§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jamieson.]4.28 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have just had a statement on Iraq, and we are to have a debate on Iraq. Would it not have been more usual and have saved time if the Prime Minister had introduced the debate? Would that not have been a better procedure?
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It has been pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that there is no opportunity for a vote at the end of the debate, except on the motion for the Adjournment. Early-day motion 148 could fruitfully be used as the basis for a debate now, so that we could have the proper vote at the end.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)
We have arranged for this debate in the House at the first available opportunity after military action to give hon. Members the opportunity to debate that action and the background to it.
All hon. Members will wish to remember that we debate this matter in the security of our Chamber while British service men are in action in circumstances of some danger. At the outset, I follow my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in recording the appreciation of all in the House for their courage and professionalism. I open the debate by setting out why we had to call upon them to take that military action.
My starting point is the report submitted by Richard Butler to the Security Council. That report could not make it more clear that Saddam has not kept the commitments which averted military action only last month. The report details the familiar pattern of obstruction, delay and deception.
§ Mr. Cook
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment if he allows me to continue with this passage.
Since the work of the United Nations Special Commission resumed, it has requested 12 sets of documents that could answer crucial questions about Iraq's chemical weapons and missile programmes. Iraq has responded to only one of those 12 requests.
The Iraqi authorities have blocked attempts by UNSCOM to carry out site inspections. Only last Wednesday, a team of inspectors was refused entry to a storage facility on the ground that it was a political headquarters of the Ba'ath party.
1113 Let me describe to the House the precise nature of the building in question. It is a large rectangular warehouse. A thick steel trap-door, 3 m2, gives access to a cellar beneath the warehouse which is of the same size. The shed is guarded by members of the interior security service, commanded by an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Let us be frank. This lieutenant colonel is not on duty to safeguard political election posters, even if elections were allowed in Iraq. Baghdad's pretence that the warehouse and its underground cellar are political offices is only another of the empty pretexts with which it has persistently sought to hinder the work of the UN inspectors.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Can my right hon. Friend explain when Richard Butler's report was received by the Security Council, and what steps were taken by the British or American Governments to call a special meeting of the Security Council to gain its authority before any military action could be taken? Or was the action taken without the Security Council's authority after the production of the report?
§ Mr. Cook
The action has been taken with the full authority of repeated Security Council resolutions, supported by all members of the Security Council. Let us not forget that the lead-in time for this military action is not the day or so since Richard Butler's report; it is the 10 months since Saddam first threw out the inspectors last February. It is during that period that two successive resolutions have given us the authority to carry out this action.
§ Mr. Leigh
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that aerial bombing will not destroy Saddam's capability, only degrade it, and nor will it remove him from office? Will he confirm that it may be difficult for UNSCOM to return once the bombing stops? Given that military action on the ground is ruled out, what is the right hon. Gentleman's and the Government's game plan for the future? How do they intend to resolve the crisis? Or are they asking the House to support military action again and again, which may well be necessary?
§ Mr. Cook
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene at such length with so many different questions, he can take full part in the debate. The Prime Minister has already made it perfectly clear that to displace Saddam Hussein would require a commitment of tens of thousands of ground troops and the acceptance of casualties well beyond anything that we are asking the House to accept. We have clear objectives, which I will deal with in my speech, both substantially to set back Saddam's weapons programmes and to diminish the military threat that he 1114 poses to the region, and we are confident that this aerial strike can achieve those objectives. I shall lay them out before the House in my speech.
§ Mr. Cook
No, I must return to my text, but my hon. Friend will have other opportunities to intervene.
In two further cases, in addition to the one that I have described, inspections were delayed after Iraq declared the sites to be sensitive. When the inspectors were finally granted permission to enter, they found that the building had been swept clean.
Such attempts to hinder and obstruct the work of UNSCOM have been standard practice in Baghdad ever since the inspection regime was imposed by the United Nations. Given Saddam's undertaking last month that UNSCOM would have unconditional and unrestricted access, it is to be deplored that Baghdad still practises the same sustained web of deceit and deception. Saddam still avoids answering questions and prevents UNSCOM from finding the answers.
I must also tell the House that, in the period since Saddam gave his undertaking to co-operate, he has introduced new, fresh restrictions on the work of UNSCOM. The Baghdad authorities have demanded a formal letter of request for the inspection of a sensitive site, including details of what was sought at the site—presumably in order that they could more easily remove any such documents and material from the site. Until August, UNSCOM had provided data on Iraqi missile tests and engines. Since UNSCOM went back in November, Iraq has refused to release such data. Until August, UNSCOM was allowed to carry out its own study on the engine components of missiles to establish their range. Since November, UNSCOM has been denied the removal of missile components for analysis.
Since Saddam pledged full co-operation in November, UNSCOM has experienced no greater co-operation than before. On the contrary, it has been subjected to even greater deception and obstruction. That is why the conclusion of Mr. Butler's report is stark and unequivocal. The inspectors are not able to carry out the disarmament work which they are mandated to do.
Mr. Butler has received the full wrath of the Baghdad propaganda machine. I share the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as I have known Mr. Butler for a number of years. I first met him long before he became the head of UNSCOM. I know him to be a man of great independence of mind and integrity. He is also whole-heartedly dedicated to the United Nations and the international rule of law. Nor is his report the report of one isolated individual. It would be overwhelmingly endorsed by all the inspectors who know from experience the repeated obstacles that have made their job so frustrating.
§ Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)
If Mr. Butler is such a paragon of virtue, why did Mr. Prakash Shah, the special envoy of Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, describe him to me, on the basis of more than 20 years' knowledge, as a congenital liar?
§ Mr. Cook
We must all speak from our own experience. As Mr. Butler is not in the Chamber to defend 1115 himself against the grave charge that my hon. Friend has made against him—a charge that we are not permitted to make against each other—I will vigorously rebut that charge and say that throughout the period in which I have known Mr. Butler, not just as a colleague but as a friend, he has shown himself to be consistently honest and dedicated to international and political ideals that in other circumstances my hon. Friend would share. It is, therefore, important for all of us to remember, when we read propaganda against Mr. Butler, that he is so unpopular in Baghdad not because he is a liar or deficient in his job, but because he does his job only too well.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way. Does he remember that Mr. Butler's predecessor was Mr. Rolf Ekeus, a Finnish diplomat of considerable distinction, whose experience at the hands of Saddam Hussein was exactly the same as that of Mr. Richard Butler?
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
When we listen to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), who has spoken twice today, should we not bear it in mind that, on a visit to Baghdad in 1994, he was widely quoted as saying to Saddam Hussein face to face:Sir, I salute your courage, your strength and I want you to know we are with you until victory"?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) will no doubt wish to respond to that point later in the debate. In the meantime, I strongly urge the whole House to remember that, when Baghdad tries to turn this matter into a confrontation between the west and the Muslim world, every single one of those who have been killed by Saddam Hussein over the years has been a Muslim, whether Iranian, Kurd or Shi'ite. We must not fall for the idea that, in standing up for international law and halting the use of weapons of mass terror against Arab neighbours, we are somehow taking part in a war against the Muslim world.
Mr. Butler's report compelled us to decide, with great reluctance, that there was no alternative but to take military action against Iraq. I remind the House that we have made every effort to avoid this outcome. If we have erred, it has always been on the side of caution. Throughout the whole of this year, we have given Saddam Hussein repeated opportunities to comply with his obligations to the United Nations. Last February, the permanent members of the Security Council—all five of them—mandated Kofi Annan to travel to Baghdad to seek a diplomatic outcome. Saddam Hussein then entered into an undertaking with the Secretary-General that he would allow UNSCOM to get on with its job. That undertaking was endorsed by a resolution of the Security Council, backed by all its members, which warned Saddam that, 1116 if he broke the agreement, there would be "the severest consequences". Six months later, he went back on the agreement and stopped all new site inspections.
Only last month, we again gave Saddam another chance to prove that there was an alternative to military action. We could not have been clearer about what would happen if he did not keep his promise. The UN Secretary-General said:I am not sure, if there is a next time, if we will have time for further diplomatic initiatives",yet, once again, Saddam has broken his promises.
No Foreign Minister can be satisfied when events compel the need for military force. The aim of diplomacy is to avert the need for such actions, but diplomacy can work only if the other side is prepared to negotiate in good faith. With Saddam, diplomacy has not worked because he has entered into agreements with cynicism and broken them with contempt. At stake is not an abstract principle of diplomacy, but the real threat posed by Saddam's capacity to produce weapons of terror.
Saddam has not accounted to UNSCOM for 600 tonnes of the chemical precursors for the VX nerve agent. That would be sufficient to produce 200 tonnes of the VX nerve agent. One plane load of VX would be enough to devastate the population of any of the smaller states in the region.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the assumption that those 610 tonnes exist, has the Foreign Office given the Foreign Secretary an assessment of the environmental consequences if there were a direct hit on such a chemical or biological arsenal?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend asked the same question during our debate in February and the response that I gave then remains valid—that, in our targeting plans, we have taken great care not to release into the atmosphere chemical or biological weapons that may be complete. With Saddam, we face not an arsenal of completed weapons, but the capacity and potential to produce completed weapons within months if we turn our backs on him. That is why we can interrupt the supply chain to the final product with no danger of the final product being released into the atmosphere. Our objective is to ensure that we set back by several years Saddam's attempt to produce those weapons.
The Opposition have asked, perfectly properly, for the precise and clear objectives of this military action. We have two clear objectives. The first is to defeat Saddam's ambitions to continue to develop such weapons, with which he could terrorise his neighbours. We want a peaceful outcome, but we know that an outcome that left Saddam able to develop those weapons without hindrance would not be peaceful; it would be a guarantee that those weapons would be used. Saddam used chemical and 1117 biological weapons against his citizens when he wiped out the entire town of Halabja. He has used the weapons before, and he will use them again if he is allowed to keep them.
In the course of today, an increasing number of statements from Governments around the world have expressed their understanding of that case and the need to take this action to halt Saddam's weapons programme.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stone)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain why the French appear not to be giving the support that we might have expected in the circumstances, particularly given the joint declaration on defence made only a week ago, which refers to international responsibilities and the fact that our two countries should take joint action in such international matters?
§ Mr. Cook
Given the gravity of this international crisis, it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should trot out his own King Charles's head on Europe—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen, they will hear that many European countries have backed what we have said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will listen.
The Prime Minister of France has made it clear that the action was provoked by the steps taken by Saddam Hussein. Compared with the position that France took on the previous crisis, on this occasion, France has shown restraint. It has not wished to get involved in open hostility to the action that we have taken. Earlier today, I had a successful conversation with the French Foreign Minister, in which we agreed to work together in the future, particularly in relation to Iraq.
Chancellor SchrOder's spokesman said:The Iraqi leadership was warned and had to assume that the international community could not stand by and watch.This morning, the Austrian Foreign Minister, who currently holds the European Union presidency, said:We must make Saddam Hussein fully responsible for this".He recognised that the Iraqi leadership had been given ample opportunity.
The Foreign Minister of the Netherlands described our actions as "unavoidable". The Spanish Defence Minister described military action as "inevitable". The Finnish Prime Minister said:We are involved in this together—the United Nations versus Iraq.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)
The right hon. Gentleman brushes aside rather too lightly the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Is it not extremely serious that different members of the European Union are sending discordant signals to a proven aggressor, thereby encouraging him to believe that we can be played off one against another? Is it not time that the Government made some progress—
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. Gentleman should not generalise from the case of one country. I have quoted half a dozen 1118 European countries that are with us in the action that we have taken. Let me add another. In a statement today to the Italian Senate, the Italian Foreign Minister said:The use of force … arose above all from the behaviour of the Baghdad Government … The possession of weapons of mass destruction constitutes not only a violation to the UN but also a permanent threat to neighbours.We have taken this action with the overwhelming support of our close allies, our friends around the world, and the overwhelming majority of the UN Security Council.
§ Mr. Cook
No, I wish to proceed with my speech. Our second clear objective is to reduce the threat to Saddam's neighbours by diminishing his military war machine. Our targets are precise and are confined either to facilities that are part of his weapons programmes or to his military power base.
It is, of course, military power that keeps Saddam in power. We are not in conflict with the vast majority of the Iraqi people, with whom we have a common enemy in Saddam. Only last October, the UN rapporteur on human rights in Iraq, Max van der Stoel, published his latest assessment. It is an appalling catalogue of human rights abuse, which includes the mass execution of 62 detainees without trial, the assassination of senior and respected Shi'ite scholars, and the use of amputation as a punishment.
The same UN rapporteur also holds Saddam primarily responsible for the shortages of food and medicine for the Iraqi people.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
We would all like to get rid of the ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein, but there is concern on both sides of the Atlantic that the American-British military operation—and its timing—may have more to do with keeping President Clinton in office than with getting Saddam Hussein out of office. Why should the lives of British service personnel be put at risk—and why should innocent men, women and children in Iraq be sacrificed—in what appears to be a desperate attempt to save Clinton's skin?
§ Mr. Cook
The Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet would never ask our airmen to go into action for such a purpose. We have not done so on this occasion. We have asked them to go into action to preserve the rule of the United Nations resolutions, and to prevent Saddam from developing those weapons of terror that I have described to the House. My hon. Friend would have to have an extremely exaggerated sense of conspiracy to imagine that the timetable of the UNSCOM inspections and of the report from Richard Butler was arranged six weeks ago so that it would come to fruition at this particular moment.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
Is not the reality the exact opposite of the point made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)? Is it not Saddam Hussein who calculates when he believes that the west is distracted, and who chooses moments such as this—when the domestic circumstances in America are helpful to him—rather than the other way around?
§ Mr. Cook
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a fair point about the calculations of Saddam Hussein but, 1119 equally, we should all recognise that anyone who employs brinkmanship all the time sometimes mistakes where the brink is. He could not have been given clearer warnings on this occasion: he has chosen to ignore them.
§ Mr. Bayley
I am most grateful. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when it came to timing, to delay action would have endangered our military objectives and our service men, who are committed to achieving those objectives? Would not delay have allowed the Iraqi regime more time to prepare weapons to use against them?
§ Mr. Cook
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. The longer the build-up to and expectation of an attack on Iraq, the greater would have been Iraq's preparations for it. The result would have been a greater risk to our service personnel. Had we been obliged to delay such action until the end of Ramadan, Iraq would have been able to take advantage of a very long period in which to prepare for any attack.
It is because of Saddam, not sanctions, that people in Iraq are short of food and their hospitals are short of medicine. Indeed, at the very time when children in Baghdad go hungry, Saddam has been caught exporting convoys of wheat and barley to Syria and Jordan to earn the revenues that keep him and his elite in comfort. Iraq has even sold for export food donated by the rest of world for the needy in Iraq.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, it is not an objective of our military action to bring about the downfall of Saddam. It is, though, our objective to weaken the military machine with which Saddam terrorises his own people and protects himself from their need to be rid of him.
For as long as Saddam remains in power, we will remain resolute in our determination that he will not be allowed to fulfil his ambitions to develop weapons of mass terror. The present military operation must bring it home, even to him, that we will not let him get away with his strategy of deceit and obstruction. It would be far better for him, for his regime, for Iraq and for the international community if he now accepted full inspection by the United Nations to carry out the disarmament on the ground that we have been obliged to do from the air.
None of us who have taken part in the decision to take military action has found it easy. It is a decision that we have taken with great reluctance and real regret. However, I am clear that it was the right decision. The regime in Baghdad has demonstrated appalling brutality towards its people. It has demonstrated consistent dishonesty in its promises to the people of the rest of the world. It has persisted in an extensive programme to acquire weapons of terror and the missiles to fire them, for no other reason than to terrorise the rest of the region and beyond.
Military action must be used sparingly and with reluctance, but there are times when we are confronted with such brutality that military force is the only response. 1120 This is one of those times. We have shown the resolve to respond. We ask all parties in the House to show the same resolve by giving us their support.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving me advance sight of his speech.
The House has debated the crisis in Iraq on many previous occasions. This year alone there have been four statements—two by the Prime Minister and two by the Foreign Secretary—two private notice questions and six previous debates. On each of those occasions, the whole House was united in the hope that the grave situation that exists in Iraq could be resolved without military action.
Those hopes have finally been dashed. The responsibility that rested on the shoulders of the Government yesterday, and rests on them today, is awesome. No one who has taken part in a Cabinet decision to authorise military action can be insensitive to the very difficult judgments that have to be made. No burden on Government is more onerous.
Conservative Members offer the Government our support for the action that they have taken. We join with them in the concern that we must all have for the safety of our service men and women who could be in action at any time—indeed, we are told that they are in action as we speak.
We agree with the Government that the cause that they are fighting to uphold is just. What is that cause? It has its roots in the Gulf war. That war was a great achievement, in which British Governments, under the leadership first of my right hon. Friend Baroness Thatcher and then my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), played a critical part. It owed much to the skill and valour of British forces, and it was a war in which, once again, they proved themselves to be without equal.
Yet it was an incomplete achievement, because it left in place the rogue regime that had invaded Kuwait and had behaved—and would continue to behave—with such great brutality to its citizens and to others in the region. It left in place a regime that continued to pose a threat to the peace of the region and to humanity.
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel a sense of guilt at the fact that he was a member of the Government of Baroness Thatcher who, throughout the war between Iran and Iraq, were supplying arms to Saddam Hussein?
§ Mr. Howard
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. However, nothing could give Saddam Hussein greater comfort than the House of Commons spending the afternoon debating what may or may not have happened in those years, rather than discussing the cause to which the Government have committed our troops to action today.
At the time of the Gulf war and its aftermath, when that incomplete achievement was in place, the threat posed by the Iraqi regime was something to which the international community was not oblivious. The international community did not simply walk away. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to deal with that threat.
1121 Resolution 687, adopted on 3 April 1991, dealt with the questions that remained to be resolved in the aftermath of the Gulf war. Foremost among them was the need to ensure that Iraq did not use, develop or acquire any weapons of mass destruction, and that any stocks of the materials necessary to create such weapons were eliminated. Iraq, indeed, gave unconditional undertakings to that effect.
The unhappy story of the past seven and a half years has been the story of how the regime of Saddam Hussein has sought at every turn to renege on those undertakings. The consequences are not academic or abstract. The inventory of Scud missiles, chemical missile warheads and live chemical agents, and the capacity to produce biological weapons, testify to the real, practical nature of the danger. Those weapons could destroy whole populations, and the record of this regime is such that it might well use them to destroy whole populations.
It was precisely because the international community was alive to the danger that resolution 687 was passed. It is in that resolution—and in resolution 678, which it expressly affirms—that the basis for the use of force to deal with the danger lies. Those resolutions embody the determination of the international community to hold Saddam Hussein to the undertakings that he gave in 1991. He has repeatedly given solemn pledges that he will honour those undertakings; he has repeatedly broken his pledges.
In October 1997, and again in January 1998, Saddam announced openly his intention to break the agreements made at the end of the Gulf war. Then, in February, he gave a binding commitment to comply. In August this year, he broke that as well, and suspended all but the most routine monitoring. In October, he ceased co-operation entirely.
It was in order to verify the extent to which those undertakings were being kept that UNSCOM was established by the international community. Last month, Saddam Hussein gave a clear and unconditional undertaking to co-operate with UNSCOM. The latest report from the inspectors, however, is indeed a damning document. It makes it clear that the unconditional co-operation that the inspectors were promised barely a month ago has not been forthcoming, and sets out new ways in which their work has been obstructed. Its conclusions were quoted by the Prime Minister and touched on by the Foreign Secretary, but they bear repetition:It must regrettably be recorded again that the Commission is not able to conduct substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council and, thus, to give the Council the assurances it requires with respect to Iraq's prohibited weapons programme.If, in the face of that conclusion, nothing was done, what would the consequences be? What would the consequences be for the middle east? Would not Saddam Hussein feel able with impunity to ignore all the undertakings that he gave in 1991, and what would the consequences of that be for the safety of the millions of people who inhabit the countries that are neighbours of Iraq? What would the consequences be for the safety of the rest of the world? If one unscrupulous dictator is allowed to treat the international community with such blatant contempt, what authority will remain to deal with 1122 others? That is the nature of the choice that the Government faced yesterday, and that is why we support the choice that they made.
It is true that there are bound to be innocent casualties, and no one should be insensitive to the suffering that will occur; but the Iraqi people are already suffering at the hands of Saddam Hussein, and there are times when action of the kind that was taken by the Government is necessary to avoid much greater suffering at a later date.
