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18 Mar 2003 : Column 788—continued

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): In that context, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the suggestion made by the leader of the Liberal Democrats that the inspectors had already achieved much in the past six months, not some prospective achievement, is, on the basis of Mr. Blix's report, frankly laughable?

Alan Howarth: The progress is clearly demonstrated to have been minimal and Hans Blix signifies how much more progress would be needed. There is no reason to suppose that a perpetuation of the process that we have observed over the past six months will lead to the conclusion that is needed.

Mr. Robert Jackson: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any offer from France, Russia or China to

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rotate its forces in the Gulf with the American and British forces in order to continue pressure on Saddam over the months and years ahead of further inspections?

Alan Howarth: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister noted earlier in the debate, it is American and British forces that are there, not French forces or forces of other nationalities from the Security Council.

Those who raise doubts about the course of action that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has concluded is appropriate for us ask whether Saddam is truly a threat to us. I remind the House what was in the dossier published by the Government last October. It is not the dossier that was submitted for a PhD; it is the dossier based on the findings of the intelligence community. Among many other important findings, on page 27 we are advised that if Saddam were to be unchecked he would achieve nuclear capability in a period of not more than five years, and that were he to be supplied from the international black market with fissile material and other components that he would need for the programme it might be in as little time as one or two years.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alan Howarth: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.

That is an extraordinarily dangerous situation and one upon which we need to act, and with urgency. I agree with the Government that the time that has elapsed since then has been ample to enable Saddam to demonstrate his compliance and it is simply too great a risk—

Mr. Prentice: Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Alan Howarth: If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall continue.

It is said that we are not seriously at threat from global terrorism; that there is not a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Certainly the Spanish and Czech authorities, as was significantly reported in The Observer at the weekend, believe that there have been operational links. The risk is too great to run, because Saddam must be tempted to recruit and equip terrorists from wherever he can find them. There may indeed be a coincidence of interests between al-Qaeda and Saddam's regime, notwithstanding the fact that they start from profoundly different ideological positions.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary noted to the House some time ago that Saddam was operating what he described as a permissive regime in Iraq in relation to al-Qaeda. Whatever the case may be about that, it will be compellingly tempting for him to equip home-grown terrorists—terrorists whom he can recruit. Saddam harboured Abu Nidal and offered rewards to suicide bombers in the middle east. He is a sponsor of terrorism and will see the opportunity that is available to him.

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Objections to the Government's policy include assertions that in the past appalling mistakes were made—that the UK played some part in arming Saddam, that we failed to dispose of him in 1991, and that during the 1990s he was allowed to continue to build weapons of mass destruction. We may note that those errors were made, but they provide no justification for making further errors.

People cast doubt on the motives and character of those who urge that decisive action be taken now by asking who is on whose payroll, what old scores are being settled and what vanities are in play. I remind the House that the freedom of Europe has depended on the generosity of American intervention. It is arguable that if it were not for the Americans coming to our rescue, we would have fallen under Nazi or Stalinist rule. We should pay tribute to and be grateful for the courage of American military personnel then and now.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alan Howarth: No, if my hon. Friend will forgive me.

North Korea might present a threat that is at least as urgent and serious as the threat presented by Iraq. Al-Qaeda and international terrorism are immensely serious threats. But that in no way invalidates the analysis that Iraq is a major threat to us.

People ask how it can be right to go to war to uphold a UN resolution by taking a course of action that risks destroying the UN. Equally, they say, NATO and the EU are damagingly split as a consequence of these events. However, it is arguable that the UN has not been the failure in every respect that some maintain it has been. In recent weeks and months, it has been the cockpit of international diplomacy, and, although it has failed to generate the international consensus that we all wanted so much, its existence provides the legal basis for the action that we need. I support the view of the legality of that action on which the Government base their claim.

Geopolitics has changed since 1945. We moved beyond the cold war, and we moved into a new period especially after 11 September. Now, we have to act with courage and realism in a world of nuclear powers, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed states, genocide—[Interruption.]—and all the other dangers that now face us—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. There is far too much conversation in the Chamber.

Alan Howarth: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In a world in which the only global superpower feels vulnerable, the development and advancement of a doctrine of pre-emption are inevitable. This action is self-defence, albeit not as traditionally defined in UN terms. We cannot wait until we are attacked.

2.23 pm

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): I rise on this occasion to support the speech of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but in opening let me comment on the speech of the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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If the Iraqi army collapse under fire with the same speed, this will be a very short war—[Laughter.]—and I very much hope that it will be. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) asserted that if his view was defeated, the whole House must rally in unity, but he then informed my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) that if the amendment was defeated he would refuse to vote for the Government's substantive motion. On the grounds that he was poleaxed by that intervention, he refused to take an intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), despite the normal convention of the House that one gives way to a Member to whom one has directly or indirectly referred. My right hon. Friend would have pointed out that he published all 90,000 export licences to Iraq during the period in question and that the only lethal weapons involved were two hunting rifles. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had given my right hon. Friend the opportunity to do so.

There is a powerful moral case against war—there probably always is—but that was not the case put by the Liberal Democrats today. A more powerful case was put by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in what I thought was a powerful and impressive speech made in the House last night. It was an impressive resignation, for those of us who are students of resignations. On that subject, I am sorry to see that the Secretary of State for International Development is not here—I have never seen a more spectacular failure to resign than hers over the past 24 hours. Last week, after the right hon. Lady said that the Prime Minister was reckless, it was whispered in the corridors that he would take his revenge in due course. I believe that by persuading her to stay in the Cabinet even for this last 24 hours—[Laughter.]—he has now taken his revenge. Even setting aside any issue of honour and consistency, we should at this time have a Cabinet whose members are absolutely, 100 per cent. agreed on the course of action, especially all the Ministers involved in the course of action, which must surely involve the Department for International Development. We look forward to the Prime Minister continuing to take his revenge over the next few days.

The Prime Minister said that analogies with the 30s can be taken too far, and of course they can, yet in some of the opposition to the Government's stance there is a hint of appeasement. Last night, one hon. Member—I think it was a Liberal Democrat—said that we should not take this action because of the danger of terrorist or other retaliatory action against this country. There is a similarity to the phoney war in 1940, when the commanders in charge of the great guns of the Maginot line—we all know who was in charge—refused to fire those guns in case the Germans fired back. But of course the Germans were always going to fire back, and terrorist organisations that have the capability to hit this country will try in any event to hit this country. Our job is to deter them from doing so and remove their means of doing so.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition stood on the right ground when advancing their policy today. Although there are moral arguments on either side, there are powerful moral arguments on the side of military action, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has so graphically demonstrated in recent

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days—perhaps she will have the chance to do so again in this debate, if she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. Furthermore, although there are legal arguments on either side, we are not morally obliged to take action—if we were, we would have to take action against many other countries—nor legally obliged to do so, nor legally prevented from doing so. We should take action because it is in the national interest. The Prime Minister was right to make that argument.

Our national interest is wide ranging, given that ours is the fourth largest economy in the world, our trade extends across the world and our citizens may be found throughout the world. However, it is also part of our national interest to act in concert with the United States of America in matters of world peace and stability, and that is what the Government are seeking to do. Every serious attempt to advance peace in the middle east has been advanced under the auspices of the United States of America. Every successful attempt to clean up the Balkans has been undertaken only with the support of the United States of America. Those who will not venture out when a criminal is coming down the street should not complain when someone acts as the policeman. The reason why the USA takes on so many responsibilities in the world is that others shirk those responsibilities, as they have done in the Security Council in the past few weeks.

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