the west's response would have been more cautious and indecisive, and that would have shifted the balance of strategic considerations, possibly decisively, against what still deservedly carries the name of the free world.

Make no bones about it, hon. Members should be aware of the fact that there is no disgrace in referring to the strategic importance of the resources of the middle

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east; there is no disgrace in referring to the oil-richness of the middle east; and there is no disgrace in recognising that Saddam Hussein wanted to go into Kuwait precisely because he wanted those resources and, above all, to deny them to states that he regards as enemies.

I want to cut short my remarks because I know that other Members wish to speak. I shall conclude with the briefest of references to NATO's upcoming, vital summit in Prague on 21 and 22 November. When that event occurs, there will be an enlargement of NATO. Nobody knows yet how many countries will join; it could be up to six or seven. That enlargement will involve a significant increase in NATO's obligations. If that occurs and it works—I think that it will do so—NATO will once again have triumphed in showing international society that it is possible to work together co-operatively in matters of vital national and international significance without undue loss of individual sovereignty. I think that the Americans put up with the idea of a rapid reaction force outside NATO because they thought that it might help the Europeans to contribute more ships, aircraft and soldiers. That is not going to happen and they know it. Thank goodness they are now setting about creating a real rapid reaction force that is inside the structure of NATO and is not futilely placed outside it so as to confuse, weaken and undermine all that NATO has achieved in years gone by.

5.35 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Before posing certain questions of a technical nature of which I have given notice to the Ministry of Defence, may I express a passionate view? A country cannot ask its service men and women to put their lives at risk in circumstances where it is not the overwhelming settled conviction of the country that the cause is legitimate, just and sensible.

Whether I like it or not, I opposed the Falklands war, but I recognise that the overwhelming view of this country was that action should be taken. Yes, I opposed the Gulf war, but I recognise that the overwhelming conviction of the country was that something should be done about the invasion of Kuwait. Yes, I opposed what happened in Kosovo and Afghanistan, and what a mess they are turning out to be. Nevertheless, there was again a very strong feeling that something should be done.

On this occasion, it is far from the settled conviction of Britain that there should be a pre-emptive strike against Iraq without an updated and unmanipulated United Nations decision. Therefore, I agree with the former commander of 7th Armoured Brigade, of which I was once a very junior member, Major General Patrick Cordingley, and many other military people—this is not just the usual suspects—on the very widespread view in this country that we should not take military action without United Nations authority. When one sees all the unaligned countries lining up to express doubt, when President Putin, frankly, puts our Prime Minister in a very humiliating position, and when France and Germany are against such action, we should have no truck with it.

I should like to ask certain questions of a technical nature. Will the Minister state categorically that the WE177 tactical nuclear bombs have not been returned

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from storage for deployment in the middle east? In that regard, it is not appropriate to use the Xneither confirm nor deny" formula. That does not apply to those weapons, as it is this Government who went on the public record to say that they had been withdrawn from service.

I should like also to ask about the weaponry on the British territory of Diego Garcia and particularly the B61-11 tactical nuclear earth-penetrating weapons for destroying bunkers. Again, it is not good enough to give a Xneither confirm nor deny" answer. We are heading for a war in which an opponent may, if cornered, use chemical and biological weapons. A potential nuclear response would, first, be the first use since Nagasaki 57 years ago; secondly, break the most important threshold in modern war; thirdly, put Britain at risk of a terrorist response with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons; and, fourthly, make the world a much more dangerous place. In those circumstances, the House of Commons has every right to know exactly what is happening on the British territory of Diego Garcia, which is, incidentally, the biggest American base outside the continental United States.

Finally, and at a little length, I ask Ministers for a response to information from the autumn 2002 issue of XDefence Review" on contamination. There could be a chemical and biological weapon counterattack. In those circumstances, British forces, superbly trained, along with American forces would probably press home their attack and Iraqi troops would surrender. But the UK and US weapons systems might be covered with sarin, soman, ebola or VX, which could spread death for decades. The successor Government to Saddam Hussein, if that were the case, might well refuse to decontaminate them.

We are faced with real problems of noxious agents. Kuwait would certainly refuse to accept them. One would have to dismantle the facilities, or bring them home. Bringing home such equipment would involve very considerable difficulties, so there would have to be sealift. There would be problems for the shipping companies—decontaminating shipping is extremely complex. Few ports would accept contaminated nuclear material or material contaminated by biological agents. Royal Navy ships might well not want to risk, at best, a long time in dry dock, or, at worst, being scrapped after bringing CBW home.

For the sake of time, I shall quote directly from XDefence Review", which states:

That is the kind of difficulty that we will have to face if Saddam Hussein is cornered. What is the Government's response?

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We are up against a situation in which there has been a coup in the United States—a very American coup. As some of my colleagues have said, a narrow group of neo-Conservatives around Bush have taken control of US security policy. They are not true representatives of that great country and they are dangerous to us all. We should exercise every caution about following American policy, given the leadership of the United States in 2002.

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