Inevitably, there are questions that need to be answered. While we understand the inhibitions that exist on the provision of detailed information, I hope that, when he winds up the debate, the Secretary of State for Defence will tell us a little more about the relationship between the military action that is under way, and the objectives that the Government intend to achieve. Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to be a little more forthcoming about what the Government hope to accomplish, and how? What are the criteria by which they will measure success? What can the right hon. Gentleman tell us about the Government's long-term strategy—a question which, when it was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), the Foreign Secretary signally failed to answer? Does he agree that the removal of Saddam Hussein from office should be an objective of western policy? Can he tell us about the command arrangements? Will British forces defer to overall United States command? Will there be a right of access to a higher political level, as there was during the Gulf war?
The Foreign Secretary told the House of the welcome support that has been given by other Governments. Can the Secretary of State for Defence tell us what diplomatic efforts have been undertaken to build up support from, particularly, the Arab states? Does the Austrian presidency of the European Union intend to convene a meeting of the General Affairs Council? What action has been taken to protect British citizens and assets that might be subject to attack?
Those are legitimate questions, and I hope that we shall have answers to them that are as full as may be consistent with the requirements of national security. Conservative Members, however, offer the Government support for the action that they have taken. Our thoughts are with our service men and women in the field. They are fighting in a just cause, and they have our full support.
§ 5.7 pm
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
This really is deja vu all over again. We have had debates in the Chamber following earlier crises, and we have seen a pattern of recidivism in the regime in Iraq, against international law, which takes the form of the thwarting of UNSCOM's efforts. UNSCOM has the legitimacy conferred by United Nations Security Council resolution 687 of 1991; it goes about its work; then, as the Prime Minister said, that legitimate work is thwarted.
Then there is the threat of military action. Coalition building takes place; the United Nations intervenes; Kofi Annan goes to Iraq; others sup at the table of the dictators, listening to what they say and believing them. Next, there is the threat of bombing, which, at the last moment, is terminated because Saddam Hussein makes concessions. Many people are then relieved that war has been averted, but those who have studied Saddam Hussein over the years know that this is but a tactical adjustment by a dictator.
1123 Then we start the whole process again, and reach the inevitable point of military threat, followed by the withdrawal of that threat after promises. Again, we are drawn into the same process. I am reminded of the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, who must pursue the endless task of pushing a rock up a hill, pushing it down, pushing it up again and pushing it down again.
Here we are again, but this time the United States and the United Kingdom have the support of others. That support ranges from reasonable enthusiasm to tacit support or, in some cases, the attitude is, "Please carry on. We are delighted that you are doing what you are doing, but do not expect from us either endorsement or military support. We are glad that you are doing it and not us."
Saddam Hussein is very shrewd; however, if he were totally shrewd, he would not be ruling over a country broken not militarily but economically, with a starving population cowed into submission. So, he is not that shrewd, but he is shrewd enough to know how to divide and rule. His goals are simple. One of them is survival—he is a great survivor—and another is that of regional domination and the elimination of any opposition to him, real or imaginary, including those within his own family. He has used trade to sustain support from countries he might need—France and Russia are two obvious examples.
As we have heard, Saddam Hussein has been shrewd in thwarting UNSCOM over the years. Also, despite the sanctions and the international hostility, he has been successful in rebuilding his conventional military capability and in building up and retaining the weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons are not just a threat to Iraq's immediate neighbours, many of whom are not joining any international coalition to protect themselves, but are using surrogates to do the job for them.
Saddam's bluff has been called. It is possible that he thought—this view is shared by people here and in the United States Congress—that the American President was weak and that he could exploit that weakness. There are those who have argued in Congress and outside that there is a crisis, but that the President's first priority is to face his critics at home. I reject that argument.
The critics say that there is no legitimacy for this action, but I believe that it exists. It may be that we have not secured the support of Russia or China, but are we seriously going to say that, although international legitimacy is important, the only time we can take military action, whether it is bilateral action by the United States and the United Kingdom or any potential action by NATO, or, even—I doubt whether this would happen—unilateral military action by the United Kingdom, is when the Security Council in the form of Russia, China or even France give us the go-ahead? I would argue strongly that it is not incumbent on us to wait for that legitimacy. Quite frankly, it has been bestowed anyway.
In case there are any doubters in our midst, I would argue strongly that the speech this afternoon from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the supporting speech from the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) should have convinced most hon. Members and those outside of the legitimate reasons why the United States Government and the United Kingdom have pursued this course of action.
1124 I do not believe that there are many people here or many in the military who see the prospect of risking death as something to be pursued with high enthusiasm. It would not be wise if, in a cavalier manner, we authorised our armed forces to go into a dangerous military environment for a political and military adventure. We must only risk the lives of the men and women in our armed forces for a cause that is just and in the interests of the international community and the United Kingdom. I believe that those who are not available to be persuaded will never be persuaded, but I believe strongly that there is overwhelming support in the House, if not unanimity, for the Government's actions.
I very much hope that the activities will be terminated in time for the beginning of Ramadan because, like many hon. Members, I have a substantial Muslim minority in my constituency. There is a danger of terrorism and we must all be wary of that, but the point must be made forcefully that the immediate threat posed by Saddam Hussein is not to the United Kingdom or the United States. The immediate danger is posed to Muslims in the region surrounding Iraq. I would not always regard the Governments in those countries with high enthusiasm and I sometimes feel rather disgruntled that we are supporting their survival. They are not necessarily very nice and they are certainly not democratic; however, regional stability is in our interest as well as theirs and it is necessary to take military action.
Of course, it is better if we can threaten action but not use it. However, the ability to threaten diminishes if one is provoked incessantly but force is not used. I suspect that the credibility of the United States, the United Kingdom and the international community which supports our action would have been in tatters if we had not taken action after the violation of agreements signed by Saddam Hussein and after he had, once again, unilaterally discarded them.
Who in their right mind would have regarded anything signed by the Iraqi regime as anything other than tactical, temporary and scheduled for breaking as soon as possible? If there had been a long period of negotiation with our European allies, the Security Council and anyone else concerned, two or three months might have elapsed before any action had been taken. The press and the public would then have said that we were paper tigers—threatening but not delivering. I believe that it was essential to do what we had threatened to do after the last occasion on which UNSCOM's role was made impossible. We said that we would take action without warning or consultation and that is what has happened.
Of course, there are risks, but I believe that it was expedient to take them. I remember being part of a small study group in 1991 after the Gulf war. We produced a book called "Military Lessons of the Gulf War". In that book we said:Another lesson is that wars with limited military aims do not necessarily solve the root problems that brought them about.I believe that that is as apt today as it was then.
It would be unwise for hon. Members or members of the public to see military action as risk free. There will be a reaction against what has happened, but we must consider the alternatives. It would have been far worse to do nothing than to have pursued the goals for which we are working. 1125 I shall conclude because many hon. Members want to speak. We have historical experience to justify the view that not taking action in the face of threats, violence and breaches of international legitimacy can have devastating consequences. As was said earlier, if the United Kingdom and France, which had the military power and capability to stop Hitler entering the Rheinland in the mid-1930s, had had the will, many of our fathers' lives would have been spared and millions of Jews would have lived. Millions of Germans, Americans, Frenchmen, Belgians and people from all over the world would have enjoyed the rest of their lives, if only the Government at that time had decided that a point had been reached and there was sufficient evidence available to take action to stop Hitler. The consequences of their inaction were devastating, in terms not just of the loss of life and property in the second world war, but of the chain reaction from that war, which created the cold war and the misery and threat of international conflict for decades thereafter. I am not arguing that events in the middle east are necessarily of international proportions, but we have enough experience to know that regional crises can burst beyond that region.
The Government have pursued their goals wisely. Once again, the British armed forces are being called on to support their political masters. It must be said, however, that our armed forces are undergoing further reductions and reorganisation yet again, and are seeing their gross domestic product falling once again. I remind the House of what the last Select Committee on Defence and the present Select Committee, which I am proud to chair, so honestly said: if the House and the Government continue to place demands on our armed forces and to mobilise them into action whenever we decide, and if we decide as a nation to spend less than currently projected on defence, they will not be able to discharge and perform what we task them with.
I greatly hope that we can send a signal to our armed forces, our constituents and the public as a whole that the Government's decision commands wide support. We must be prepared for setbacks and reactions against the decision. I believe that most rational people who stand back coolly and consider the alternative of doing nothing will agree that the consequences of that would be infinitely worse than the action taken yesterday evening, when we asked our armed forces to participate in trying to bring this evil leader to his senses or, at least, severely to constrain his military capability to pursue his objectives.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, introduced an interesting historical dimension to our debate. I suspect that there will be few new arguments because, in truth, as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) pointed out, we have dealt with this issue in the House on many occasions this year.
Today we are concerned not so much with the arguments as with the exercise of a judgment. I have already said today that the military action on which the Government have embarked has Liberal Democrat support. I see it as a painful necessity and a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.
1126 None of us has the right to endorse military action as if it were a matter of routine. We must search to be satisfied that military action is justified. In the context of our debate there are two areas in which that search must be carried out. The first is the conduct of Saddam Hussein. Both in the Prime Minister's statement and, to some extent, the Foreign Secretary's speech, and again in the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkstone and Hythe, there was set out the myriad opportunities that Saddam Hussein has had to implement the obligations imposed on him at the end of the Gulf war and to carry out his promises over the approximately eight years since the war ended. If Saddam Hussein's conduct is a reason for military action, we could argue, to adopt the argot of the courtroom, that the case has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt.
The second issue concerns the legal basis for the action. Some say that there is no proper legal basis because there is no single resolution of the United Nations Security Council that authorises the action taken during the past 24 hours. To them I say that, when considering the legal basis of the action, one must have regard to resolutions 687 and 688 with which the Gulf war was brought to an end, to the fact that they reflect voluntary undertakings freely entered into by the Iraqi Government to help bring the war to an end and that since then no resolution of the Security Council in respect of these matters has been anything other than entirely consistent with those obligations. When considering the legal basis of the action we must look at the body of resolutions as a whole and not seek to fasten on to one particular resolution or describe it or any other as deficient.
If Saddam Hussein had shown any willingness to deal with these matters, they would have been resolved long ere now and the people of Iraq would have been allowed to return to what passed for normality in their lives before the Gulf war. We need not be here. We are here because of the intransigence, deception and brinkmanship of Saddam Hussein, because of promises made and not kept, but principally because of the motive of a deliberate effort to maintain the capacity to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
Why does Saddam Hussein want that capacity? Is it to boast? He is good at that. Is it to swagger? He is good at that, too. It is not those superficial purposes that lie behind this motivation. It is the determination to be the dominant power in the region and to have available weapons of such terror and effect that he can exercise his will throughout the region, destabilise it if he chooses and, indeed, have the capacity to threaten an even wider area.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. This is the closest I can get to intervening on a Minister. Does he agree that the Prime Minister made it clear that we are now embarked on a long strategy of military intervention? That is the likely course of action. Vital to that is support in the Arab world—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman and take the opportunity to say that a great many hon. Members wish to speak, so I must require short speeches and short interventions.
§ Mr. Campbell
If the hon. Gentleman could ensure that I receive the same salary as a Minister, I will ensure that I give way on every occasion on which he wishes to intervene. I shall address strategy later.
1127 Saddam Hussein has had every opportunity to comply, but has chosen not to do so. He has had every opportunity to feed his people and to provide adequate supplies of medicine for them, but the money from the sale of oil has been diverted into replacing the military infrastructure that was so badly damaged in the Gulf war and into the so-called presidential palaces.
When one goes to war, there is always the risk of casualties. In one sense, the Gulf war did a disservice to those of us on the victorious side because the belief grew up that we could engage in modern military combat and that, somehow, that could be done without the downside—or the consequences—of substantial numbers of casualties. There is always a risk of casualties, always the risk of fatality. Pictures of so-called smart weapons filled the television screens in our houses, showing so-called smart bombs going down the chimneys of specified buildings, but they represented a very small fraction of the ordnance that was used. There is no such thing as the infallible weapon, nor is there any such thing as the so-called surgical strike—an expression that contains its own inherent paradox.
No matter how skilled, loyal and professional the crews of the Royal Air Force might be—and they are all of that, as we know—their lives are at risk. Therefore, it must be a matter for sober reflection in the House when we are asked to endorse a decision to put those lives at risk and to test that loyalty, professionalism and skill. It is a question of judgment and that is why we have been sent to the House: to exercise our judgment on behalf of our constituents. I do not believe that my judgment is superior to that of anyone else in the House, but in this matter, my judgment is that the risks to which I have referred are outweighed by the consequences of a successful operation, and more than outweighed by the fact that, if no action is taken, the authority of the United Nations will be for ever affected. Therefore, it is likely that Saddam Hussein's expansionist attitude—to which I have already referred and which lies behind his determination to have weapons of mass destruction—can only be enhanced.
What should be the objectives? They should be to destroy, as far as possible, the capacity to make chemical and biological weapons. We cannot guarantee that we will do that in every respect, but we should do it to the limit and extent of our ability. We should aim to discourage and inhibit any regeneration of that capacity. That is important; Saddam Hussein is a dictator, who has made ingenuity into an art form. We should also aim to inflict serious damage on the military infrastructure that underpins his regime.
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) asked me about strategy. If one reads the Prime Minister's statement carefully, one will see that he poses two alternatives. That is indicative of the fact that none of us is able to say here today precisely what the strategy will be after the operations are completed. I shall take what might be described as the worst case—or, perhaps more correctly, the worse case—and hope that I am wrong. I hope that UNSCOM will be restored, but if that is not possible and UNSCOM cannot return to fulfil its remit, the strategy might well have to be one of surveillance, containment and deterrence. Let us remind ourselves that in the Gulf war deterrence worked. When it became clear that Saddam Hussein might contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction—as we now know, to a greater extent even than we believed—the response of Mr. James Baker, 1128 then the Secretary of State for the United States responsible for the majority of the negotiations with Mr. Tariq Aziz, was to say that, if there was any use of weapons of mass destruction, it would be met with a disproportionate response. Such a lack of specification is the very essence of deterrence.
In the debates of 1990 and 1991, there were often highly charged moments, such as those that have occurred today. Those debates, like today's debate, involved questions of judgment and the assessment of risk. They certainly involved anxiety about the consequences of war and the understandable reluctance of Members of the House to expose our forces to the perils of modern warfare. As we now know from the efforts of UNSCOM, the risk of chemical, biological and nuclear attack was much greater than we had known or understood. In those debates, I consistently voted to support the Government of the day in the action in which they were engaged. I believe that the House was right to do that then and I believe that it is again right to support Her Majesty's Government today in the action to which they have set their hand.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I think that this is the sixth war that I have heard debated in the House: the Korean war was going on when I was elected; and on the day that I was elected, President Truman threatened to use atomic weapons in Korea. It was much to Clement Attlee's credit that he flew straight to Washington and warned Truman off. During debates about Suez, I heard Eden comparing Nasser with Hitler, just as many hon. Members have compared Saddam Hussein with Hitler.
The truth is that chairborne troops, who sit here planning strategy with their marvellous knowledge of military matters, are the ones who can betray the troops. The most scandalous thing that can be done is to commit troops to a war that is wrong and then shield behind them, saying that because they are on the front line we must never criticise. Our duty to the troops is to see that they are never put in a position in which they are endangered by being outside the law.
I shall be brief because I made many of the points that I shall make today when we last debated the matter. Article 46 of the United Nations charter states:Plans for the application of armed force shall be made by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.It is no good saying that a resolution that is seven years old provides a permanent permission for anyone in the UN to go to war. It is absolute nonsense and no one believes it for a moment. The plan to use armed force was not a decision taken by the Security Council. Why? It is because the Government and the American Government knew that they would never get the support of the Security Council. Israel has been protected by God knows how many vetoes—27, I was told when I asked the UN office in London. The Americans always veto to protect Israel: they make that their business. However, Russia, China and perhaps France would have protected Iraq for their own reasons.
1129 I do not want to rely too much on texts, but, a few years ago, the leader of the party of which I am a member insisted that we had a new clause in our constitution. I looked it up; it states:Labour is committed … to the United Nations … to secure peace, freedom, democracy".It is with regret that I say to my colleagues that I am deeply affronted by what has been done. We talk about ethical foreign policy; this is an unethical thing to do. Why? Because wholly innocent people will be killed. Let us not pretend that, just because Saddam has killed people, we can do the same. We have killed far more Iraqis than Saddam has: we killed 200,000 during the Gulf war. That argument is not credible.
I received about 100 telephone calls during last night, many of which were from people who had voted Labour and who expressed—not hostility or anger of the kind that I might be expressing—but a sense of disappointment because they did not think that a Labour Government would break the charter of the UN to go along with the President of the United States.
§ Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)
Regarding international legitimacy and the United Nations, will my right hon. Friend confirm that UNSCOM is not the child of the United States, or even of ourselves? It is the creation of the United Nations and, as such, should have reported back to the Security Council for a Security Council decision on that report. The failure to do that will almost certainly guarantee that UNSCOM will never be allowed to return to Iraq, whatever the consequences of the bombings.
§ Mr. Benn
That is true, but then the British and American Governments now call themselves "the international community". They sometimes call themselves "the west" or "the allies". Whatever they call themselves, Britain and America are the only two nations in the world participating in this action. Other countries may try to be friendly—the Arab countries do not want to upset Washington—but the reality is that, even if people understand it, Britain and the US have no support whatever for the bombing that they have undertaken.
The hypocrisy upsets me. The Americans killed 1 million people in Vietnam. The Americans tried to kill Castro and invaded Cuba. We did the same—I say "we", but it was not me—when Sir Anthony Eden ordered the assassination of Nasser. The operation failed because it was handled incompetently—like many security operations. The American Government reported Mandela to the apartheid regime. American Governments have supported some of the most corrupt and dictatorial regimes in the world. When I hear President Clinton speak, I am not prepared to see him with wings and a halo. The United States is a super-power, just like Britain was in the 19th century. In this action, we are witnessing a return of Victorian imperialism. The only difference is that Britain is so weak we have to piggyback on top of an American military superpower.
§ Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)
What credible alternative strategy does my right hon. Friend offer for disarming Saddam Hussein?
§ Mr. Benn
I ask my hon. Friend to consider this: if one does something illegal, it is no good saying, "Well, what 1130 else could I do?" It is an illegal action. The answer is simple: the sanctions should be lifted. I am asked to believe the Prime Minister, but the imposition of sanctions has not stopped Saddam re-arming.
§ Mr. Benn
Sanctions have not had any effect except on the Iraqi people. [Interruption.] Please do not shout at me, I am entitled to make my case. I have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and I shall be sorry when he leaves the House. The world community agrees unanimously that the sanctions are a grave injustice that affect innocent people.
Let us look at the other side of the coin—I do not know whether I am allowed to mention it. Today, the five Law Lords apparently moved to allow another filthy dictator to return home. I wonder what image the world will have of Britain when we bomb the people of Iraq and plan to let Pinochet go home. If this is cool Britannia, modern Britain and the millennium dome, let us have another look at it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not going to give way, and he is entitled to refuse to do so.
§ Mr. Benn
It is a difficult thing to vote against one's own Government in the House of Commons when the overwhelming majority of hon. Members want the bombing, favour the bombing and praise the bombing. I think it is wrong and I will not apologise to the House for that. People woke up today and discovered that they are widows, orphans and parentless as a result of last night's bombing—and it will happen again. The last time we bombed Iraq, Saddam got stronger; the time before that, Saddam got stronger. This is not the way to deal with the situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—who has now left the House—talked about Munich and all that. There was no appeasement before the war: Neville Chamberlain supported Hitler. If hon. Members look at the captured German Foreign Office documents, they will see that Lord Halifax went to Berchtesgarten and said to Hitler, "Herr Hitler, on behalf of the British Government, I want to congratulate you on obliterating communism in Germany and acting as a bulwark against it in the Soviet Union." The history must be read again.
We armed Saddam and we cut Kuwait away from Iraq. The Americans provided Iraq with chemical weapons—it is all recorded—and they supported Saddam to the hilt. We must be careful that we are not swept away on a 1131 media wave, where every bombing is a spectacle. The news media switch from the test match in Australia to Baghdad burning. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and I were on a television programme last night. We heard the questions: "Come on, is that a bomb or a missile? What do you think?" A pilot was asked, "How did you feel when you went in and bombed?"
