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18 Mar 2003 : Column 795—continued

2.42 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Last night, this House heard a speech of very great distinction from the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). What he said was dignified and of great quality, and the fact and manner of his resignation did honour to him and, in a small way, did credit to this

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beleaguered profession of politics. May I also say to the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who I believe has resigned, that his decision, too, is an extremely honourable one?

The Speaker has been extremely generous to me in previous debates and I know that I have had the opportunity to express my views in some detail on a number of occasions. I shall therefore confine myself today to making but three points. First, so far as the British forces are concerned, war is not inevitable. That may not be true of the United States forces, but it is true of the British ones, for this reason: the Government, very much to their credit, have tabled a motion before the deployment of forces into conflict. The House therefore has a choice. If we accept the amendment and reject the Government motion, British forces will not be deployed into action. That is a choice for each and every one of us to make. So as far as British forces are concerned, war is not inevitable. We have to decide that.

Secondly, in the course of this debate and on previous occasions, a great deal of criticism has been made of the Governments of France and Germany, and of Russia and China to a lesser degree. Of course it is true that when nations vote on policy, they bring into account their own national interests—I have no doubt that national interests were involved—but it should have surprised nobody that we did not secure a consensus in the Security Council. If we are honest with ourselves, we do not have a consensus in the House or in this country. In all probability, there is not support for war. Why? Because the case for war is not overwhelming.

I do not speak of the legalities. I have read what the Attorney-General said about that matter and I do not feel competent to express a view as to whether he is right or wrong, but I am competent to say this: many distinguished lawyers—as distinguished as the Attorney-General—will take a contrary view. In any event, if I am honest, I do not think that the legalities go to the root of the matter. The real question is whether it is right—right expressed in moral terms. Here I have to say that I think that the answer is no, because I do not think that any of the usual characteristics of a just war have been satisfied. If we were dealing with a situation in which Iraq had attacked another country or had mustered troops on the frontiers of another country, or if there were compelling evidence that Iraq was delivering to terrorists weapons of mass destruction with which they could attack another country, I would vote for war, but none of those circumstances exists.

Mike Gapes: What would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say to the Iraqi Kurds who are suffering under the repression of Saddam and being expelled from Kirkuk at this moment? Would he merely say, "Tough—you are going to have to suffer another 12 or 35 years of it"?

Mr. Hogg: No; I would not express myself in that way. We are talking about the morality of war, and I do not believe that what is going on in Iraq is a sufficient moral basis for war.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): As a fellow lawyer, I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. Can he really suggest that Saddam is not attacking his own people when 2 million have died in

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tyranny, 7,000 have been gassed, 180,000 men, women and children in Kurdistan have been forcibly removed and the whereabouts of 650 Kuwaiti civilians is still unknown? Is that not an attack on a people?

Mr. Hogg: I was talking about the international risk that Saddam Hussein poses and saying that the normal tests for war have not been satisfied in this case.

That brings me to my last point. I accept that there is a terrible dilemma. Incidentally, it has not come about as the result of policy decisions in the past two or three weeks, but stems from the policy decision made in the latter part of last year, when the United States and United Kingdom Governments decided further to disarm Iraq using force if necessary. I regard that as a critical mistake, because the policies of containment and deterrence had worked from 1991 to 2002 and would have continued to do so. That was the critical mistake.

Now we stand in the dilemma. The Prime Minister has identified it and so has my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith): if we go to war, we affront the principles of morality to which I referred and the principles of legality, which I think are in doubt; if we do not go to war, it is true that the authority of the United Nations will have been defied and the credibility of the United States and, to a lesser extent, ourselves will be at risk.

So what is the way forward? How do hon. Members and reasonably minded people decide that dilemma? I can only offer my explanation. The right hon. Member for Livingston spoke yesterday of the consequences. If we go to war, the probability is that thousands and maybe tens of thousands of people will be killed or injured on all sides. That seems to me the principal question with which we should concern ourselves. I cannot find a sufficient moral case for condemning thousands or tens and thousands of people to death and injury. For that reason, because I think that war lacks a moral basis, I shall vote for the amendment and against the Government's motion.

2.49 pm

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen): With regret, I resigned from the Government this morning. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the Government and the Prime Minister since 1997. Although some have at times questioned the Government's direction, I say with all honesty that not a day has passed when I have felt that I could not make some difference on the very issues that brought me into the Labour party 27 years ago. I shall certainly miss being part of the Government.

The events of 9/11 must have brought home to us all the fact that we have created a world of great danger and great insecurity. That action must be taken, that we must tackle the sources and causes of insecurity, is not in doubt. But it is not simply a question of whether we take action; how we take action is also important. The reason for that is simple. If we act in the wrong way, we will create more of the problems that we aim to tackle. For every cause of insecurity with which we try to deal, we shall create a new one.

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I am not a pacifist. I am not against armed intervention. In 1992, I was one of the Labour Members of Parliament who called for much earlier intervention in Bosnia. I shall never forget the surprised and bemused expression on John Smith's face when some 20 newly elected Labour Members of Parliament went to see him to demand Labour support for a foreign war. I believe that we should have supported it, and that, had we done so, Balkan history might be different. I supported our action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

After 9/11, however, it should have been clear that the scale and nature of the threats to global security required the world community to come together on an unprecedented scale, not only to defeat terrorism, but to tackle the conflicts that give rise to it and other threats. For a time, not least thanks to our Prime Minister, such coming together seemed possible. Today, the prospect is severely damaged, if not in disarray. That has happened not simply or primarily because of one country across the channel, unprincipled and disastrously unilateral in its way though France has been. It has happened because those who wish to take action now, and in the way in which we are considering, have failed to persuade others and thus create international consensus on the need to do so.

The question for me has never been one of narrow legality. I was in the Home Office long enough to know that lawyers are the last thing one needs when things are difficult. It is a question not of one or two votes either way in the Security Council, but of whether we can put our hands on our hearts and say that the majority of those who should support us do so. I do not believe that they do.

I do not blame the Prime Minister for that. No one could have worked harder to forge consensus. His achievements are real, not least in persuading the US Administration to take the United Nations route. However, our Prime Minister has been ill served by those whom he sought to influence. The US Administration appear at times to delight in stressing their disdain for international opinion and in asserting their right to determine not only the target but the means and the timetable, their gratuitous actions apparently designed to make a common voice impossible, not least here in Europe. That has made the international coming together that we need impossible to achieve.

In future, people will ask how one nation could have thrown away the world's sympathy in such a way. Does anyone doubt that a nation of such power, influence and, in many ways, such genuine authority could have built the support that we needed if it believed that necessary? I am not indulging in anti-Americanism, but simply recognising that unilateralism on such a scale, no matter how legitimate the target, brings danger.

The action against Iraq is, I believe, pre-emptive, and therefore demands even greater international support and consensus than other sorts of intervention. We do not have it. Such isolation entails a genuine cost and danger. It undermines the legitimacy that we must maintain to tackle the many threats to global security. It fuels the movements that are antipathetic to our values and way of life, and the view, which is probably the reality, that in an interdependent world, one nation

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reserves the right to determine which of the world's problems should be tackled, when, where and in what way.

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