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26 Feb 2003 : Column 295—continued

2.25 pm

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): It may surprise some hon. Members, even Labour Members, to know that my instincts are those of a party loyalist. The Foreign Secretary laughs, but I suggest that he examine the record. I have long taken an interest in the subject, and although my view has been consistent, I, like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), have noticed the Foreign Secretary's inconsistency and the various attempts to shift the goalposts. I therefore support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South

26 Feb 2003 : Column 296

and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and 113 others who joined us.

When the Foreign Secretary opened the debate, he gave the impression that we would have the opportunity later to hold a substantive vote on whether this country commits troops to action in Iraq. At the very least, the Government could get their act together. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), the appointed chairman of the Labour party, made it clear on "Today" this morning that the Government will go ahead without a substantive vote. He said that that was in accordance with a tradition that was hundreds of years old.

Mr. Straw: I also heard the interview to which my hon. Friend refers. My right hon. Friend the chairman of the Labour party made it clear, as on other occasions, that a substantive vote would take place in the exact terms that I set out earlier. It is our hope and intention that that happens before any military action occurs. That is in the Government's interest as well as that of the House. Let me also give a separate undertaking that the result of the proceedings on the second resolution will be the subject of a debate and a vote in the House on a substantive motion.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I do not want to disagree with the Foreign Secretary, but my understanding, from sitting in the studio and listening, was that the party chairman made an unequivocal statement. I accept the Foreign Secretary's view, but I should like to dispose of the myth that having a substantive debate before troops are committed somehow prejudices their security. If we have not already signalled a firm intention to attack Iraq, I do not know what we have done. The President of the United States has to go to Congress under the war powers Act. Surely the House should also be allowed to express an opinion.

The Foreign Secretary said two things in answer to the question, "Why Iraq?" He subdivided them into two further points. First, he claimed that Iraq posed an exceptional danger, and he gave defiance of the United Nations as the second reason. Many arguments have been presented about defying the UN. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary mentioned UN resolutions that referred to all countries in the middle east, including Israel, and specifically to making that region a nuclear-free zone.

Although there are differences of opinion, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe presented very well the case against a thoroughly emasculated Iraq posing an exceptional danger. Like him, I anticipate that the overwhelming force in place to deal with Iraq is of such a nature that a campaign would, hopefully, be relatively short and sharp. What we cannot guarantee, however, is the amount of collateral damage that would ensue— apart from the wholly undesirable political outcomes, of course.

The Foreign Secretary asked the rhetorical question, "Why now?" People who think that it is a matter of us running out of patience misunderstand the mechanics of what is going on. The decision was made not in Downing street or the Foreign Office, but in the White House. We are all Philadelphia lawyers now and know

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all about the fascinating weapons of mass destruction, but anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of American military doctrine since Colin Powell and the first Gulf war knows that we are missing the obvious. It has taken until now, and it is still not finalised, to mobilise and deploy the troops and units needed to hold a campaign that accords with an American military doctrine that is nearly coming to a conclusion. Oddly, hon. Members will have noticed from today's new reports that space has been allocated in the middle east for only seven of the 70-odd British planes. The hard reality is that it will be an American military campaign.

The reasons for the campaign are complex. It is not just a matter of oil or of the President avenging daddy's unfinished business; the ideological hawks in the US Administration have set out their stall for many years. They have set out, transparently and consistently, the different hopes and aims to which they aspire. I mentioned the undesirable outcomes. We must not forget, as our Prime Minister confirmed at the Dispatch Box when his Back Benchers heckled him, that North Korea will be next. We can write the script: Iran, Syria, Libya. People in Iran must be worried, and we do not know where it will end. That is not conjecture; the objectives of the new pax Americana have been set out clearly and unequivocally.

We should leave it to Hans Blix and el-Baradei to make the definitive statement on weapons of mass destruction and let the United Nations decide whether a material breach has taken place. There are two prerequisites for British public opinion on that.

Phil Hope: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Kilfoyle: No, I will not.

The first prerequisite is that a United Nations resolution is essential. It must be based on credible evidence, and that will not be provided by the political imperatives of the US or UK Governments, or anyone else for that matter. I recommend that people read Senator Riegle's report, published by his Senate Committee, on where the biological weapons originated. It is a matter of congressional record and anyone can get a copy. There were 73 separate consignments, including everything from botulinum toxin to other horrors, such as anthrax. Those were exported to Saddam by the United States. None of us is lily white. I know that that does not help to deal with the problem, but it ill behoves people to stand up as purer than Caesar's wife on the issue.

I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider the fact that it is extremely unlikely that we will be afforded an opportunity to debate the problem substantively. I hear what the Foreign Secretary said, but I also heard what the Labour party chairman said. I wage that it will be extremely problematic for Members of this House to connect with public opinion in our constituencies, parties, the nation at large and internationally, and to express our views. We can do that now only by accepting the amendment. It rules nothing out; it asks only that we consider that the case is not yet proven. That gives all concerned the leeway to make their case. Hon. Members should not miss out on the opportunity to reconnect with the overwhelming consensus of the British people.

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2.35 pm

Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): I draw attention to my registered interest.

I begin with the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. During the weekend following 11 September 2001, I was at a dinner party in Islington. While the corpses were still being taken out the wreckage of the World Trade Centre, the majority of people at that party were convinced that America had it coming. They thought that in the preceding years, the United States had arrogantly thrown its weight about in the world. My view is the opposite. The background to 9/11 was a decade in which the west had failed to show fixity of purpose and had neglected to offer deterrence to its enemies. The United States, in particular, had repeatedly come under attack from extremists without offering any effective response.

In the 1990s, there was the first attack on the World Trade Centre. That was followed by the bombing of American barracks in Saudi Arabia, the bombs at American embassies in east Africa, and then the attack on the US warship Cole. Those outrages represented a classic escalation. In retrospect, each inadequate response to each outrage showed a lack of determination that was taken as a sign of weakness, and that emboldened our enemies.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): What is the connection between the incidents that the right hon. Gentleman describes and the activities of the Iraqi Government?

Mr. Portillo: The hon. Lady should have waited for my next paragraph.

In parallel, the west was failing to respond to the escalation of activities by Saddam. He failed to co-operate with United Nations inspectors immediately after the Gulf war. There were further atrocities against his people and violations of the no-fly zone. He harassed the inspectors until they were forced to leave. The west again made no adequate response to any of those things. If there is a criticism of the Prime Minister, it is that he, in common with others, did not seek to take effective action in 1998 and 1999, but that does not make him wrong today.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): That is a bit rich coming from a member of a Government who supported Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Portillo: I am explaining the history of the west's lack of response. Of course that includes the Government of whom I was a member, but I am analysing the important point at which we now stand.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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