It is a defiance of human nature to try to resolve matters in that way. The world is more dangerous than it was because anyone can make chemical weapons. The super-powers have nuclear weapons, but any country can have chemical weapons. The more dangerous the world becomes, the more important it is to stick to the rule of law. However attractive and popular this action is with the media—The Guardian says that it was done to help the poor Iraqis—the reality is that, once we depart from our responsibility to the United Nations charter, we are moving into the world of the jungle. In that world, there are many dangerous animals, and we must not think that we can just deal with Saddam and everyone else. Our children will not thank us for what we decide today because the consequences will live with them long after we have gone.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
There is a certain repetition in these debates, and one feature of them is that I often follow the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I listened to his anti-American outburst over Vietnam. The right hon. Gentleman then swept aside the Law Lords over Pinochet and moved on to Munich and whether Neville Chamberlain supported Hitler. I was reminded of the three-card trick in which our attention is drawn to other things. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) raised the real issue and punctured the wonderful performance by the right hon. Gentleman. With the greatest respect, the right hon. Gentleman fell apart completely when asked what he would do.
§ Mr. King
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will develop my argument.
There are three real distinctions. The right hon. Gentleman participated in the Gulf war debate and voted against military action. If the right hon. Gentleman had had his way, Saddam would still be in Kuwait, and other countries would have undoubtedly collapsed under his forces. I will not discuss the torture or the number of casualties in Kuwait or the many Kuwaitis who are still missing as a result of Iraq's action.
My experience predates the Gulf war. I met Saddam Hussein in 1982 when, as a Minister in the Department of the Environment, I led an export mission to Iraq. I saw the police state at first hand. I was not surprised to learn recently that every prisoner incarcerated for a certain length of time had been executed when Iraqi prisons became overcrowded. The nature and obscenity of this regime totally differ from anything that the world has seen.
§ Mr. King
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I should like to continue.
1132 That might not matter and we might have to tolerate it if it were a purely domestic matter for the people of Iraq—awful as that would be. However, the reality is that it is not an internal matter. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's other theory is that the weapons of mass destruction and the programmes to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are a product of the imaginations of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and of the previous Prime Minister and the previous Foreign Secretary. Perhaps he discounts all the evidence of the United Nations agencies and UNSCOM, which—as the Foreign Secretary pointed out in his speech—have identified the awful nature of weapons that could, in the wrong hands, destroy the world.
This is a serious issue. Governments can embark on pretty stupid programmes of expenditure so long as they confine them within their own territory. Those countries that have developed weapons are usually under democratic control and the international community is reasonably confident that they will not be mad enough to use them. The trouble is that Saddam Hussein not only is developing the capability of weapons of a quite awful nature but has used them on occasion. The international consequences could be extremely grave.
This is unfinished business. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if he wished to engage me on this point, but I do not have time to discuss it as other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I am satisfied with the legal basis for the action. Solemn undertakings were given and they were endorsed, accepted and authorised by United Nations resolutions, which the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spelled out clearly. Those undertakings were given at the meeting at the tented camp—I forget its name—where General Schwarzkopf, Crown Prince Khaled and General de la Billiere met the Iraqi generals sent by Saddam Hussein to seek a ceasefire. They did not say that the weapons of mass destruction did not exist; they accepted that the weapons existed and gave the most solemn undertaking that not only would they destroy the weapons but they would no longer develop fresh weapons to replace them. This is therefore unfinished business.
In 1991, we were right to proceed through UNSCOM and agree on the peaceful identification of weapons, with the solemn promise that Iraq would co-operate in their destruction. The seven-year history of that process is one of continual obstruction and deception, which has been testified to by Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, who was responsible for the programme and was subsequently executed by his brother-in-law, with or without Saddam's specific instruction. The son-in-law made it clear that there was an organised, deliberate campaign of deception. UNSCOM has made considerable progress against that campaign. The problem now is that UNSCOM is getting too close to the heart of the matter, which is why the obstruction has become more and more serious.
Against that background, we cannot simply walk away, say that the situation is too difficult to tackle—it is certainly extremely difficult—and let the monster develop his programme, which would grow and grow, along with his influence and the threat that he poses. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) said, if we did nothing, the authority of the United Nations and order in the world would be totally undermined and there would be a total subversion of order in that region. If that is the case, we have no choice, but it is an extremely difficult choice.
1133 Our decision carries with it heavy responsibilities, including a responsibility to the people of Iraq, who have suffered all too much. We have a responsibility to try to ensure in every way possible that civilian casualties are kept to a minimum. I suspect that we shall get no help in that from Saddam Hussein, who may be actively engaged in trying to ensure that there are suitable civilian casualties. As we know from his other activities, he has little concern about the lives of many of his people. There will be civilian casualties, but I hope and believe that it will be possible to minimise them.
We have a responsibility to our armed forces, whom we have asked to undertake this most difficult of tasks. I strongly support my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition, who said that there must be the clearest rules of engagement and exact terms for this difficult undertaking. There must also be the closest understanding with the United States about those rules of engagement and the objectives of our actions.
It is important to spell out objectives because it will be vital, in the House and outside, to maintain—as we succeeded in doing during the Gulf war—overwhelming public support and understanding for our actions. That will be an enormous challenge. The Foreign Secretary and the Government pride themselves on their media skills. Anyone who has been in a studio today will know the sort of media frenzy that develops on such issues. Many channels and wavelengths are at work and press conferences are being held in capitals around the world.
The problem is to ensure that messages are clear, that there is no confusion and that rumour is not allowed to spread, but we face a dictator and an organisation that are masters of propaganda and misinformation and will be seeking to organise dissent in the Arab world and more widely. There is also the problem of countries that are not always sure of their support for actions such as ours. France has been mentioned. I recall that three weeks passed after the invasion of Kuwait, before France, with the more positive leadership of President Mitterrand, decided to act, and we welcomed its support. Historically, France and Iraq have a relationship that is different from that between Britain and Iraq, and we must recognise that.
We face the difficulty of ensuring good communications and avoiding misunderstanding. There have already been suggestions that what the Chief of the Defence Staff said today was not entirely consistent with what President Clinton said last night. That can be explained and the differences are not as great as some members of the media might believe. However, if there is not the clearest statement and harmonisation of view, approach and objective between ourselves and the United States, the whole venture on which we have embarked will be threatened.
We are only just starting on this venture. The challenge lies ahead and is peculiar, because of the incidence of Ramadan. The whole world understands that the initial venture is likely to be short-lived. It will be followed by a period of reflection and assessment conducted by ourselves and Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leadership. The issue will be to try to determine what will happen.
Obviously, what should happen is that we revert to the UNSCOM approach of the peaceful and orderly destruction of the weapons of mass destruction. Saddam 1134 Hussein and his regime committed themselves to that approach and are bound to it by their understandings with the UN and those reached during their recent meeting with Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. However, we must all recognise the concerns about whether that is a realistic option. Will the inspectors be able to return? Will they be able to resume and continue their work, or will their task be made even more difficult by the interruption? Will they be welcome?
There is an alternative, and the Defence Secretary may want to comment on this when he winds up the debate. I was interested in the Prime Minister's comments, which pointed to a continuing programme of degradation of Saddam's military capability and the clearest warning to him that he will not be allowed to recover from the damage that he suffers in this campaign and that any attempt to rebuild his defences will be similarly dealt with.
That statement is correct and must be made, because Saddam Hussein must now be sent the message that this action is not a slap on the wrist. We are not saying that we are fed up, that we shall express our impatience through this action and that we shall then let the matter drop. We have now embarked on a process that we must continue, one way or another, until the weapons of mass destruction are removed. Nothing else would be safe for the region or the world. The process will not be easy or without pain. Obviously, that pain most directly threatens the sad, unfortunate people of Iraq, but it is no secret that our action also puts at risk British interests, British lives and British assets.
We know of terrorist groups in the world and we know of exploitation by Saddam Hussein of terrorist groups. If we are undertaking—as it is right to do—a responsibility on behalf of a safer world order in the future, we may have to pay a price. We must be as careful, orderly and steady as we can during this difficult process. Things will go wrong. There will be every attempt to mislead the public and to pretend that this action was unnecessary. The speeches and interventions that we have already heard give us a clear picture of the arguments that will seduce some people who think that there must be an easy way. We have made the hardest choice; that is the route on which we have embarked and I believe that we must now see it through.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
I well understand the wish of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) to keep public opinion on side in this operation. He cited the example of what happened in 1990–91, but this operation is surely more difficult than the one undertaken at that time, when it was possible to have a clear-cut aim. That aim was to expel the aggressor—Iraq—from Kuwait. This time, there is no absolute, certain aim for the short term.
All that we can say is that we want to destroy to the maximum Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his capacity to build more. It will be a much longer process than that of 1990–91. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, who made a wise speech, showing his experience. It was not frenzied, gung-ho or enthusiastic, and that same tone characterised most of the other speeches that we have heard today. It contained a recognition of the risks to our 1135 airmen who, as the Prime Minister said, are probably still in the air and still risking their lives. It also contained a recognition of the risk to civilians on the Iraqi side, so we proceed not with enthusiasm but with regret and a recognition of the dangers. However, there is also a recognition of the principles involved.
I hope that the House is sending a very clear message of the overwhelming all-party support for the action that the Government have taken and that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set forth so responsibly earlier today. The speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Foreign Secretary and the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, show that there is an all-party coalition, and rightly so, telling the dictator that he has gone too far and that this country and this Parliament overwhelmingly support the action of the Government and our allies.
I shall not repeat the history of the situation, because the Prime Minister clearly set out its genesis in 1990–91 and the unfinished business before us. We can perhaps pick up the history in the two crises that developed earlier this year. The first, in February, almost led to the launch of an air attack on Iraq, but Kofi Annan then visited Baghdad. A Security Council resolution made it clear that Saddam Hussein's actions would have the "severest consequences", which could only mean military consequences, if he again failed to comply with the promises that he had made.
A second crisis developed with Saddam Hussein's further obstruction, which culminated in November when he again broke his solemn and binding promises almost as soon as they were made. We issued a threat, similar to that which had been made in February, that, if there was clear evidence of obstruction, there would be no warning and we would launch an air attack.
The evidence is crystal clear. It was provided in the United Nations Special Commission's report, not by one senior inspector but by all UNSCOM inspectors who had experienced Saddam's obstruction. A warning was given in very clear terms that, if Saddam Hussein's promises were broken, and if there was evidence that they had been broken, there would inevitably be an air attack.
We would have looked foolish and lacked credibility if we had not responded, if we had got to the point of being about to launch our missiles again, only for there to be yet another United Nations visit and yet another promise from Saddam Hussein, along the lines of, "You know me; next time I'll do better." Such an outcome would have had the most unfortunate consequences, not only for this operation but for the credibility of the international community in other forums—in Kosovo, for example. It is clear that we could not simply continue to bow to the promises of Saddam Hussein.
There is no easy solution when dealing with Saddam Hussein. Inaction would not have been satisfactory. Indeed, it would have sent a clear signal to Saddam Hussein that he could do what he liked and get away with it, and we would have lost all credibility. However, the military option has serious implications and raises many questions about the nature of the international mandate. Ultimately, NATO, the west or the international community cannot always await a specific endorsement from the United Nations and cannot always expect to wait for China, or any other permanent member of the Security 1136 Council, to agree. The window of opportunity was limited because Ramadan starts this weekend, and I certainly do not accept that domestic matters in the United States were relevant in this context.
Clearly, all actions can have adverse consequences. All are dangerous and all must be entered into with great caution, but it is the least undesirable option to say that there is clear evidence that promises have been broken, and to act accordingly. Every diplomatic possibility of dealing with Saddam Hussein has been exhausted.
There will almost certainly be some success in the short term, but where do we go from here? The key question is, "Where now?" If, as is likely, a substantial part—perhaps the greater part—of Saddam Hussein's capacity and materiel is destroyed, it is still unlikely that the UNSCOM inspectors will be allowed back into Iraq. We shall then have to rely on signals intelligence, human intelligence, defectors, aerial surveillance and so on. It will be much more difficult to monitor what is happening.
The official objectives are clear—to reduce Saddam's capability to use and build weapons of mass destruction and to diminish the threat that he poses to his region. We shall almost certainly achieve those objectives in the short and medium term, but he will still be there. So long as he is, the threat will continue—we must be ready to counter it as and when necessary.
All that we can hope to do during that time is, first, to isolate Saddam within his own region and to build on the reasonable consensus that exists in the Arab states. Secondly, we must use monitoring to contain his capacity to cause mayhem for his neighbours. It will not be easy. The outlook is somewhat bleak, and there are no simple solutions. All that we can do is affirm our clear commitment to ensuring that Saddam Hussein does not go unrestrained, and work with the forces in the region to ensure regional stability.
Had we done nothing at this time, which was the alternative, we should have lost credibility and simply encouraged Saddam Hussein. I am confident that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members will join the all-party coalition and support the Government's clear action.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)
There are three compelling propositions, all of which are overwhelmingly demonstrable, for supporting the Government's key decision. First, it is now wholly demonstrable that the word of Saddam Hussein is absolutely worthless, that his protestations of innocence are worthless, that his assurances of compliance are worthless, and that his written undertakings, even including those made directly to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, are worthless. Against that background, one must recognise that, in dealing with Saddam Hussein, the only truth is reality. The reality is that established most particularly by UNSCOM, which demonstrates what is on the ground. I am very glad that the Government have been guided by the reality and not by Saddam Hussein's protestations or written assurances.
The second proposition is that it is now clearly demonstrable that Saddam Hussein's almost single-minded objective is to acquire, retain and conceal weapons of mass destruction. We know for a fact that he has such weapons, and that he has used them—internally 1137 in Iraq and externally in the Iran-Iraq war, which, it is worth recalling, was started by the Iraqis and resulted in the greatest number of casualties of any war since 1945. Saddam Hussein is clearly absolutely bent on obtaining those weapons of mass destruction.
Therefore, I personally very much welcome one of the Government's decisions. In a previous incarnation on the Government Front Bench in the 1980s, I received all the material about the Iraqi programme of weapons of mass destruction. It was, without exception, covered by very high security classification. The Government have been absolutely right to declassify and place in the public domain significant amounts of that material. It is essential that, in the House and the wider public, people are fully aware of the horrendous nature of the weapons that Saddam Hussein is bent on acquiring, the capabilities of those weapons and the scale of his programme.
I welcome the fact that every hon. Member received a letter dated 10 November, under the signatures of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), and the Minister for the Armed Forces, to which was attached a quite detailed paper which set out Saddam Hussein's activities in his programme of weapons of mass destruction.
The third proposition that is wholly demonstrable is that Saddam Hussein is not only concerned with the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, but determined to try to find opportunities to use them. The fact that he has been testing missile technology carrying chemical warheads, as has been confirmed in several research laboratories, makes it clear that such weapons of mass destruction are potentially available for use well beyond Iraqi boundaries. Against that background, it is compellingly clear that Saddam Hussein must be stopped—and stopped at this point.
That brings me to one of the key elements in the equation, to which the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred: the position of UNSCOM. UNSCOM's surveillance capability is undoubtedly far greater than anything that can be achieved by any other means. Under the powers given to it in UN resolutions, it can go where it wishes in Iraq, providing that Saddam Hussein adheres to the resolutions' ambit. UNSCOM teams can enter facilities and buildings; they are certainly not confined simply to external inspection. By their very nature, the teams can get as close as necessary in order to conduct visual inspection of any item of equipment or material that they want to examine. That is a key capability, and unique to a system of inspection on the ground.
I join wholly with praise in all parts of the House for the capabilities, professionalism and bravery of our armed forces. I also pay tribute to members of the UNSCOM inspection teams, which, in extremely challenging circumstances, have done a most remarkable job in uncovering Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and securing their destruction on an enormous scale. I believe that hon. Members in all parts of the House are very grateful for, and appreciative of, what those teams have achieved.
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
May I echo what my right hon. Friend has just said? Does he agree that much 1138 of UNSCOM's success is due to the critical role played by our scientists in Porton Down, who have been members of UNSCOM from day one? Does he also agree that the work of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment and the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down are crucial to the enterprise's success?
§ Sir John Stanley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to highlight the significant British contribution in research facilities and some personnel, which has made a material and beneficial impact on the work of UNSCOM teams.
As critical as UNSCOM is, the key point must be made that some have argued—in this debate and outside the House—that hostilities should never occur in order that UNSCOM teams might remain in Iraq. I shall deal with that argument head on. It is not valid if UNSCOM teams are no longer able to do their work. If they are neutralised, that argument falls. Having looked through the paper of 15 December, which Richard Butler submitted to the Secretary-General of the UN—the Government helpfully placed it in the Library yesterday—I am in no doubt that UNSCOM inspection teams are being drastically neutralised. We simply cannot allow UNSCOM to become a token force, simply a flag-waving exercise for the UN or a body that goes only to several declared sites and ignores entirely undeclared sites.
We all know the position in the declared sites; the Foreign Secretary made it clear earlier in the debate. They are so heavily sanitised that, by the time UNSCOM arrives, they are—proverbially—reeking with Dettol as a result of the clearance of anything that may be remotely incriminating. We can therefore no longer rely on UNSCOM inspections. That leaves the Government with only two alternatives: to abandon any attempt to contain the awfulness of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programme, or take the action that they have taken.
With all my colleagues in all parts of the House, I wholly support the Government's action. I am saddened—I am not critical because every hon. Member has the right to form his own view and divide the House if he so chooses—that, apparently, there will be a Division at the end of the debate. I hope that support for the Government will be overwhelming. I am in no doubt that, like one or two others this century, Saddam Hussein is far too dangerous and far too evil not to be stopped right now.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I especially agree with the last remarks of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley).
I declare an interest. I chair an organisation called Indict, which was set up to bring Saddam Hussein and his associates before an international criminal court. Some other hon. Members are part of Indict. I want Saddam and his colleagues to remain alive to sit before that court and answer the charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The United States Congress has voted us $3 million to carry out that task. It has also passed the Iraqi National Liberation Act, with the intention of helping the Iraqi opposition to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein—an aim with which I profoundly agree. 1139 Although I am sure that no one in the House wants to see a country bombed—I certainly do not, with my long record in the peace movement—I must tell the House, with profound distress, that in the circumstances I see no option but to do so. The people who have criticised that option have come up with no alternatives. How does one cause a country to comply with UN resolutions? No one has answered that question.
The UN resolutions are endless. For example, there are resolutions 687, 707, 715, 949, 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137 and 678. Most of those resolutions are continually being broken by the present regime in Iraq. It is often forgotten that one of those resolutions calls for an end to the repression of Iraqi citizens, yet Kurds are continually being deported from the parts of Iraq controlled by Saddam Hussein.
I did not realise what was going on, because unfortunately such information does not get out of Iraq. When I was there in 1995, I found that, in the previous three months, 2,000 Iraqi citizens who happened to be Kurds had been kicked out of Kirkuk. Two thousand had been forced into northern Iraq. They had 24 hours to get out of their homes in the areas controlled by Saddam Hussein. That is ethnic cleansing by anyone's definition, and that ethnic cleansing is not a one-off; it is a continuous aim of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Many mentions have been made of the latest report of the UN special rapporteur on human rights. I have followed those reports over the years. Depressingly, year after year, the report is the same. There have been very few improvements in human rights in Iraq since the UN special rapporteur started reporting.
Recently, I attended a conference at which I heard ordinary Iraqis speak about torture in Iraq. One Iraqi spoke about gross violations of human rights, including extra-judicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, disappearances, mass murder, the use of chemical weapons in Halabja and elsewhere, the mass deportation of 2 million Kurds, the establishment of 110 concentration camps, the destruction of 4,500 Kurdish and Assyrian villages, the laying of thousands of mines, deforestation, drainage of the Arab marshlands, repression of the Shi'ites and some formerly loyal Sunni tribes, discrimination against and oppression of the Assyro-Chaldean and Turkoman minorities, state-directed rape, thalium poisoning, scientific experimentation on prisoners, execution campaigns, state-supported terrorism and the destruction of religious and cultural property.
Dr. Al Hakim of the Organisation of Human Rights in Iraq described numerous atrocities, including those of dissolving bodies in nitric acid, submerging prisoners in septic tanks, forcing them to sit on broken bottles, piercing their tongues with needles and roasting them over a fire. Such atrocities are not consigned to the past; they are facts of life in Iraq today.
In 1991, I and others stood on the mountains and saw the Kurds, who fled in their thousands across snow-covered mountains in scanty clothing with no shoes on their feet. They died in their thousands because Saddam Hussein chased them out of their own country I shall never forget being approached, in the sleet and snow, by women who pushed bundles at me. The bundles were dead babies. Nor shall I forget taking an all-party group of Members to a London hospital to see some of the victims of Halabja: people who could not speak because 1140 their insides had been burnt, and people who showed the wounds on their bodies. All those were victims of Saddam Hussein's oppression.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Of course those human rights abuses are abhorrent, but is it not also the case that 7,000 people are dying from sanctions-related causes? That has been said by Dennis Halliday, who for 32 years was the UN official concerned. My hon. Friend spoke about the alternative. Does she not believe that there should be an alternative to the death of 7,000 people a month—many of them babies? Will she say what the next step is—
§ Ann Clwyd
My hon. Friend knows that I agree with him on many things. However, I do not agree with him on this issue, because he obviously has not read the special rapporteur's report in detail. The special rapporteur says:Insofar as the 'oil-for-food' programme has been implemented in a discriminatory and not fully equitable or efficient manner, the Special Rapporteur observes that the Government of Iraq is solely responsible for the distribution programme.Moreover, he says that, for five years, the Government of Iraq refused to comply with UN resolutions in the oil-for-food programme. For five years, when the people of Iraq could have been receiving food and medicines, the Government of Iraq turned down that opportunity. The people who have imposed the sanctions are not responsible for the wretchedness of the people of Iraq. Saddam Hussein and his regime are solely responsible for the situation of his own people.
I believe that, while Saddam Hussein and that rotten regime remain in being, the people will continue to suffer. I have no patience with those who apologise for that regime, because the facts are there for everyone to see. I am afraid that, while he persists, the situation of the people in Iraq will continue to deteriorate, because that is his wish. It gives him the opportunity to disseminate propaganda. I am very sorry that some of my hon. Friends, whom I respect in so many other ways, have been duped by that propaganda, because some of the pictures that have appeared were obviously carefully arranged by Saddam Hussein for the media. The media cannot roam at will in Baghdad or any other part of Iraq. The Government of Iraq ensure that the media are taken to those pictures that they want them to see. Please do not tell me that there is a free press in Iraq, because there is not.
In the north, there is an opportunity to see what sanctions do. For me, there can be no argument against lifting the sanctions for the liberated part of Iraq. Why should the liberated part, which holds no truck with Saddam Hussein, still suffer the impact of those sanctions? It is suffering not only United Nations sanctions but sanctions imposed by Saddam Hussein against it. It is the subject of a double set of sanctions.
It is tragic that for so long the Iraqi opposition outside Iraq has not been fully supported. I should like to see a programme other than one-off bombings, although I do not criticise the bombings, as I have made clear. The bombings must be linked with a longer-term programme which obviously has to include a way of assisting the Iraqi 1141 opposition to bring about the downfall of Saddam Hussein and his regime. The Americans have made it clear that aim of the Iraqi National Liberation Act, which was passed in both the Congress and the Senate, and for which money has been appropriated, is to bring about the downfall of Saddam Hussein by arming the opposition and giving them other assistance. I agree with that aim because I do not believe that there can be any future for the people of Iraq while that regime remains in being.
Nor do I believe that there can be safety for Saddam's neighbours or for the rest of the world while he is capable of using those weapons of mass destruction that UNSCOM, time after time, has said he still has in his grasp. It is our responsibility to make sure that those weapons of mass destruction are eliminated from his armoury. But again I say that that is not enough on its own: there has to be a longer-term plan. I criticise Governments all over the world who have paid lip service to destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein for not giving more support to the Iraqi opposition. The Iraqi National Congress has the capability of providing the type of opposition and force that can bring Saddam Hussein down, but it needs assistance.
§ Mr. Robathan
Does the hon. Lady think that part of the assistance that Britain can give is to ensure that the Arabic service of the BBC World Service portrays the position of the British and American Governments? The World Service is very much listened to by the people of Iraq who dare to do so. There are reports, which I cannot substantiate, that undue notice is taken of people in this country who oppose the British Government; yet we can see from the House today that they are but few.
§ Mr. Robathan
My point is that there are reports that, when the Arabic service of the BBC—I fear that few of us speak Arabic—broadcasts to Iraq, it gives undue prominence to the opponents of British Government policy. Both sides should be heard, but should not the Government exert some influence on the BBC to ensure that British Government policy is heard on the World Service?
§ Ann Clwyd
I do not have the facility to understand the Arabic service of the World Service, but clearly a number of views ought to be broadcast. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his view clear to the BBC World Service and get that put right.
I ask this question of people who oppose this action: how do we get countries to adhere to United Nations resolutions? I want the UN to work. I do not want people to scoff at the UN because it passes resolution after resolution. I do not want Saddam Hussein to raise two fingers to the UN and play cat and mouse with UNSCOM and everyone else. He had been told repeatedly that, unless he abided by the resolutions, unfortunately further action would be taken without warning. That is precisely what has happened in this case.
Max van der Stoel, the UN rapporteur, shows in his report that the number of people assassinated this year in Iraq for their political views has reached four figures. That 1142 is the nature of Iraq and that is the blood running down the streets of Baghdad. If people want to be emotional about this, let them have the truth. The Iraqi regime has used its weapons against its own people and killed tens of thousands of them. Until we eliminate those weapons, there can be no safety for any of us from Saddam Hussein.
§ Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)
I wish to speak briefly and from the heart about a few things that I think I know about. I can claim more personal experience than most of the nature of modern warfare, and that experience causes me a great deal of trouble at a time like this. We talk about the degradation of the Iraqis' capability. That carries me back about eight years to the Saudi desert, when I found myself in uniform with the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars attached to 7 Armoured Brigade, preparing to go to war against Iraq. Up ahead of us, the allies were conducting a six-week bombardment campaign from the air. The reports and briefing notes came back saying that the capability was being degraded. At the same time, the antennae of the intelligence unit alongside us were picking up desperate calls from the Iraqis for anything with four wheels to come and take out their dead and wounded.
We have to realise that we are talking here about people. There will be casualties—we do not know how great. There is no such thing as a cost-free conflict. This is going to cost. Against that background, I have two concerns. One is about the timing of this action. It is legitimate to look back over the past 12 months and ask whether the escalation of the American rhetoric has coincided with the time of the President's trouble. It certainly did in February and it does now. Let us say that it is a coincidence.
I will go on to my second concern. Study the silences. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to study the speeches that have not been made and the actions that have not been taken. Where is the support in the Arab world, the United Nations and the world community at large of the kind that we enjoyed seven and eight years ago? It was an enormous comfort to the soldiers of the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars when they went to war to know that they were part of a great coalition that included Arab contingents. The Egyptians were there, the Saudis were there, even the Syrians were there, the Kuwaitis were there. Now that is not so.
People say that business was left undone. It was not. The business was done. The business was to throw the Iraqis out of Kuwait. That was the mandate. Only the British, Americans and French in that coalition actually set foot in Iraq. So that was done. Now we face a really difficult situation, in which we are in danger, if not of acting as, of being perceived as the deputy sheriff of the world, with the United States as the sheriff. We have to think this through. We need more information from our Government than we have received. We need to have the notes of which the Prime Minister spoke this afternoon so that we can be convinced that we are doing the correct thing. I have grave doubts about it.
I sit in this House as the only elected Independent. I vote with the Government much more often than against them. On the whole, they are a good Government. On most issues, they serve the people well. I cannot support this enterprise.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Like the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), I was a member of 7 Armoured Brigade. That prompts me to reflect that those of us who—albeit only on ranges, not in Korea or in war—have smelt cordite and know what it is like to fire heavy shells are just a bit more careful about advocating bombing and all the horror that goes with it than those who have never had such an experience. I do not criticise those who are of a different generation, but I find it interesting that perhaps those who have had experience in the services are rather more careful than most sitting on the green Benches about recommending military action for others.
I find the bombing nauseating. I am ashamed that it should be endorsed by a Labour Government. I was told in Baghdad three weeks ago that the Iraqis thought that it was not the British following on the Americans, but in many cases the British Foreign Office being in the driving seat. For some of us, that makes matters worse.
It is poignant that we should be discussing bombing in this Chamber, which was bombed in the early 1940s and later reconstructed. Let us go back to that bombing for a moment. Throughout the 1930s, there were many, not only in the Labour party but elsewhere in British society, who abominated Winston Churchill and all that they thought he stood for. Come 1940 and 1941, when bombs were being dropped and there was a blitz particularly on London, but also on Coventry, Clydebank and elsewhere, what happened? Those who had criticised Churchill for the previous decade became some of his most ardent supporters.
That is the effect of bombing. It rallies people behind their leaders. It is human nature not to go into the whys and wherefores, but to ask the simple question, "Who is dropping the bombs that create such havoc?" Therefore, bombing is both immoral and counter-productive, and I am deeply ashamed to be involved in this policy.
I have a number of questions. First, given the case of Bhopal, a fertiliser plant in India which exploded killing thousands, how will it be possible to bomb alleged chemical or biological plants in Baghdad without the potential for massive civilian casualties? When I interrupted the Foreign Secretary's speech, he said that I had asked him the same question in February. The reason that I repeated the question was that it was not answered in February. I am not sure that it can be answered. It certainly was not answered today. If one puts down high explosives on chemical or biological weapons plants, if they exist, one had better try to be clear about what the effects might be. The truth is that nobody knows.
My second question concerns recent US intelligence failures—for example, cruise missiles on Afghanistan and on the Al Shifa factory in Khartoum. Who now believes that that factory had anything to do with weapons of war? The Empta o-ethyl-methyl-phosphonoic acid was not found in sufficient quantities or in a position to prove anything about weapons manufacture.
Given the military ineptitude manifested in Iran, Libya and Somalia, how can we be certain this time that the right targets will be identified or hit or destroyed? I ask a direct question of those on the Front Bench: is it true, as has been reported, that, within the past 24 hours, one of the apparently superlatively targeted cruise missiles landed in Iranian territory, not in Iraq? Is that the degree of accuracy that we are to expect? I am cynical about the supposedly highly accurate targeting. 1144 Thirdly, how will it be possible to "teach Saddam a lesson"—to use the jargon—when he is almost certainly several meters underground in a different bunker every night? How can we be sure that he will not gain in strength in Iraq and the Arab world if he has the opportunity, doubtless with full international media coverage, to walk through streets littered with civilian casualties?
Fourthly, there has been no answer to the question that I tabled to the Attorney-General and other Ministers. Which international law gives Britain the authority to bomb Iraq? Which international law authorises Britain to encourage opposition groups to overthrow a Head of State? I should like an answer. It is not sufficient to say that two out of five members of the Security Council somehow have the authority to do so. Not true, I am told by international lawyers in Edinburgh. I should like the precise reference for such authority, by letter afterwards or in the winding-up speech from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Fifthly, is an alternative to Saddam Hussein really preferable? How can we be sure that post-Saddam Iraq will not descend into civil war along religious and tribal lines—like the north of Iraq, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) knows from her personal experience—drawing in neighbouring countries and resulting in a major conflict in the middle east?
When I went to Baghdad with Albert Reynolds, the former Taoiseach, who is not a naive man, and three of his Irish colleagues, we were invited to dinner in the house of Tariq Aziz, after we had met him for two and a half hours in the morning. I am quite open about that. It was a long session, during which both Tariq Aziz and Dr. Riyadh al Quasi said separately, "The west may think that we are extremists, but we are considered to be too moderate by many of those of the generation that may follow us." I beg colleagues to be careful about what we are creating in that country, especially if sanctions go on and on. The next generation will loathe us, and that is storing up great trouble for the future.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is that the same Tariq Aziz who alleged that no atrocities at all were committed in Kuwait?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I asked Tariq Aziz about the Kuwait disappeared. According to him, there were between 800 and 900 disappeared Kuwaitis, and 1,100 to 1,200 disappeared Iraqis. I can only report what was said. I do not know the accuracy of either figure.
Sixthly, with the no-fly zone and only one United Nations aircraft flying, how can strikes against Iraq be without warning? What about the almost 400 UN personnel who remain? The Government may correct me, but I understand that there are also some 20 ambassadors still in Iraq. If the bombing continues, as it looks like doing, what will happen to those people? They may find it extremely difficult to get out.
Seventhly, it has been said that eight years of UNSCOM should have been time enough to search the whole of Asia. Is it possible that the delay reflects a desire on the part of certain countries in the west for permanent sanctions, rather than the intransigence of Iraq? It is widely said in Jordan and Iraq that the Saudis have an oil allocation of 3 million barrels which was originally 1145 designated for the Iraqis. With oil prices so low and the Saudi debt mounting to serious proportions, the Saudis do not want to surrender that advantage. In certain circles, there may be a feeling that it would be disastrous for Iraqi oil to come on stream. That problem must be addressed.
Eighthly, UNSCOM's weapons inspectors appear to be dominated by Americans. One of their spokesmen is British and they have an Australian leader. Is that satisfactory? Would it not be better for UNSCOM to have a far wider section of personnel from other countries? Surely technical experts from other countries could do the job just as effectively.
Ninthly, United States and Britain hold large stocks of chemical and biological weapons. America has used chemical weapons on civilians with devastating effect—for instance, agent orange in Vietnam—and both countries used depleted uranium in the Gulf war. Is that background really compatible with asking for full co-operation from Iraq? How do we answer those who say that that represents hypocrisy, based on a concept of western superiority over Arabs? These are delicate but important matters.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
My point will not affect the main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's last question. I think that I heard him say that Britain and America retain large stocks of biological and chemical weapons. I believe that neither Britain nor America has any stocks of biological weapons, which were banned in 1972, other than the most minute amount for defensive research purposes. The hon. Gentleman may wish to correct his earlier remark.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am conscious of the fact that Porton Down has examples, legitimately so, of aggressive agents. In order to take defensive measures, one has to have certain quantities, which undoubtedly we have, of aggressive agents.
The most likely trigger for a military attack has been the UNSCOM demand for papers. I can only report to the House that both Albert Reynolds—as I say, not a naive man—and I thought that, when the individuals responsible for managing and handing over the papers said that they had already given 2 million documents, they meant it. It may not be at all popular, but I just make the general observation that it is unsatisfactory if westerners assert that they disbelieve everything that the Iraqis appear to say.
In the 1980s, our relationship with the Iraqis was very different. Many of them were educated in Britain. In a sense, come to think of it, it is a tragedy that relations between Britain and Iraq have deteriorated this far. Iraq is not simply Saddam Hussein; it is a lot of other people, many of them brought up in a British medical, educational or industrial culture.
On a specific issue, since the flashpoint for the present problem is the difficulty of entry into the national command headquarters of the Ba'ath party, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that he would make available evidence that he had that showed that "material"—that was the word that he used—of considerable importance and relevance was in those headquarters. Perhaps that could be made available in the Library of the House.
1146 I will be in the Lobby voting against the Government tonight. Bombing is absolutely no way to solve these difficult problems.
§ Sir Raymond Whitney (Wycombe)
The hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Tatton (Mr. Bell) referred to their military experience, citing it as one of the factors that led them to oppose the actions against Iraq that the Government agreed last night. My military experience—I am proud to say that I served in the Northamptonshire Regiment in the Commonwealth Division in Korea—leads me to the opposite conclusion, that any temptation to appease violence and dictatorships leads to even more trouble.
I certainly agree that no one who has had the privilege of serving in the military forces in any way takes lightly the possibility of military conflict. I am sure that the three of us would agree—two of us of the same generation—that the fact that military experience in the House is now naturally, in the workings of anno domini, a declining feature is a loss to the House and to our deliberations.
That experience leads me to reinforce the view, however, that, whenever Britain's armed forces are committed by a democratic Government of whatever complexion, it is crucial that the Government do so in the knowledge that they have the full support of the House and the country. I hope that the debate will show the extent of the support for the action taken by the Government last night.
Of course, there is dissent. We understand and glory in the right to dissent from the common view. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) has no need to shout about his right to free speech. He is welcome and fully entitled to that.
My only fear is that the relatively small number of Labour Members who have spoken in opposition to their Government today may receive undue prominence tomorrow in the media's reports of today's debate. That would be regrettable for our armed forces, for the nation and for the principle on the basis of which the decision has been taken.
I wish to make only two points in a brief intervention. The first is that the crucial importance of the action that we have taken in relation to handling Saddam Hussein has been well dealt with, from the Prime Minister onwards. The great majority of contributors to the debate have emphasised the crucial importance of sustaining the credibility of the Government's position in ensuring that Saddam Hussein adheres to his undertakings to the United Nations and the Security Council.
I want to make a point in the rather longer context of the international community's struggle to find a system of international relationships which, to put it simplistically, will make this a better world, a world where moral values count and where aggression and violence do not succeed.
We started that process at least as long ago as 1918 or 1919 with the League of Nations. For a year or two, the League of Nations was not the lame duck that it later appeared to be. For a year or two, there was hope that it would work. With the horrors of the first world war heavily in the minds of politicians and statesmen of the time, it was hoped that something could evolve. We all know now that it failed. It is commonplace to deride it 1147 for America's non-participation and its failure to stand up to Mussolini and Hitler. After the second world war, we tried again. Here, too, we ran into the problems of the cold war and the veto of the permanent members of the Security Council, and so on.
In recent years, as the cold war thawed, the position improved. I feel some relative and modified optimism that we can steadily evolve towards a system that actually works. As it involves human beings, however, it will always go wrong from time to time. Although it is possible to be optimistic, I disagree with the view expressed by Labour Members that we already have such a system, that international law is a wonderful thing, the United Nations is sacrosanct and perfect and Security Council resolutions must be followed to the letter. That approach is naive, hypocritical, or both. We know very well the difficulties involved in achieving action in the Security Council. If we follow the rules entirely to the letter, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) would have us do, no action would ever be taken against any tyrant or in any difficult situation. We have to be realistic as well as idealistic, so that we can make steady progress towards a better arrangement.
I believe that today's action will be another stage along the road. The hon. Member for Tatton asked what right the United States had to play sheriff. I hope that I have not misquoted him, but I am sure that the United States has no wish to play sheriff to the world, and nor do we, but both nations have a clear sense of responsibility. There is no concrete benefit for the United Kingdom or the United States in preserving the sanctity of Kuwait, but there is a broader interest that benefits every nation. We should not be mealy-mouthed about it; we should be sad, but proud, that our country and the United States are prepared to take action in such difficult circumstances. I hope that we do not resile from that and pussyfoot around, as it could be a step in the right direction.
It is interesting that we have not heard much about the veto. No doubt Mr. Yeltsin will complain, the Chinese may say something and the French may say something else, but at least there was a unanimous vote in the Security Council on 5 November condemning Saddam's failure to acknowledge and fulfil his undertaking. Progress is being made. It must continue, and this is another step forward.
My final point has already been made by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), the Chairman of the Defence Committee. We cannot expect to maintain our high-grade armed forces if we continue chipping away at the financial resources that they urgently need. It seems a bit trite for us to pay wonderful tributes to the skill, professionalism and valour of our service men. Although it is well deserved, we must also give them the resources that they need and I very much hope that the Government will re-examine that issue.
There are difficult days ahead and it is extremely important that the near unanimity in the House and the nation is held together so that we can face the immediate challenge to the international world order by Saddam Hussein and, in the longer term, take an important step towards a new system where the ideal put forward by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and others of a world system of international control can be realised.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I am very conscious of the fact that there are many service men in the Gulf tonight risking their lives for this country. Recognising that many people outside the House are watching and listening to the debate, let me place on record the fact that those who have spoken so far are not generally representative of the level of support—particularly among Labour Members—for the action in the Gulf. Let there be no doubt that it has overwhelming, almost unanimous support among Labour Members as will be shown in the Division tonight. I do not believe that the debate has reflected the general position.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to his meeting with Saddam Hussein in 1982. Along with a couple of my hon. Friends, I tried to meet Saddam Hussein and his people in 1989, about nine months before the war in the Gulf. At that time Iraq was not on the international agenda, apart from the fact that there were allegations—subsequently shown to be true—that there had been major atrocities by the Iraqi Government at Halabja.
I remember the to-ing and fro-ing with the Iraqi embassy in London. We had asked for access to people who were in prison, to others who had been involved in the activities at Halabja and to people in Iraq who could account for what had happened and tell us what action had been taken. At first we were granted access, but then we received a message from the embassy saying that we could not go. Imagine my surprise when I heard that a cross-party delegation from the House had visited Iraq immediately after Halabja and before the war in 1990 and met Saddam Hussein's people on the very terms on which we had been rejected. We were extremely angry indeed. To explain my general view of the matter, I thought that they were a bunch of freeloaders who were prepared to go where others had not been permitted to go on a matter of principle.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
There is no need for me to name them as some of them are still hon. Members.
I want to express my unreserved support for the Government's position. We should also address the whole issue of ethical foreign policy, and I know what I mean by that. The Labour Government are criticised on the basis that we are not following an ethical foreign policy, but that is exactly what we are doing. We are saying no to dictatorships in the great tradition of Labour Governments this century. We have always argued against dictators and taken an ethical position. Once again, I am proud to identify myself with that policy.
Although I recognise that other European countries are giving us support this evening, I was a little surprised as I thought that some of them might have been more active in that support. We are laying ourselves on the line on an issue of principle. The whole world will benefit, so it should not be left uniquely to the United Kingdom and the United States to send in military personnel and equipment. Furthermore, let me say to those in the United Kingdom who want to oppose the conflict at a time when our airmen are in the Gulf risking their lives that what they are doing is shameful. It is quite outrageous, when our 1149 service men are risking life and limb for their country, for people here and outside to argue against what they are doing and to undermine them.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend's assertion that we should not debate the issues in Iraq because British forces are involved is astonishing. The whole point of democratic government is that one can discuss and hold to account. I only regret that we have had no opportunity to discuss the matter in advance of the massive commitment of British arms and service men in this conflict.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
We had an opportunity to debate the matter when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) introduced a debate on it only four weeks ago. A number of hon. Members participated in that debate; I do not remember my hon. Friend being present.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
It was an hour and a half s debate. This, too, is a debate on the Adjournment of the House.
May I now deal with what I believe to be at the heart of the matter: the work being done internationally on what I call a "post-Saddam Iraq"? That is the issue that we should be addressing. In America, the Republican party has taken the lead and, despite the noises on television last night from some Republicans who objected to the action being taken for political reasons, many Republicans are clearly pleased that the action is being taken.
We should set straight the record on Senator Lott, who is being accused of doing down the American Government in this time of crisis. I understand that Senator Lott, who last night opposed military action but whose justification for doing so was misrepresented, was one of the guiding lights behind the Iraqi National Liberation Act, which was constructed to seek a solution to a post-conflict Iraq once Saddam Hussein has gone. The only reservation that he was expressing last night was not that he was opposed to the war or to military conflict, but that he wanted military action to be accompanied by a political settlement in a post-Saddam Iraq.
That is a genuine argument to have. The Americans have been having it over the past six months. The American Congress and Senate have been trying to address the issue of what will happen once Saddam Hussein goes and what can be done to ease him out, which is why they have allocated some $90 million to the Iraqi National Congress. That is doubtless only the first tranche of money that the American Administration will allocate to the INC, which is effectively the opposition to Saddam Hussein. Moreover, they allocated some $3 million to the organisation that is in place to indict Saddam Hussein for his war crimes.
My case is simple: the Republican party in the USA has taken the lead in forcing this agenda and Clinton, in desperation, has had to accept it. He has had to accept that there must be a solution over and above simple military action. We in the United Kingdom must afford far more of our time to dealing with what will happen 1150 once Saddam Hussein's regime has been brought down. We must find a strategy. First, we must back the opposition groups. Secondly, we must frustrate the work of Saddam's front oil companies, such as Mecca Trading or Al Dawsar. Those companies, which trade illegally, sell oil either through northern Iraq to Turkey, or through the Shatt al-Arab area of southern Iraq, shipped off illicitly through Iranian waters into Dubai, and sold on from Dubai.
Those illegal oil revenues are used to fund Saddam's operation in Baghdad. The money is used to buy materials for the production of shells, chlorine nitrate for the production of explosives, tyres for Mig fighters, mobile radar systems and many other munitions. Those are bought illegally on the international market with revenues gained through breaches of sanctions. The United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions regime—to stop the revenues and the oil flows that are in breach of sanctions. The consequence will be that Saddam's regime will fall.
Over the past four or five months, I have been pressing the idea of a Basra enclave, which must form part of the final solution. The port of Basra on the Shatt al-Arab should be taken. It would provide a bridgehead to the sea. Its control should be under a substantially reinforced and properly funded INC, which is the only organisation representing the Iraqi opposition groups that is in a position to administer such a sub-region. The region should be a sanctions-free zone, shielded to the north by a no-fly zone. It should effectively be a new free Iraq in the south. It is a very small area on the edge of the sea at the top of the Gulf. It would expand northwards as the people of northern Iraq gain confidence in it, especially as it would be a sanctions-free zone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to the north of Iraq being a sanctions-free zone. I am a little concerned about that because of the nature of the boundary. A long boundary stretches between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, and it would be difficult to police a zone on that scale if Kurdistan were a sanctions-free area. However, with a small boundary between Iraq and what I call the Basra enclave, it would be easily enforceable and it would act inside Iraq as an incentive to others, who would see that there was life after sanctions and they had everything to gain by rising up in the north on the basis that the privileges of the enclave would be extended northwards. The area would become a strategic military site. It is an oil-rich area—one of the richest in Iraq—and it would be a trade and freight centre.
That is my proposal for a resolution of this conflict. Bombing alone will not resolve the problems. It may deal with the immediate problem of illicitly held military equipment, but any long-term solution must be far more innovative. We cannot rely on the Iraqi people, with their limited resources, to rise up and move that dictatorship. They need an incentive, which will come through the Basra enclave.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) was absolutely right to put on the record the fact that the vast majority of 1151 right hon. and hon. Members support the Government's action. He also drew attention to the minority of hon. Members—and one notable right hon. Member—who disagree. In our Bristol days, I often shared a platform with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). We always disagreed then, and we continue to disagree now. However, I shall defend to the last ditch his right to stand up in this Chamber and disagree. Such a right is denied to those who profess to be politicians in countries like Iraq. It is important that we defend that right. Those who disagree with the Government's action must simply judge the impact of what they have said in this Chamber on the morale of our forces who are putting their lives at risk.
Even those who disagree with the action that is being taken will hope that it ends Saddam Hussein's cynical game of brinkmanship, which is a danger not only to his people but to his neighbours in the middle east and to the world at large. He is in flagrant violation of UN Security Council resolution 687, which sets out the terms of the ceasefire that ended the Gulf war. That ceasefire was predicated on full Iraqi co-operation in the dismantling of outlawed missiles and weapons of mass destruction and their production facilities.
Saddam Hussein has broken his word twice—most recently on 14 November—in connection with undertakings to comply with the UN resolutions and to allow UNSCOM inspectors free access. That is the legal justification for the military strikes.
Some reporters have said that the timing of the operation is awkward, to say the least. Unfortunately, events show no respect for anniversaries. At this time of year, we remember those who were murdered in the crash of the Boeing 747 at Lockerbie in 1988, in which Islamic fundamentalists are thought to have been involved and many innocent people lost their lives. At Christmas, our minds should be elsewhere: many people will have noted the incongruity of the Prime Minister making his announcement outside No. 10 Downing street with Christmas tree lights twinkling in the background. Although there is also a question about timing, given the possible impeachment of President Clinton, there is no excuse for not taking action. We had no alternative: military action could not have been avoided.
Several hon. Members have mentioned Ramadan, which is due to start this weekend. Does that mean that the air strikes will not continue beyond the weekend? The Secretary of State for Defence is to wind up the debate, and I hope that he will say something about that. When is the deadline for the end of military action?
In his statement, the Prime Minister referred to the importance of maximising surprise. Given the events associated with this season of the year, Saddam Hussein probably thought that this was the least likely time for military action against him. By acting now, we have maximised the surprise factor, and the operation will probably succeed for that reason, among others.
I have two questions for the Secretary of State for Defence that are relevant to the operation, especially if the deployment of ground forces is eventually required. Several hon. Members have mentioned the Gulf war, and my questions arise out of that conflict. First, there is the matter of what is known as IFF—identification friend and foe. There were several very regrettable incidents in the 1152 Gulf war in which friendly fire led to the deaths of allied service men. Will the Secretary of State confirm that IFF is thoroughly up-to-date and workable?
Secondly, there is the still-unanswered question of so-called Gulf war syndrome. The Select Committee on Defence remains concerned about that problem, and still awaits the outcome of the research that is being done. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that, if our forces are deployed on the ground, the tablets and injections that they are given in advance as protection against chemical and biological weapons are effective and will not lead to the difficulties experienced by personnel in the Gulf war?
I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our defence industries. There have been many newspaper reports about the accuracy of the Tomahawk cruise missiles involved in today's operations. Apparently, those missiles have been about 90 per cent. accurate—twice as accurate as in the Gulf war. That emphasises the need to ensure that we and our allies maintain the competence of our defence industrial base.
Faced with enormous competition from the other side of the Atlantic, European defence industries must think more seriously about joining forces. That would enable them to offer true competition in the free-for-all against the American giants in the worldwide market, and to achieve the critical mass for research and development necessary to improve the efficiency of our weapons. By improving the accuracy of our weapons, collateral damage and the loss of civilian lives have been reduced.
The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence have set out the objectives of today's operation. We have also heard about the British contribution to that operation, but we were told that taking out Saddam Hussein was definitely not one of the objectives. I strongly support the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who said that Saddam eventually should be required to answer in court for his war crimes and for his crimes against humanity and his people.
We were also told that the intention behind the operation was certainly not to punish the people of Iraq but to liberate them. The objective is not to destroy the great country of Iraq but to build it up. However, is it not about time that we finished the unfinished business of the Gulf war and put an end to Saddam Hussein?
Government spokesmen, in both the United States and the United Kingdom, have made it clear that they would be very happy "to see him go". Why cannot our forces make Saddam go? If they do not, he will be free to fight another day, and there have been alarming reports of the Ba'ath party's determination to rule the world. In that connection, I have a number of questions that I hope that the Secretary of State will answer when he replies to the debate.
First, what if Saddam Hussein lets loose a chemical and biological weapon in retaliation? Newspaper reports tell us—although I agree that they should not always be believed—that in 1991 the Americans planned to retaliate with a nuclear device, and one Pentagon insider was quoted as saying, "One drop of anthrax and we nuke Baghdad." In an operation such as has been undertaken today by British and American forces, it is vital that consideration be given to the risk of an escalation in military action.
1153 The Government deserve credit for the line that they have taken on what is known as "no first use" of nuclear weapons. There is a strong lobby, especially in connection with debates about the non-proliferation treaty, to commit nations to no first use. However, the only defence against chemical and biological weapons—regarded by many as the poor man's nuclear device—is the deterrent of nuclear retaliation.
§ Mr. Corbyn
While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of nuclear weapons and non-proliferation, will he comment on the position of Israel, which has a nuclear weapons capability? Should we not be more interested in decommissioning weapons across the whole region, and should not that decommissioning cover Israel's nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Colvin
The hon. Gentleman must have read my thoughts, because that was going to be my next question. However, I was going to ask it of the Secretary of State for Defence, who is the one who should know the answer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House what talks have taken place with the Israelis in advance of the action in Iraq.
A crucial question remains unanswered. If, as we all hope, the military action is successful, what will happen next? Do we move in and occupy Iraq? On television this morning, the Chief of the Defence Staff said that to do so would require about 100,000 troops. There are only just over that many troops in the whole of the British Army, so I am not surprised that he said that it could not be done and that, as a result, taking out Saddam Hussein was not one of the operation's objectives. That underlines the need—referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney)—for us to re-examine the way in which expenditure on our armed forces has been reduced by successive Governments over the years. Members of the Defence Committee, certainly, feel that the present level of expenditure is barely tolerable, and must not be lowered further.
We also know that, if the level of spending planned for the next three years is to be maintained, the Secretary of State must save considerable amounts through greater efficiency, smarter procurement and the sale of assets. If those savings are not achieved, over the next four years we shall see a further 4 per cent. cut in our defence expenditure, in addition to the 4 per cent. cut that we already expect over three years. What the Chief of the Defence Staff said this morning constitutes a reminder to us all that the cuts have gone far enough.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)
The Chief of the Defence Staff was asked whether one of the military objectives of the campaign was to "take out" Saddam Hussein. He made it clear that that was not the case. Such a military objective would require hundreds of thousands of troops. In any circumstances, the troops would not all be British—a multinational force would be involved—but the Chief of the Defence Staff made the point to illustrate how big such a military task would be, even if it were desirable. It is not one of the objectives of the current operation.
§ Mr. Colvin
I understood that precisely, but I could not resist reminding the House of the importance of 1154 maintaining our defence expenditure and not reducing the size of our armed forces—especially our Army—to below the 100,000 minimum that the Chief of the Defence Staff said would be required. As I said, I realise that a multinational force would be involved.
What about reactions to the military action? The reactions of France and Russia have been mentioned, but those countries, probably more than any others, opposed the "taking out" of Saddam Hussein in 1991. As I said earlier, the fact that we did not finish the job then has brought us to our present position, so in a sense it is the fault of those countries that we are where we are. Had we finished the job in 1991, everyone would be a great deal happier.
What about the Arab world? We shall want to hear from the Secretary of State for Defence just how much discussion there has been with the Gulf Co-operation Council and others. What about the Iraqi people themselves? I know that, even under a leader like Saddam Hussein, an attack from outside can have a unifying effect on the people of a country, but there is always the danger that this attack could strengthen Saddam Hussein's position rather than weakening it. As we all know, the people of Iraq are subjected to a bombardment not of cruise missiles but of propaganda from their Government all the time.
I agree with the earlier suggestion that the BBC World Service, Sky television and the rest should think more carefully about what they broadcast, in order to convey the true story. There is no doubt that some television reports have given the wrong impression in regard to the impact of sanctions. There are no sanctions on food or medicines; Saddam Hussein can still buy them with his oil revenues. It would be far better if he used them for that purpose, rather than spending what I understand are millions, or even billions, of dollars on building his armour-plated palaces. I wonder what chance there is of a political overthrow of Saddam Hussein if the air strikes are successful. I take the point that was made earlier: if help is to be given to a political upheaval in Iraq, it is important for outside support to go to the Shias, the Kurds and any others who may be considering such action.
Peaceful solutions have been sought in Iraq and have failed, because of Saddam Hussein's evil obstruction and deceit. The House believes that there is no alternative to military action. Our forces are being committed to action in an area in which British blood has been shed for the achievement of a precarious peace, in 1991. We support the Government's decision in the knowledge that our service men and women are the best in the world. If they go into battle, they will do so with the overwhelming support of both our Parliament and our people.
§ Mr. Winnick
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you tell me whether many hon. Members are trying to catch your eye, and can you tell me what are the chances of their being called if speeches are somewhat long?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
I think that the hon. Gentleman can see pretty well how many hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. 1 hope that they will all realise that, if they are to have a chance of speaking, they should consider not speaking for too long.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
For some years, I served on the Defence Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin). He made a thoughtful speech, containing some fair points and some that were not so fair. In any event, the House is in sombre mood. There is nothing remotely exhilarating in the failure of diplomacy in circumstances such as those faced by our forces tonight.
The debate, fundamentally, concerns whether the United Kingdom fulfils a responsibility to help to deal with a serious military threat. We in the House owe it to the rest of the country, and to our service men, to rise to that responsibility—especially those of us who have not personally served in any armed forces. Inevitably, given history, that constitutes the vast majority of us.
I have been in the House for just long enough to remember the Saturday debate on the Falklands crisis, and the debates on the emergency in the Gulf in 1991 and the decision to deploy British forces in Bosnia. Since then, I have gained a little knowledge and understanding of the work of our armed forces, through the armed forces parliamentary scheme and my membership, for a few years, of the Defence Committee. In that context, I saw some of the devastation of Kuwait in 1991. I also spent several weeks helping relief work in the civil war zone in Bosnia. I know that military conflict is terrifying and destructive, and that people are killed and maimed. I am very reluctant to see people being put in danger in any conflict. Those of us who are not pacifists, however, must accept that there are circumstances in which the failure to use military force leads to far greater evils than the use of such force. I am satisfied that we face such circumstances now.
Some of us criticised the United States and others for their failure to intervene earlier to protect Muslim communities in Bosnia. I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) is present, because he knows much more about that than I do. I saw for myself the consequences of that delay for towns and villages throughout central Bosnia.
I can say from experience that it is much too easy for well-meaning people and, perhaps, opportunistic Governments to wring their hands, and give oppressors and aggressors just one more chance—and then another, and then another. The road to Srebrenica was paved with last chances. One of the most emotional and harrowing experiences of my life was that of coming face to face with some of the orphans and widows of Srebrenica in a refugee camp in Tuzla, just weeks after their husbands and fathers had been massacred in what was supposed to be a UN-protected safe area. That was an awful abdication of responsibility by the UN, by NATO and, yes, by the United States—but I do not remember hearing the hon. Member for Tatton complain about the fact that the world sheriff about whom he was rather scathing this evening turned up then. The Americans turned up late; many of us would have liked them to turn up sooner—would, indeed, have liked others to turn up sooner to do what was necessary in Bosnia. They have turned up on time on this occasion, and it is right that we should support them. I certainly hope that nothing like Srebrenica ever happens again. It is one very good reason for supporting the United States because what it is doing now is right.
1156 If we know for certain that prevarication will lead to greater evils, it must be right to intervene. I believe that it is right and ethical. We have read more than enough about atrocities involving chemical weapons in Halabja. We have seen more than enough evidence of wicked oppression of Kurds, Shias and political dissidents in Iraq. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred to that evidence, which she knows a great deal about. I saw with my own eyes what happened to Kuwait in 1991.
The Iraqi Government have been ducking and deceiving ever since the ceasefire signed at Safwan in 1991. We have been told time and again by successive UNSCOM inspectors that they were thwarted and obstructed in their efforts to locate and destroy chemical and biological agents and manufacturing facilities. Every time that fresh undertakings have been given under threat of military action, those undertakings have been broken within weeks. That is what has just happened again. Richard Butler's report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations dated 15 December could not be clearer.
We know that the Iraqi Government have a stock of chemical and biological weapons and that they have active development and manufacturing programmes to produce more such weapons. We know from bitter experience that they will not hesitate to use those weapons to suppress their own people or to overrun their neighbours. Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) acknowledged that. The fundamental question is whether to leave President Saddam Hussein in possession of such weaponry in the certain expectation of untold mayhem in future or whether to do something about it now.
It is absurd to suggest that last night's action was part of some Machiavellian plot to delay domestic political processes in Washington. The action was triggered by Richard Butler's letter to the Secretary-General dated 15 December. Is it likely that an Australian weapons inspector would send a report to a Ghanaian Secretary-General of the United Nations simply to deal with some domestic political problem facing the President of the United States of America?
§ Mr. Corbyn
Has my hon. Friend cared to reflect on the fact that it is odd that, once the report had been received by the Secretary-General, there was no opportunity for the Security Council to meet to discuss what to do with it? Instead, the United States and Britain took pre-emptive action and started bombardment, thus rendering the action illegal under the terms of the UN charter.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
What was there to talk about? We have been through all this only a month ago and many times before that. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) can make excuses for the Iraqi regime if he wants to, but I do not intend to do so. The domestic political situation in the United States had nothing to do with this.
It is worth mentioning that the Defence Secretary in the United States, who played a part in the unanimous decision of the Security Council in America to go ahead with the action, is a lifelong Republican. Would he be doing that to save the bacon of a Democratic President? I rather doubt it. I have total confidence in the integrity of our Prime Minister and my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence.
1157 As a Scottish Member of Parliament I think it is right and proper that Scottish service personnel are involved in this operation and I pray that they will all return home safely. Scots can and do—they always have and I hope they always will—contribute to effective international enforcement and peacemaking operations precisely because we are an integral and vital part of the effective armed forces of the United Kingdom. Most of us in Scotland are determined that that will always remain the case and that we will remain part of a powerful and effective security family.
I want to dissociate myself in the strongest possible terms from the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is nauseating nonsense for my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin to suggest that the United Nations is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. There is nothing to prevent the Iraqi Government from importing the humanitarian and medical supplies that their people require. They have deliberately chosen not to do so. They seem to prefer to use their own people as pawns in a cynical power game.
We have responsibilities to the oppressed people of the middle east, be they in Palestine, Iraq or anywhere else where we can realistically help, just as we have responsibilities to the oppressed Muslim people of Bosnia. I welcome the fact that our Government are rising to those responsibilities and I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in expressing my whole-hearted support for what is being done by our service men over Iraq today.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) who, for many years, was a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Defence, which I have subsequently joined. I hope that he will not be offended if I say that whereas he said that he spoke as a Scottish Member of Parliament, I speak as a British rather than just an English Member of Parliament. I entirely endorse the sentiments he expressed at the end of his speech.
The whole House is agreed on the gravity of these events. Hon. Members in most parts of the House have expressed support for the action. We feel pride in those men and women in uniform who are risking their lives for our sake. It is important to remember that they are doing that far away from their loved ones at a time when most of us are about to go home to our Christmas dinners and our families.
I want to discuss three points. First, I want to deal with the objectives of the mission, a subject on which much has been said already. Secondly, I want to discuss the means of achieving those objectives and, thirdly, in a non-partisan way, I should like to discuss the implications for two areas of the strategic defence review.
I shall deal with the objectives first. Over the past few months, we have heard a number of statements saying that we were determined to force Saddam Hussein to comply with the requirements of the UN weapons inspectors. Important as those requirements and inspections are, that cannot be a military objective. I think that the Prime Minister was right to implicitly acknowledge that by 1158 settling for a lesser objective when, in his broadcast yesterday and in the House today, he chose to say that we were focusing on damaging Saddam Hussein's capability.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to say that we should go for a greater objective and that, in the long run, the aim must be to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We must be clear about the fact that no fuzzy intermediate objective is possible. Either we seek to kill or remove him and install some other regime, or we settle for merely doing what damage we can from the air.
It is Saddam Hussein who will decide whether or not to comply with the requirements of the UN weapons inspectors. If, as long as he is there, we try to pretend that we can force him to do so when he has set his mind against it, we will simply discredit ourselves in the eyes of those in the Arab world because they will know that we will not be able to deliver on that while he is there. That is why I believe that, in the long run, we will have to face the prospect of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and installing another regime. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who has just left the Chamber, spent some time discussing whether it was enough simply to bomb.
I would not pretend for a moment that this will be an easy task. Removing Saddam Hussein would be difficult enough, but ensuring that his replacement was a more reasonable Iraqi Government would be equally as difficult. Next door to Iraq is Iran, which has one of the most bloodthirsty Governments in the world. That country knows very well that the majority of Iraqis are Shi'ite and it would dearly love to annex Iraq and create a power bloc even worse than the one we face now.
I want to make just one point about the means of achieving our objectives. It may prove impossible to deal with Saddam Hussein by air power alone. Barring a lucky accident where bombing catches him outside the deep vaults where he tends to shelter when it is occurring, I fear that it will probably prove insufficient. On the last couple of occasions when I went to Beirut, by chance—I hope that I was not entirely to blame for it—serious bombing occurred. On one occasion, I was struck by the extraordinary capacity of reinforced concrete to resist the Soviet rockets which have much larger warheads than the cruise missiles that are available to us. As a result of his experiences in both the last Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein is making colossal use of this. Indeed, the Prime Minister in his statement testified that in one particular building, the cellar was as big as the superstructure, enjoying, I suspect, this protection.
As we bomb it is sad to think—I am particularly aware of the presence of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell)—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) is not in the Chamber, so the hon. Gentleman should not refer to him.
§ Mr. Brazier
I stand entirely rebuked, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although we can see him, I accept that he is outside the Chamber. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's earlier remarks, although I am on the other side of both arguments from him. Saddam Hussein and his regime will have gained considerable comfort from what they have seen in Kosovo. Whatever the rights and wrongs there—this is not the time to discuss it, but I am against more 1159 involvement in the Balkans—the spectacle of the west shouting at and hectoring the Serbs, only at the last moment to back two thirds of the way down, and finally to agree to send in observers on the humiliating basis that they would not even have personal weapons, must have encouraged Saddam Hussein to think that he could push us further.
We cannot rule out the use of ground forces, bloody and difficult as that may be. I do not underestimate for a moment the scale of involvement necessary. Throughout the Arab world, moderate states, some of which might wish to lean towards us, have seen the west huff and puff at Saddam Hussein over a number of years. Indeed, in 1991 they saw him stay in power after the allied onslaught. However wrong we may think the analysis, they saw both Ronald Reagan and Lady Thatcher, for different reasons, depart from the scene while Saddam Hussein remained. There is a danger that he will feel stronger if the bombings fail to achieve a substantial reduction in his strength.
The Secretary of State should look at two areas of the strategic defence review again. [Interruption.] Would he like to intervene?
§ Mr. Brazier
In testimony to the House and in even more detail to the Select Committee on Defence, Ministers and commanders were open about the fact that, in implementing the defence review, they would have to abandon the ability to mobilise a large field army. The televised testimony of the Chief of the Defence Staff was that, if we were to engage in two operations of the size of the one in Bosnia, one would have to be abandoned after about six months. Our Chairman was so astonished by that answer that he repeated the question. Surely I do not have to remind the House that we are already involved in one Bosnia-sized operation—in Bosnia.
I understand that, this morning, Sir Charles Guthrie made clear the scale of the operations that would be required by the allied forces if we have to use ground forces in Iraq, as some of us believe may eventually prove necessary. That suggests two points to me about the SDR. The first relates to our industrial base, and I must in part disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin). It worries me terribly that we should be asking our defence industry to blend with those of our European neighbours, such as Germany, which reluctantly supports this operation and is contributing nothing to it, and France, which appears actively to oppose it. Even more immediately serious, we must secure our supply of ammunition from the Royal Ordnance factories. For more than a year now, British Aerospace has said that they are not financially viable and are close to closure. God knows, we had enough trouble getting one category of shell from the Belgians. What would it be like if, in a few months' time, we were to deploy our troops on the ground and find that, of our tiny war stocks, only a few days' supply remained and we were reliant for all our ammunition on our continental neighbours?
The other strand relates to the reserves, which will come as no surprise to the House. At present, it is still possible for us to build up our small Regular Army. We have some 30 Territorial Army infantry battalions, nine engineer regiments and seven yeomanry reconnaissance 1160 regiments, mostly well trained, albeit on varying scales of equipment, behind the two paper-thin regular divisions. Those divisions have excellent troops, but are planned to have practically nothing in reserve. Were a conflict of this sort to take place, the infantry, armoured reconnaissance troops and engineers would be the most overstretched. It took almost the whole of the regular Royal Engineers when we had a much larger Regular Army to keep just two brigades in the field during the previous Gulf war. Yet all three of those categories of the TA are to be cut in half under plans that are scheduled for the next few months. Britain could never mount a sustained operation, taking casualties, guarding lines of communication in a country that has much more difficult terrain than that of Kuwait and dealing with prisoners of war, refugees and the civilian population, without drawing on substantial reserves—reserves that we shortly will no longer have.
I urge the Government, at a time when the Americans are revisiting this issue and are standing up extra National Guard forces—indeed, they are taking a fresh look at a higher readiness for elements within their 13 National Guard divisions—to reconsider both those issues.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
We have life comfortable in this House. The young men and women who are standing ready would say that we have it cushy. We can engage in debate, put forward arguments, register reservations, record qualifications and then go home and sleep easy in our beds. The young men and young women do not have that option. They do as they are told. When it is red, they stand at the door, and when it is green on, they go. They have no choice about it. I do not want there to be any mistake about my views tonight. They have my unqualified support. I pray to God tonight, as I did last night when I heard that the operation had started, that they will be able to fulfil their duties effectively with minimal casualties, disable the military establishments which are their objective targets and get this phase of the operation out of the way to halt the production of weapons of mass destruction and perhaps remove them altogether.
I cannot remember who said it, but one of the truisms of our time is that those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. I have listened to the debate, which has now gone on for some time, and heard some selective history and dodgy logic, so I feel obliged to try to set the record straight. The history to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred during his statement started about seven and a half years ago, but more than 10 years ago, in the Pentagon, a discussion paper was passed to me. It assessed developments in the middle east, two and a half years before the invasion of Kuwait. It outlined a number of facts, made a couple of speculations and finished with a question.
The facts were as follows. First, Saddam Hussein was developing a Scud missile to extend the range effectively and to improve its accuracy. Secondly, Iraq was thought to be close to perfecting its biological, chemical and nuclear warheads of mass destruction, which could be delivered by the extended Scud. Thirdly, it was therefore thought that Israel would soon be exposed to the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear assault from the east. Fourthly, the Pentagon paper drew attention to the fact that, 18 years before, Israel had launched a pre-emptive strike on an Iraqi nuclear power station that was thought at the time to be producing weapons-grade plutonium.
1161 Next, the paper speculated on what might happen if Israel adopted a similar course of action in the circumstances prevailing at the time the paper was written, with particular note taken of the fact that fundamental Islamicism was in the ascendancy in several middle east states. Was there not a possibility, the paper speculated, that such a pre-emptive strike might ignite a jihad—a religious war that could conceivably spread through all Muslim countries, from the west coast of Africa, through the middle east, across the southern states of the Soviet Union, as it then was, and into Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia?
The House must understand that such a jihad would not simply be conducted between nations; it could take on the hideous characteristics of religious conflict between, within and throughout communities in every country of the world. It could take place in Bradford, Bristol, or South Shields. Faced with that horrendous prospect, the document asked, what strategy could be adopted to avoid that fearful scenario?
Having drawn attention to that document, I shall lay it to one side as I remind the House that, when Saddam Hussein made hostages of foreigners within Iraq and Kuwait, he incarcerated them in Baghdad, ostensibly for use as a protective human shield. By negotiating with the Iraqi embassy during the conflict, I succeeded in securing the release of two of those unfortunate individuals; neither was a constituent of mine—their cases having been brought to my attention by relatives in my constituency—nor had they met each other. They were both oilfield workers who, despite not knowing each other, told me identical stories at different times, one on the telephone and the other when he came to thank me.
Both said that British consular officials had told them, many months before the Iraqi incursion into Kuwait, that some sectors of the oilfields and some well heads would change hands, but that they were not to worry because they were key workers and would be seen as essential talent, with guarantees of continuing employment and personal safety. If I match that with the claim made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), that Saddam Hussein had told him that the United States ambassador to Iraq had previously said that any dispute between Iraq and Kuwait would be viewed by the USA as an Arab question, I have to consider seriously the probability that the west duped the Iraqis into actively pursuing their ambitions in much the same way as we British had duped General Galtieri in the Falkland Islands episode, by allowing him to think that he would be successful and that the logistic demands of any effective retaliation on our part would be too great.
That tactic was crucial to our whole strategy, because the oilfield smokescreen was crucial to the mixed force that was necessary in the Gulf. It entailed the recruitment of Islamic nations into the alliance, as an effective counter-measure to the prospect of a jihad. The success of the Gulf operation was not purely military and did not lie merely in the size of the forces massed against Saddam, considerable though it was. The political success lay in the engagement of Islamic nations in the alliance, and the non-participation of Israel before the event and its studious decision not to retaliate during the event, 1162 when it was so indiscriminately attacked by Scud missiles launched from Iraq. There are those who remain firmly convinced that the alliance force was fighting Israel's war.
I have pondered those various factors for some years now. A year last October, I had the opportunity to meet General Brent Scowcroft, who, both before and during the Gulf war, was chief security adviser to President George Bush. I outlined to him the thesis I have outlined to the House today and concluded my remarks by asking him what he thought. He had listened intently and in silence throughout the 15-minute outline and he paused for a long time, never taking his eyes from mine, before replying. He said simply:Mr. Cook, I think there could be a great deal of validity in what you say.That was the sum total of his observations.
That brings me back to today. I have to ask, what is different? We do not have now, as we had then, a country that has been invaded; nor do we have the smokescreen of either the oilfields or the involvement of other Islamic nations; nor do we have any support in military terms from the Islamic countries. We still have Scud missiles, and warheads of mass destruction that are probably nearer to perfection than they were before, albeit perhaps secreted away. However, we also have an Israeli Government headed by a man who is so deaf to views other than his own that he is positively frightening.
We are faced with the same question as the one that faced us originally: what do we do to get out of that fearsome scenario? How can we stop it? We have already heard tonight that simply sending in a few cruise missiles and a few bombers will not provide an effective solution to the problem, which will return to us, time and again, unless we adopt additional measures as one or two hon. Members have suggested.
Before addressing that issue, I shall comment on the views expressed by some of my comrades. I have reservations about the military exercise, even though I support it fully. However, I also have reservations about some of my comrades' reservations, and I shall try to explain my reservations. I am confused by the lack of logic. I recall many years campaigning, working and even fighting to attain government. I fought alongside many of the comrades whom I see in the Chamber tonight and who have expressed certain views with which I must take issue. I remember the massacre at Halabja and how people called for a quick response—retaliation and an end to that exercise. They were critical when that response was not forthcoming from the then Conservative Government, and I shared their views and voiced my own criticism. I wonder how my comrades think that we can achieve a rapid reaction. We talk blithely about training, preparing and equipping rapid reaction forces. However, rapid reaction forces are totally useless unless we have rapid reaction politicians. That is the only way in which those forces can be effective.
We have heard arguments about legitimacy. I respect, admire and have deep affection for my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He criticised the use of a resolution which he said is seven years old, but he did so on the basis of a charter that is seven times seven years old. That is questionable logic. My right hon. Friend said that the situation could be resolved by removing sanctions. That will not provide any solutions. The real solution lies in removing weapons of mass 1163 destruction not only from Iraq but from all the countries in the region. So long as Israel has weapons of that type and class, its neighbours will feel threatened by them and will also want to possess such weapons. That is logical. If we do not face up to that, we will not have much chance of progressing any further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned biological and chemical weapons. Before I close, I must refer to concerns that have been expressed about the prospect of scattering chemical agents and bacteria, such as anthrax, if we seek to bomb Iraq's stockpiles—wherever they are located. That is a genuine fear to which several hon. Members have referred and we know that there is no perfect answer.
If we are to continue the attack and to target those kinds of weapons, I believe that the only means of averting such a colossal dispersal of germs and nerve gas—my plan has a fairly remote chance of success, but it is the best chance—would be to employ the precise placement of laser-guided, bunker-penetrating bombs of a low-yield tactical thermo-nuclear character. The immediate searing temperatures created by such weapons on explosion would provide the best chance of obliterating the germs and dismantling the chemical compounds. I know that it is a hideous thought, but is there not a huge irony in the possible employment of one weapon of mass destruction as a means of destroying another two of an even more hideous character?
We must take stock of what we do and how we do it. That will be a long-term strategy. The moral dilemma posed is a real one of huge moment. One can ponder it sensibly only by engaging a "greater good or lesser evil" approach. Unless we strike a balance between the two extremes, we will not be successful.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has introduced some novel points at a late stage in the debate. I do not wish to be diverted from my main comments by his interesting contribution, but I think that it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to try to cast Israel as some sort of covert villain in this scenario. It is particularly unrealistic of him to try to use Israel's possession of a deterrent—it is a democratic state that would never envisage using that deterrent unless it was under aggressive attack from someone else—as an excuse or a reason for Saddam Hussein's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction for his own use.
As for General Scowcroft's rather noncommittal answer when confronted with the hon. Gentleman's convoluted conspiracy theory, all I can say is that that is precisely the sort of answer that I would give to anyone who presented a particularly unbelievable theory in a constituency surgery on a cold Saturday afternoon. I fear that General Scowcroft employed the words he did for the same reason that I employ the words I do under such circumstances. It is rather like the solicitor who, when confronted with an odd opinion, tactfully says, "I hear what you say."
When considering whether to support any military action, one must have three questions answered satisfactorily: is it justified; what is it trying to do; and will it work? I say at the outset that, if there is a vote at the end of this evening's debate, I will—together with all 1164 my colleagues on the Opposition Benches, I am sure—vote with the Government, as I did on 17 February. On that occasion, I voted with a degree of reservation, and I will probably have the same reservations tonight because I am not yet convinced that the third of the three questions has been answered satisfactorily.
I shall touch briefly on the first two questions. Is the military action justified? Anyone who has heard the evidence outlined by a variety of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), cannot have the slightest doubt about the justification of the measures proposed. What is the military action trying to achieve? It is beneficial that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made no bones about the fact that air strikes alone will not succeed in removing Saddam Hussein. They said that the action is designed to weaken his military machine and prevent his developing weapons of mass destruction. Rather revealingly—it may have been a throw-away line at the end of his remarks—the Foreign Secretary also said that the aim was to disarm Iraq on the ground from the air.
I fear that that is where the right hon. Gentleman may have problems, because we must then ask: will it work? That depends on whether we believe that Saddam Hussein already has a substantial stock of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction or whether we think that he is still only trying to amass that stockpile.
On the subject of weapons of mass destruction, a Foreign Office paper on the Iraqi threat and the work of UNSCOM earlier this year stated:One hundred kilograms of anthrax released from the top of a tall building in a densely populated area could kill up to 3 million people.We have a problem: if Saddam Hussein already has that potential, will air strikes remove it? Although one does not generally agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about everything, it does not mean that occasionally one should not agree with him about something. On 17 February, he asked a rather pointed question—which he reiterated today, perhaps slightly less pointedly—about what would happen if a bomb hit a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction. On that occasion, the Foreign Secretary replied:We are entirely clear about the dangers of hitting such a stockpile. That is why we have taken great care in our targeting plan to ensure that we do not hit such completed weapons."—[Official Report, 17 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 902.]
§ Mr. Wareing
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should refer to the targeting directness of missiles. He may care to know that CBS has just reported that a bomb or missile has hit a hospital in Baghdad.
§ Dr. Lewis
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because one of the points on which I hope to conclude is that it is a big mistake to think that we can have a war without casualties on both sides.
Let us assume for the purposes of the argument that the weapons are sufficiently accurate that we can guarantee that they will miss the stockpiles, if that is our objective. We would have tried to miss the stockpiles in February if we had launched an attack, so presumably we are trying to do the same job in December. It cannot therefore be maintained that one of our aims is to remove Saddam 1165 Hussein's stockpiles, if he has them. That is why I look to Ministers to tell us whether we anticipate that Saddam Hussein already has mass destruction weapons or whether, as the Foreign Secretary said earlier, we are simply trying to prevent him from developing the earlier stages in the manufacturing process so that he cannot amass those stockpiles in the future.
I shall not take up much more time because I know that other Members are keen to speak, but I shall refer briefly to points that have been made by authorities on the efficacy of aerial bombardment alone. Earlier this year, the former Gulf war commander-in-chief, Sir Peter de la Billiere, said:There are few, if any, examples of air power alone succeeding in defeating and bringing to heel such a determined and resolute enemy as Saddam.The former Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshal Sir John Stanier, said:It is unlikely that air strikes will destroy Saddam's stockpile of weapons or topple him.What, then, about alternatives? In February, when we faced exactly the same situation, Professor Lawrence Freedman, a well-known academic strategist, said:the Allies are in an awkward position because they are forced to rely solely on air power … Sending troops into Iraq would be an altogether more serious operation … Yet it may well be that the best way to convince the Iraqi leader … would be to announce the sending of a US Marine taskforce to the Gulf.I do not want to sound like a latter-day convert to pacifism or disarmament. Members change sides of the House and Governments change, too. I recall that, at the time of the first Gulf war, several members of this Government were wholly opposed to bombing Baghdad on perfectly respectable, or at least arguable, grounds. One of those Members was the current Foreign Secretary, who criticised the bombing of Baghdad in the first Gulf war as making itmore difficult to achieve peace and security.At that time, when ground troops were involved, we had a workable plan, which the present Foreign Secretary opposed. Now that we have a plan that is not, I fear, entirely workable, he supports it.
I draw different conclusions from those of hon. Members on the left of the Government Benches who have been nodding in agreement with some of my points about stockpiles. Their argument is that we should do nothing at all. My argument is that, if we are going to do something, we must do something that will be effective. If we will the ends, we must will the means. We cannot have war on the cheap. We cannot have war without casualties, and it is no good saying, in a latter-day version of what people said in 1914, "It'll all be over by Ramadan," because it will not.
We are unwise to be saying in advance that we shall not continue fighting the war into Ramadan—because that sends a signal to Saddam Hussein that he has only to hang on for a certain number of days and the bombardment will cease. If we are serious about taking out his potential to use mass destruction weapons, we must recognise that air power alone will be insufficient. Aid to the resistance alone will be insufficient. The only way to deal with this menace to the security of the region and, possibly, to 1166 world security is the use of ground forces. If we are not prepared to consider that, it is very debatable what else we should be doing.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
We all wish that military action could have been avoided. No one who supports the Government's action wishes to gloat or be happy about the situation.
I do not determine my views on a major issue such as this on the basis of "my Government right or wrong". If I concluded that the Government's action was wrong, I would with the greatest reluctance make my views clear and vote accordingly. I do not criticise Members on the basis of how they vote—that is their business. Unlike Iraq, this is a free country and, fortunately, this is also a free Parliament.
In the circumstances, the action that began last night is absolutely essential. If, in view of all the warnings that have been given since February, no action had been taken when the Baghdad regime made it clear once again that the inspectors would not be able to do their job, what credibility would the allies have had? Should there have been more warnings and more meetings with the Secretary-General of the United Nations? If the Governments had not taken this action, we would have surrendered our position entirety.
None of the hon. Members who have been critical has put forward an alternative other than the only alternative possible at the time of the invasion of Kuwait—surrender. I was present during those debates in 1990 and 1991 and participated in some of them. Hon. Members were opposed to military action to liberate Kuwait and some, including many of those who are now most ardently opposed to sanctions, argued for sanctions at that time. If we had listened to those critics, Kuwait would never have been liberated. There is no way that sanctions would have led to Kuwait being freed. Was it right to liberate that country? Yes, it was absolutely right.
Why do not those who are so critical of the British and American Governments put the blame where it belongs? Why do they not say that Saddam Hussein has had every opportunity, this year and beforehand, to make sure that the United Nations inspectors could do their work? Why, time and again, is every accusation, criticism and downright slur made against the leadership of the United States and Britain, while there is no criticism whatsoever of the butcher who rules in Baghdad?
In an intervention, I quoted the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). I did not do so because I am engaged in a personal feud; I could not care less about such matters. He often says that he has good credentials as a long-time opponent of Saddam Hussein. That may well be so, and some Conservative Members may not be in that position. However, I quoted what my hon. Friend said in Baghdad in 1994 in a face-to-face confrontation with Saddam Hussein. I repeat, he said:Sir, I salute your courage, your strength … and I want you to know we are with you until victory.Victory? What sort of victory? We are dealing with a butcher. Enough has been said today and it can only be repeated that Saddam Hussein has committed the most terrifying crimes against his own people. 1167 We are lectured about civilian casualties. I am concerned about that, and I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said in an intervention a moment ago. It is absolutely essential to minimise civilian casualties, although I agree that it is impossible to wage a war with any guarantee that civilians will not be hit. However, we are dealing with a murderous dictator who initiated the war against Iran in which tens of thousands—possibly hundreds of thousands—of Iraqis and Iranians died. Is he in a position to lecture us?
Saddam Hussein carried out poison gas attacks against the Kurds in 1988. He invaded Kuwait and caused the events that followed. There is brutality in Iraq, day in and day out, including the execution of prisoners, torture and amputation, yet a Member of the House of Commons can say:Sir, I salute your courage … we are with you until victory.
§ Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan)
Does my hon. Friend accept that, when Saddam Hussein initiated the war against Iran and used chemical weapons against it and his own people, Britain and the United States supported him?
§ Mr. Winnick
Yes, I cannot deny that my hon. Friend makes a valid point. I wish one could say that this country consistently opposed Saddam Hussein, but that is not so. I hope that I, many of my Labour colleagues, some in the Liberal ranks and the nationalists are in a different position from many Conservatives who found excuses for Saddam Hussein. I wish that I could say that the United States had a consistent record of opposing him, but that is far from the truth. I have to say to my hon. Friend that one could have argued in 1939 that, because the western powers to a certain extent helped to arm Hitler and gave political support to the Nazi regime, we should not have gone to war. As I said in 1990, when the time came, during the invasion of Kuwait, at least the western powers woke up. Incidentally, we were not one of the worst offenders—in all fairness, France, Germany and some others were worse.
§ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)
Is it not the general inconsistency that hangs over the United Nations' and the international community's approach to violations of human rights that puts us in this more difficult position now? Although I agree with the position of my hon. Friend and the Government, it has been undermined by the fact that we seem on occasion to have been influenced by oil as well as other factors.
§ Mr. Winnick
If oil was the only reason that we went to war in 1991, thank heavens that that was so—nothing would have been worse than if we had allowed the invasion of Kuwait to take place without our taking action. What would have happened? We know how Saddam Hussein operates. If he had got away with the invasion of Kuwait, he would have been encouraged to invade other countries.
§ Mr. Wareing
My hon. Friend has drawn a comparison between 1939 and now. People are asking what alternative there is to the bombing. I supported the attack to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, but I suggest that we would not have defeated Germany in 1945 without massive armed troops 1168 on the ground. If we really want to get rid of Saddam, the real alternative is that mentioned by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). Had we taken that option in 1991, we would not have this problem now.
§ Mr. Winnick
It is perfectly true that ordinary people asked then, and are no doubt asking now, why we did not finish the job then. The job then was the liberation of Kuwait. Although I would have liked to see the liberation of Iraq in 1991, there was no mandate for that—we should bear that very much in mind. I do not think that members of the alliance, particularly countries in the Arab world, would have gone along with us. Whether we should escalate the armed conflict along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), I have considerable doubts.
§ Mr. Winnick
No, I would not like to see it liberated by Iran, but the Iraqi regime is so horrifying and brutal and has inflicted so much terror on its own people that I certainly want Iraq liberated from Saddam Hussein, and I make no apologies for that. Far from being ashamed of my view, I am proud of it. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees with me about that.
Using whatever ammunition they can find, some critics are saying that these events are a plot to save Clinton—perhaps they have seen too many recent American films. My response is to ask: where is the evidence that the Republicans, who have been waging a campaign against the American President, are going to drop the motion to impeach him? All the indications are that they are going to continue. It will be difficult to persuade people that the American President is conspiring with UN inspectors, the British Government and other countries to save his political skin.
There were two main objectives after the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The first was the ending of the enemy occupation, which was achieved. The second was the destruction of the weapons of mass destruction. I believe that, for all the reasons set out by many hon. Members, we should be as single-minded about that objective as we were about Kuwait.
I want to give other hon. Members the opportunity to speak, so I conclude with two points. Labour has a reputation of being against despots and mass murderers. I hope that I am in order when I say that it would be very difficult to find a single Labour Member who does not want to see Pinochet brought to justice. We are against such criminals, even if their criminal deeds ended a few years ago. The vast majority of Labour Members have such strong views about dictators, so there is no reason that our view on Saddam Hussein should be different.
I understand that some of my hon. Friends have reservations—some are pacifists—and are deeply worried, as we all are, about innocent people being killed. However, we should not forget that this party, before the second world war and since, has had a consistent record of opposing criminal dictators, and long may it be so.
The British people do not like war. As I said, they are not clapping their hands or gloating, and they are not refraining from doing so simply because it is the 1169 Christmas period. They are always concerned about casualties, British casualties and those in the country being bombed. I take the view—we shall see whether I am right in the next few days and weeks—that what has been done has the overwhelming support of the British people. They know what sort of person Saddam Hussein is; they know how he has cheated and murdered over the years; and they know that he cannot be relied on. I believe that, when we vote overwhelming in support of the Government tonight, we shall be speaking to the large majority of the British people.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
I must first tell the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), how much I personally appreciate the fact that the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), were able to attend the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday, when they must have had many more serious matters on their mind.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has made clear what was also apparent from all the speeches this evening—that there is no support in the House for military action for its own sake. I detect no sense of jingoism or bombast. Instead, there is a strong reluctance—rightly so—to use military means as a way of achieving international justice. International justice is the universal wish.
I listened carefully to hon. Members for whom I have the deepest personal respect, such as the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Bell) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I hear what they say about some of us being of a generation that has not seen combat and, indeed, that cannot have seen combat. There was an implication that perhaps that makes it easier for us to support military action. I believe that the reverse is true.
Many Labour and Liberal Members grew up in a political atmosphere that strongly opposed war and everything associated with it and that saw war very much as a last resort. I spent my college years in the same college as the Prime Minister, and I know that the atmosphere in which we grew up makes it more difficult to conclude that military force is the right solution. It takes more moral courage to come to that view. It is easier to follow one's instincts and say that military force is not the right solution. Yet, on occasions, when crimes are committed, it is not right simply to say that it is somebody else's business, that somebody else can call the police, that somebody else can deal with it. The right thing is to screw up one's courage and intervene. That is what Britain is doing.
I find it odd that hon. Members who applauded the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, when he returned from Iraq with a memorandum of understanding a few months ago, are now prepared to stand by and allow that memorandum of understanding to be ripped up in the face of the United Nations, just as every previous agreement that Saddam Hussein has made with the international community has been. Time and again, we have been asked to stay our hand to give the man another chance. Time and again, he has taken advantage of that.
1170 I have listened with great care to all speeches. Not once in a speech by a hon. Member who opposes the Government's action have I heard an alternative strategy that would maintain the rule of international law. Not once have I heard another way in which to bring matters to a successful conclusion, other than from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who said that we should remove sanctions and that, somehow, that would bring Saddam Hussein to his senses. I do not believe it.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
It is not true that an alternative has not been posed. The hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) explained perfectly clearly that it should be a central policy objective to get rid of Saddam Hussein. That is an alternative, although one must will the means. In 1991, the decision was taken not to go after Saddam Hussein, for geopolitical reasons. People were afraid that Iraq would fracture, a new Kurdistan would be created and that that would destabilise Turkey.
§ Mr. Heath
I do not regard as an alternative strategy to military action larger recourse to military means, such as the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) described. A perversity that passeth my understanding is that arms should only ever be used by murderous tyrants of the kind whom we see in Iraq. That is a logical somersault that I am not prepared to make.
Having said that, I am concerned by the argument advanced by some hon. Members and in the United States of America that this limited military operation's objectives could be extended to the removal of Saddam Hussein by military means. The House should not misunderstand me; I would welcome, as I believe would almost every hon. Member, an outcome that resulted in the removal of Saddam Hussein. As an outcome, that is very much to be welcomed. No one who has any regard for the lives and histories of Kurds, Shi'ites, Kuwaitis and any vestige of political opposition in Iraq could fail to conclude that Saddam Hussein should be removed, and quickly. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) that he should be indicted for his many crimes against humanity.
Removal of Saddam Hussein cannot be an objective of this military operation. First, it would be impractical; it is not a realistic objective of the military resources available. Secondly—this is extremely important—it would be without a mandate. I for one will stand on what is legitimate under UN resolutions, and I will not go beyond that until there is a new UN resolution. There is a clear mandate in UN resolutions 687 and 688 for what the United States and the United Kingdom are doing, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) explained. At the moment, there is not an international sanction—nor is there likely to be—for the removal of Saddam Hussein as a Head of Government in Iraq, however odious we may consider him. Therefore, if that became an objective, it would change legitimate action in international law to a simple act of war. We should not encompass that in this House.
There is legitimacy to the proposed action, and for that reason, Liberal Democrat Members will support it. The action, however, must be accompanied by the continuation of the diplomatic offensive which has been waged over recent months—and redoubled. We must re-establish the coalition of interest that was established during the Gulf war. Some will be very reluctant to join that alliance.
1171 I had the good fortune a few weeks ago to lunch with members of two of the permanent members of the Security Council. I will not reveal what Mr. Sergei Lavrov and Mr. Dejammet said in confidence, because that would be inappropriate. It was, however, clear that France and Russia were not reconciled at the time to the view that military action was appropriate. None the less, the alternatives that the French and Russian Governments have produced have not worked. Their diplomatic offensives have not resulted in reductions in the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Therefore, we must ask them, as we are asking in the House: what is the alternative strategy?
We must develop a strategy beyond these strikes. I hope that we shall always maintain the view, and make it clear to Iraq, that, the moment that it complies with UN resolutions, we are prepared to do what we are conditioned to do under the resolutions: remove the sanctions. Indeed, there is some scope for lifting the International Atomic Energy Authority part of the inspection programme at an early stage, if only Iraq would comply. We must consider the effectiveness of the sanction regime.
Later—not now—we must remind our allies in the United States that the United Nations can never be a flag of convenience for its actions and that, much as we welcome the United States' actions in support of UN resolutions, its money in support of the United Nations and its active support of equivalence of attitude to countries, especially in the middle east, would be equally welcome.
I hope that we all regret—perhaps regret is too weak a word—that military action at this stage is required. We should not forget where the responsibility for that action lies: with the regime in Iraq. We can express the hope that the Government will be firm but proportionate in the way in which they apply military action but, at the end of the day, we must agree that the Government are right in such action. I hope that we shall never forget the interests of the service men and women who are active on behalf of this country and international law at this time. At the moment, only RAF personnel are involved but, in future, my constituents from Fleet Air Arm in Yeovilton could be, too. I wish our service men and women well tonight and in the days to come, and hope that they return safely to their bases with the job well done.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
This is a grave debate, as some speeches have reflected. I was very saddened by the tabloid language of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours); that did not do the debate any good. It is offensive to say that people who have a different opinion on bombing are apologists for Saddam Hussein. Some of us have a long record of opposing Saddam Hussein—even when it was not terribly popular to do so. The one thing that undoubtedly unites us is that Saddam Hussein is a ruthless dictator who has produced and used dangerous weapons against his own and other people. We are all united in condemning him on that.
As we are aware, not all United Nations resolutions are upheld. If the answer to enforcement of such resolutions was to bomb the country of every violator, about half the world would be laid to waste by cruise missiles—from 1172 Israel to Kashmir, from East Timor to Saudi Arabia. There seem to be double standards concerning United Nations resolutions.
Morally, I cannot support the bombing of Iraq. I do not believe that we have the authority of the United Nations to undertake this action. It is a hideous action, and it does not advance the cause of the long-suffering Iraqi people one iota. Instead, it punishes them further. They did not elect Saddam Hussein. They had no say when he took them to war with Iran and a whole generation of young men were wiped out, and he certainly did not consult them when he invaded Kuwait. Yet we penalise those unfortunate victims of an evil regime by killing them with our bombs.
I ask the Government, what will the bombing achieve? Is it not the same, failed, approach that the west adopted during the Gulf war? We did not get rid of Saddam Hussein then. We killed hundreds and thousands of Iraqis. I do not forget the road to Basra and the description, put so eloquently by Edward Pierce, of the "Jack Frost face" of the young Kurdish recruit who was frozen by the smart bombs there—frozen for ever.
We killed hundreds of Iraqis, but Saddam Hussein remained more powerful, and more secure, than ever. At the time, some people, as they are doing now, encouraged armed opposition to his regime, and we stood by while he ruthlessly put down the uprisings, from the Kurds in the north to the marsh Arabs in the south. I have not forgotten the terrible pictures of Kurds dying on the freezing mountains as they fled, terrified, from the Republican Guard. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is not in the Chamber now, went to see for herself and give witness to the heartbreaking scenes that she saw on those mountains. She moved the House with her descriptions.
During the Gulf war, we had massive support from other countries. Where is that support now? I did not vote for the Gulf war, but there was massive support from other countries. Where is it now? Only Britain and the United States support the bombing. China, Russia and France oppose it. Why did we not go back to the Security Council with the inspectors' report? Where is the support from Arab countries? The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) put it well when he said, "Study the silences." At the time of the Gulf war, we were at least offering the Palestinians a peace process. We can all see what has happened to the peace process now.
I briefly mention the role of the President of the United States. I have always believed that those in America who want to impeach the President for a love affair that he lied about are at best stupid and at worst the type of right-wing fundamentalist Christian that I detest almost as much as the Islamic Taliban. However, a question remains as to the timing of this bombing. Today, the House of Representatives was going to vote on four impeachment charges against the President, and it looked as though impeachment would go ahead. Postponement puts off impeachment and, if the bombing continues for a few days and Capitol Hill closes down and reopens in the new year with a new Congress and a new Judiciary Committee, the President has a much better chance of breaking impeachment charges.
If—I only say if—the bombing has been somehow manipulated for the political expedience of the President, I believe that it will go down in history as an act of 1173 unspeakable wickedness because, as we speak tonight, real men, women and children are dying. Innocents who have led miserable lives under Saddam Hussein will suffer even more.
The Prime Minister said last night:Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people.Those who know the Prime Minister know that he speaks from the heart when he says that. I do not doubt his sincerity. But bombs do not discriminate between the good and the bad; in any case, the bad will probably have a very good shelter. It will be the poor and the oppressed who will be killed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said, a hospital has been hit tonight. As we approach Christmas and I look at the lovely, happy anticipation on my grandchildren's faces, I think of the children of Iraq, who await Ramadan with the same innocent, happy expectation. How many of those will lose their parents or loved ones because of our actions, and how many will grow up hating the west and joining the Islamists?
Has any thought been given to what will happen next if Saddam Hussein does not comply? Are we going to bomb again; and, if he carries on saying no to the inspectors, will we bomb again? Will the Minister tell us, will we bomb and bomb until we really do bomb Iraq into the stone age? How many will die? I ask—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—what will happen if we hit a chemical or biological plant. We have heard the horrifying details.
What about the stability of the area? Iran, which is hardly a good role model for upholding democratic values, is poised to benefit. I do not conform to the notion that Muhammad Khatami's election will transform Iran. On the contrary; I believe that the grave and systematic violations of human rights—including public executions, torture, stoning and arbitrary arrests—continue unabated in that unhappy country. In recent years, more than 20 Iranian dissidents have been assassinated abroad. Does anyone seriously believe that Iran's mullahs, with their dream of an Islamic world, would not take advantage of a divided and bombed-out Iraq?
We look the other way as the Iranians develop their weapons, and they are certainly developing weapons. It is said that they have missiles that can reach into Europe. I do not think that we should bomb them, either. I agree with the Foreign Secretary when he tries to open up dialogue with them. I think that that is the way forward.
I also think that the Arab nations and the long-suffering Palestinians gasp at the lack of any action against Netanyahu and his scuppering of the peace process. There is no insistence on the upholding of UN resolutions there.
What about Kashmir—subject of the oldest resolution on the United Nations' books? That resolution actually supports self-determination, and so do I. What about the people of Kashmir? Pakistan and India have weapons of mass destruction, but we are not suggesting that we should go in there and bomb them.
Some of my colleagues have asked, "What would you do?" and there was some heckling, asking, "What is the alternative?" Well, I certainly would not make Saddam Hussein into a martyr and strengthen his position even more. We should negotiate and try to isolate him. 1174 We trade with other dictators. We traded with Indonesia when Suharto murdered a third of the population of East Timor; we went further, and sold him weapons. We maintain friendly relations with Israel and try to get the peace process going there. The Foreign Secretary even met the mullahs in Iran. We do not bomb those and other such regimes; we keep trying to talk to them. History shows that tyrants will eventually be toppled by their own people, if given the right help.
The main reason why I do not believe in the bombing strategy is that I do not think that it will succeed. We shall just kill ordinary, innocent people and make the suffering a lot worse. This morning, John Nicol, an ex-RAF pilot from the Gulf War Veterans, said:I believe it is ludicrous to try to bring down Saddam Hussein. This will change nothing. We launched the biggest air Armada the world has ever seen during the Gulf War, and we did not destroy Saddam then. So I think that we are unlikely to do it now.I agree, and I ask the Secretary of State again: what next, when we have bombed?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly praised our forces. I join him in that. I want them to be safe, but I do not believe that this military action is morally right. If there is an opportunity to do so, I will vote against it tonight.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, who has a distinguished record in support for human rights. She wrestled in her speech this evening with the difficulty of what to do about Saddam Hussein, while properly recognising the nature of the regime. The previous Labour Member who spoke was the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place. He is consistent in his desire to use military force in pursuit of the desired outcome, but I just wish that, while willing the aims, he would will the means, and vote for defence expenditure that would support the military power that he always wants the United Kingdom to use.
Some Labour Members, including the hon. Members for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), seem to deny the nature of the regime with which we are dealing. This is not a popular democracy with just an unusually robust criminal justice policy; it is a regime of terror. The hon. Member for Kelvin should agree that the Ba'ath party apparatus now operated by the Tahiti gang in Iraq bears no recognisable relation to a proper Ba'ath or Arab philosophy.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow said that the next generation of Iraqis would not forgive us for what we were doing. It is much more likely that they would not forgive us for failing to rid them of the regime of terror under which they are suffering. That would be the crime of the west.
We face today three options, the first of which is to do nothing. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) is an advocate of that option, as is the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). But are we to allow the dictator in Baghdad to continue to challenge the world community? He is not only a threat but someone who has a record of using weapons of mass destruction. He is a danger not only to his neighbours, but to the peace and stability of the world.
1175 If we are going to act, we are left with two other options. One is a ground attack on Iraq to complete the job that in 1991 was, for reasons that I supported, not undertaken. We did not have the formal authority to do so and people felt that Saddam was going to fall. The Marsh Arabs were encouraged to rise, but Saddam did not fall. That had bitter and horrendous consequences for the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq.
The ground attack option, as the only means of definitively removing Saddam from power, would require the support of the Arab world and coalition that we had in place in 1991. At the moment, that coalition is hardly enthusiastic in support of the west. If we are not in a position to launch a ground attack—I believe that, without the support of the Arab world, that option is ruled out—we are left with the option that the Government are pursuing today and that I support. We are trying to degrade Saddam's capability of making weapons of mass destruction. That strategy comes with a series of long-term problems, which the Prime Minister recognised in his statement to the House. He said that it was likely that we would be without the services of the UNSCOM inspectors in future. So our best source of intelligence about the weapons programmes would be denied to us. On the basis of other, less good, sources of intelligence and information, we would have to be prepared in the long term to use military force to suppress that programme. We have embarked on a long-term strategy and we shall need the long-term support of the Arab world.
It is my concern that within the Arab world there is a real and, in a sense, proper perception of double standards—that there is one rule for Iraq and quite another for Israel. I impress on the Government the point that the success of the middle east peace process is essential to the interests of the United Kingdom, the United States and all the liberal democracies in the action that is being taken and our position in the middle east. If Benyamin Netanyahu is allowed to get away with continuing to obstruct the path to peace and a settlement in Israel and Palestine, if he is allowed to obstruct the legitimate right of the Palestinians to aspire to self-government in the territory recognised under UN Security Council resolution 242 as properly belonging to them, we will never be in a position to sustain the long-term Arab coalition that we require to deal with the brutal dictator in Baghdad.
I urge the Government to use their influence on the United States to ensure that it is made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he is not only dealing with the interests of Israel, but playing with the interests of all the liberal democracies in his conduct of negotiations with the Palestinians. I hope that the Government will impress on him what is at stake.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
I accept the points made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and others about the complexities of the present foreign policy strategy towards the middle east. I want to go on record as saying that I entirely agreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last night when he said in his announcement at No. 10 that he believed that there was no realistic alternative to carrying out immediate bombing action against Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
I accept that the gains from such action are not entirely predictable, but when would any military commander or senior politician claim to predict with certainty the 1176 outcome of a course of action? My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) spoke powerfully and, I hope, persuaded many that we cannot continue to allow such an evil dictator to amass chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means to produce them.
There is continuing discussion about whether we should extend our air power and bring in land forces, but I have yet to hear from those who oppose the action taken by the Government a reasonable and realistic alternative strategy for dealing with Saddam Hussein and the evil dictatorship that he represents.
§ Mr. Barnes
An alternative strategy was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). As an add-on to the current strategy of bombing, she suggested that action should be taken to help the political opposition to the Iraqi regime to gain strength so that in time they can take over, and that Saddam Hussein should be indicted. That is an alternative position, although it may not have been propounded by those who oppose the bombing.
§ Ms Squire
I see that proposal as additional to the action undertaken by the Government. It certainly will not prevent Saddam Hussein from continuing to amass weapons of mass destruction, or deny him the licence to kill whomever he wants, however he wants, whenever he wishes to do so. He has demonstrated his willingness to use such weapons.
I emphasise that I am not an uncritical supporter of the President of the United States, but I thought that he was right in his address to the American nation last night, when he said that Saddam Hussein had been given more than one chance, not the licence that he was seeking. I have yet to hear an alternative strategy to make Saddam Hussein comply with UNSCOM and co-operate fully with the UN inspectors, as he committed himself to do just over a month ago, in return for force not being used.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Is my hon. Friend not concerned that President Clinton, in his speech last night, considerably widened the objectives beyond any that existed before? If he is to topple the regime and install a new Government, it will be done not by air power but by the commitment of ground troops. Is my hon. Friend not concerned that we might be embarking on a long-term conflict, with a huge deployment of ground and air forces, the outcome of which is uncertain, apart from a vast number of Iraqi military and civilian casualties?
§ Ms Squire
I share the concerns of all hon. Members about possible casualties and, as I said at the start, I am also concerned that such actions can have no certain outcome. However, that is true of any military and political strategy.
However, I am disappointed that my hon. Friend did not suggest a suitable alternative strategy, apart from that of sitting back and allowing Saddam Hussein, for the 1177 fourth time in 12 months, to give two fingers to the United Nations, the values, moral base and principles of which, in its efforts to secure peace, freedom and security for the peoples of the world, all hon. Members say that they support.
I, too, have been somewhat surprised at the suggestion that the President of the United States is seeking to put the interests of domestic politics above those of the international scene. As I have said, I am not an uncritical supporter of President Clinton and, like other hon. Members, I, too, can be somewhat cynical about the motives of some politicians. From my knowledge of American politics, I believe that there is no greater political risk for any American President than to endanger the lives of American service men. In the past, the American public have shown clearly how much they will criticise and demand an explanation for any loss of life in their armed forces.
I cannot and do not believe that the publication of the UNSCOM report was somehow engineered, that it just happened to come out in the week when it would be to the convenience of the President of the United States. I do not believe that the President of the United States acted with anything less than the sincerity that he expressed in his address to the nation.
Another objection has been that we should have delayed. Apparently, we should have said that we were wondering whether to go ahead and bomb Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime, but that we should have a debate in the House before going ahead. I cannot think of anything more likely to put our armed forces at greater risk.
I have been present at previous debates when we agreed that, in the event that Saddam Hussein did not carry out his commitment to full compliance and co-operation with UNSCOM and the United Nations, Britain and the American Government would respond with swift and immediate action.
We can speculate about Saddam Hussein's motives in throwing down yet another gauntlet in the week before Ramadan and the main Christian festival, and whether he thought that that would result in a delay which he could use further to conceal and remove the weapons that he did not want the UN inspectors to find.
Criticisms have been made of the independence or authenticity of the UNSCOM report presented by Mr. Butler. Some have said that it is biased and inaccurate. I should like to know where they got their evidence. I am aware of no evidence of willing compliance with the United Nations by Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime in the past eight years. Some have said that there is a need to establish clearer rules for UNSCOM's activities. Bluntly, Saddam Hussein has had plenty of opportunities, if he was willing to take them, to sit at the table and discuss with the United Nations the clear rules under which effective inspections could be carried out. He has demonstrated clearly that he is unwilling to do that.
One reason why the British Government were right to take action in the past 24 to 48 hours is very much connected with the credibility of the United Nations, its future role in worldwide peace and security and the removal of dictators. We should remember that Saddam 1178 Hussein has consistently shown his unwillingness to uphold those principles and values. He is concerned with oppressing and murdering the people who are unfortunate enough to live within his territory and he has demonstrated his determination to extend its boundaries. I have no doubt that, if he thought that it would further his political power-seeking ends, he would use any weapons that he had managed to conceal from the United Nations against anyone whom he disliked or who had displeased him.
The House should send a message tonight that the vast majority of right hon. and hon. Members fully support the action taken by the British and American Governments and that we support and acknowledge the courage and commitment of our armed forces and their professionalism and skill. Our hearts go out to them and to their families, who are sitting at home watching television and dreading it when the phone rings, as that might bring the worst news.
Hon. Members must say clearly that the British Government are demonstrating our determination and commitment to a genuine role in future for the United Nations, that we are seeking to build a stable and secure world for the next millennium and that we will take whatever action is necessary within our parliamentary and democratic traditions to give due notice to Saddam Hussein and all the other evil dictators in the world that their time has come. If they show their unwillingness to comply with the United Nations and all that it stands for, we shall use all necessary force to ensure that they do so.
§ Mr. Galloway
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Three times in the course of this debate—once this afternoon and twice this evening—the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has launched a bitter, personal attack on me, which included attributing to me a totally false quotation. I did not rise to contradict it because I hoped to catch your eye in the six and a half hours that I have sat here. However, as I have not been called, would you advise me what remedy I have, as an hon. Member of this House, for a baseless, personal slur which was launched against me by another Member, to which I have not had the opportunity to reply?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. I think that I have heard enough to deal with that matter. It is not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has now had his say.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
About 10 days ago, we had a defence debate and I told the Secretary of State that it was the eighth day of defence debates since 19 October, which was a few too many. Here we are back again a few days later. On none of those occasions, however, did we discuss a matter as important as this, with British troops about to go into action in the Gulf. 1179 Given that our armed forces are about to be asked to go into action, they deserve to know that the country and the House are wholly behind them. The tenor of this debate has clearly shown that that is so, and I am delighted that all those who have spoken on the Opposition Benches were supportive of the Government, including my right hon. Friend the Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Most of those on the Labour Benches, including the hon. Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George), for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire), were wholly supportive of the Government's position.
The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) put his finger on the crux of this matter, which is that Saddam Hussein wants to dominate the region. That is why we all feel that it is appropriate to have pursued the action that has been pursued in the past few years since the Gulf war—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. An electronic device has gone off in the Chamber. Hon. Members must either learn to switch those off before they come into the Chamber or leave them outside the Chamber.
§ Mr. Maples
Saddam's desire to dominate the region is at the crux of this matter, just as it was at the crux of the Gulf war. The west has vital interests in the region for a variety of reasons. Clearly, had Iraq got away with the invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia would have been next, and he would soon have dominated the whole Gulf and the world's oil supplies. He would have become not just a threat to the rest of the region, but a violent, evil threat, armed with weapons of mass destruction. Those ambitions are not yet dead, which is one of the reasons why the Government's action is appropriate.
The Conservative Members who spoke all supported the Government's position. They made various points. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney) said that it is unrealistic to restrict oneself to basing all military action on UN resolutions. There are bound to be times when that is impossible and when it would paralyse our ability and that of our allies to take appropriate action, or delay it to the point when it was bound to lose much of its effectiveness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) discussed the possible dangers imposed by the onset of Ramadan. I shall return to that and ask the Secretary of State's views on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), while making his usual eloquent pitch for the Territorial Army, cast doubts on the efficacy of using air power alone, a view shared by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and others.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) talked about chemical and biological weapons and their dangers, and my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) drew attention to what he considered to be the double standard applied to Iraq and to Israel. He said that, with today's operation, we had embarked on a long-term policy whose implementation would be dangerous and difficult.
The debate came to life with the speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the response that it provoked from my right hon. Friend the 1180 Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King). They put forward the alternative opinions evident in the House, although those hon. Members who side with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield form a very small minority. However, the right hon. Gentleman could not have expressed his views more eloquently or passionately, and he provoked an equally eloquent and passionate response from my right hon. Friend.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield led a significant group of Labour Members opposed to Government policy. Among those whose dissent was visible to me were the hon. Members for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon).
§ Mr. Maples
The hon. Gentleman spoke in response to the Prime Minister's statement, and on several occasions he indicated his dissent. The diatribes that he provoked from some other Labour Members made his opinion on the matter pretty clear.
I was surprised by the stance of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), which appeared to be that the United States and the United Kingdom should not intervene in circumstances such as obtain in Iraq and should not act as the world's police. That seems to sit rather strangely with the line that the hon. Gentleman took over Bosnia, when he used his position as a reporter to call for and promote intervention by the United States and the United Kingdom. I am not sure that the circumstances are as different as would be necessary if he were going to be able to sustain his argument.
The argument advanced by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and those who agree with him deserves to be answered. I shall try to do so, but I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will do so as well. When Members on both Front Benches agree, there is a danger that minority opinions do not get answered. However wrong one considers them to be, they are entitled to a response.
The speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was rather like the speeches of the late Enoch Powell, which required intent listening, offered a series of propositions and eventually ended with a conclusion with which one completely disagreed. At that point, one realised that somewhere along the way one must have been tricked by the logic. The right hon. Gentleman achieved the same feat, very eloquently and passionately.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to make two specific points: first, that, in the absence of agreement under article 46 of the United Nations charter, the action was illegal; secondly, that it was anyway immoral to bomb in circumstances where there might be civilian damage and casualties. The point about the legality of the action seemed to imply that it would be all right if there had been an appropriate United Nations resolution. However, I do not understand how the absence or presence of such a resolution could determine whether the action was moral.
§ Mr. Maples
I shall finish this point. If the attack was immoral, I do not see how a United Nations resolution 1181 could have made it moral. That apparent inconsistency in the morality argument means that it can be exploded pretty effectively. It is an argument against military action anywhere, at any time and in any circumstances.
That inconsistency was pointed out in a trenchant intervention by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie). He crippled the argument of the right hon. Gentleman for Chesterfield simply by asking what the right hon. Gentleman would do. The right hon. Gentleman fell back on some rather legalistic points, but essentially there is no answer to the question. Those who say that the Government and the action being pursued are wrong can, perfectly justifiably, be asked what they would do, but they never have an alternative to offer. They must accept that the result of having no alternative policy and of not pursuing the action that is proposed would be that Saddam Hussein would be left in place, in relatively peaceful circumstances, to pursue his policy of arming himself with weapons of mass destruction, thus posing an even greater threat to the peace of the region than at present.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before we leave the question of morality, the hon. Gentleman will not have had the opportunity to see the film footage being shown tonight of the annihilation of parts of Baghdad. It is really vomit-making. It is pretty terrible to think that we are responsible, and that is a moral question.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
May I correct the record? My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is exaggerating. What we have seen on television in the last hour is the very effective selective bombing of military establishments on the outskirts of Baghdad. We are all very thankful for it—as, indeed, will be people in the surrounding countries.
§ Mr. Maples
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has dealt with the intervention of the hon. Member for Linlithgow better than I could have. However, one of the things that concern me about the pictures that we shall see in the press and on television is the fact that many of them will be Iraqi propaganda. Journalists will not be able to go freely where they want to go. I hope that the media will not continue to fall for that propaganda, as they already seem to be doing. For instance, on the front page of the Evening Standard is a colour photograph of an injured man, but we do not know that he was injured in a bombing raid. The editors of newspapers, and of radio and television programmes, have an obligation not to print Iraqi propaganda uncritically, when members of the British armed forces—men and women—are endangering their lives on our behalf in the Gulf. The effect of such propaganda on their families must be very damaging, 1182 and I feel that, in such circumstances, the media have a responsibility not to print and use it in such an apparently uncritical way.
The great benefit of the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield was that it provoked the response of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater. He gave what I consider to be the most spirited defence of the Government's position. He said, trenchantly and passionately, that Iraq was a menace to the peace and stability of the region, and that it was run by a vicious and evil dictator who was developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. This was unfinished business from the Gulf war, and a threat that must now be removed.
We wholly support the Government's position. The credibility of the willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to act was at stake. Sufficient final warnings had been given after the events of November, when Saddam Hussein backed down at the last minute. I am sure that other dictators around the world—including Mr. Milosevic—are watching events closely.
§ Mr. Benn
The Conservative party had an alternative in dealing with Saddam. It armed him. When the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) was Secretary of State for Defence, Iraqi pilots were being trained by the Royal Air Force until a few days before the invasion of Kuwait. The truth is that the Conservatives' support for Saddam throughout the Iran-Iraq war completely destroys the moral basis of their argument.
As for the law and morality, I thought that law and morality were supposed to go together, and that an illegal action could not be moral. That is an argument that the hon. Gentleman should address.
§ Mr. Maples
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to me to be saying that something that he thought was immoral could have been made moral by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. I do not see how that circle could have been squared. I must also point out that it was my party, in government, that fought the Gulf war—with, I have to say, the support of the right hon. Gentleman's party—and that, in view of that, it is inappropriate to criticise us as the right hon. Gentleman did.
Let me ask the Secretary of State some specific questions, which I hope he will have time to answer. I understand that there are 12 Tornado GR1s in Kuwait, and six more in Saudi Arabia. If the bombing campaign is likely to go on for more than a few days, will that be enough, and will the ordnance and support there be enough? I also understand that our forces are under the operational command and control of the United States. What is the role of permanent joint headquarters in the command line, and are the arrangements similar to previous arrangements that we have had with the United States when we have been the "junior partner" in a military operation?
I do not know whether the Secretary of State can tell us what damage was done to Iraqi air defences last night, and how easily he thinks that the losses might be replaced. Obviously, however, damaging or destroying air defences is a key part of the initial phases of the campaign, and of the safety of the pilots and crews of our aircraft, who will rely on their having been destroyed. We all wish them luck, and want them to know that our prayers are with 1183 them—and that we sympathise with their families, who, at a time when the rest of us are planning to take a few days off, will know that their loved ones are on active service, and endangering their lives.
I recognise the military objective that the Government have set. It is a limited objective: to degrade weapons of mass-destruction capability, and to destroy enough military assets to weaken Saddam Hussein's grip on power. Can the Secretary of State tell us the extent of the planned destruction? Can he give us some idea of how long the campaign might last and, particularly, can he give us some idea about how the Government will judge whether they have been successful in achieving the objectives, and at what stage they will think that it is appropriate to terminate the bombing campaign?
There has been a considerable amount of discussion and some lack of clarity over whether it is felt that Saddam Hussein's removal is an essential precondition for re-establishing peace and stability in the region. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether that is an objective of the United States-United Kingdom policy? We think that it should be a policy objective, but we agree that it should not be an objective of the military campaign. I do not see how it could be achieved deliberately by the military campaign. Does the Secretary of State think that, in the long run, it will be possible to resolve the issue without getting rid of Saddam?
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey raised the problem of the start of Ramadan. Does the Secretary of State think that that will be a problem with our Arab allies in this enterprise, many of whom are, at present, not saying very much, but are doing so in a fairly constructive way? I am sure that we would not want to do anything that might damage that support.
The main issue, which has been largely unposed and unanswered in the debate—I am not asking the Secretary of State to answer tonight, but I hope that the Government are thinking about it—is what we see as the end objective for Iraq. There is a danger of creating a power vacuum in a strategically important part of the world. We need a substantive and friendly Government in Iraq. I am sure that that is an objective that the Government share, but we have not articulated—we have not tried and neither have the Government—exactly what that objective is and how the Government propose to reach it. We seem to have a limited interim military objective of destroying the military capability and weapons of mass destruction, but no longer-term view on where we want to get to.
Civilian casualties are an inevitable consequence of campaigns such as this and they are what make many of us draw back from getting involved. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister both articulated that sentiment for themselves. At the end of the day, the only justification for war is that the ends justify the means. In these circumstances and with modern weapons and intelligence, I hope that those civilian casualties can be limited to the absolute minimum. With any luck, there will be very few. It is inevitable that there will be some and, as I have said before, I hope that we shall not be taken in and influenced by Iraqi propaganda, and that the media will not fall for that.
Can the Secretary of State tell us what support the Government have had from France? France and Russia signed up to the United Nations resolutions. It is disappointing that they do not seem to be prepared to 1184 support whole-heartedly the action that is necessary to enforce those resolutions. It shows how important the United Kingdom-United States axis is in all these defence matters, and it shows how the interests of ourselves and France can differ in both our agendas and the national interests that we perceive.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what has been the reaction of the Arab League and what diplomatic activity is going on in the Gulf? Can he tell us what support he expects or has from the Arab world? Are there any plans to raise this matter in front of the Security Council in the next few days? Does Austria have any plans to call together the General Affairs Council of the European Union? What efforts are taking place to secure the whole-hearted support of the European Union under the common foreign and security policy? All those countries have issues at stake in this region, just as we do.
Will the Secretary of State say a word about possible Iraqi retaliation either in the Gulf, perhaps in Israel or even through some form of terrorist attack against United Kingdom or United States people, or even on our respective territories? That opens a wider issue which, at some time, we would like to pursue, and that is the general problem of asymmetric threats and of rogue states with weapons of mass destruction and their ability to do damage to us. In paragraph 47, the strategic defence review promised a review of the issue over the summer and the production of a coherent national response to those threats. Is that ready, and when can we expect to receive it? The United States has a rather different policy and a far greater commitment to this through its Defence Threat Reduction Agency, with responders being trained in 120 United States cities and 10 special National Guard units. We will want to revisit that issue in the future.
We in the Conservative party fully support the Government's action. This evil business must be finished if possible, for the peace and stability of the region to be restored. We fear that it will not be possible fully to realise that until Saddam Hussein is removed from power in Iraq. The Government will face difficult problems in handling this crisis. They can count on our support for their objectives and having taken military action. We shall watch closely how they implement their policy and deal with those difficult issues as they arise.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)
We have had a good, appropriate debate about the joint decision by the United Kingdom and the United States of America to take military action to reduce the threat from Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capability and ambition. We have had speeches of passion and conviction, and of substance and gravity, but all of some considerable and appropriate sobriety, too.
It is invidious often at the beginning of winding-up speeches to single out hon. Members who have spoken, and I should like to deal with some of the points raised. Nevertheless, my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George) and for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Chairmen of the Select Committees on Defence and on Foreign Affairs respectively, made valuable contributions. We heard moving and outstanding speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has had a long, consistent 1185 interest in this subject, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who spoke with passion and experience. We heard speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) made an interesting contribution before he departed to the outer limits of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who has been involved in the campaign against Saddam Hussein for far longer than many others, contributed well.
The hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), the former chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, made a valuable contribution, not of all of which I agreed with, but some of his points were pertinent. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who held my position when Saddam Hussein last threatened not only his neighbours but international stability, made several perceptive points which have been useful to me in my detailed consideration of these affairs. I shall deal with some of the points as I go through my speech, although it is physically and verbally impossible to deal with the plethora of questions from hon. Members.
My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary clearly explained why we decided that we had to take military action this week. No one should imagine that that decision was taken lightly or without deep and careful thought. As the Prime Minister said, there can be no greater responsibility for any politician than to ask British service men and women to go out and risk their lives for their country and for international law and order.
I have listened, as we all have, carefully to the views of those opposed to the use of force. Perhaps some of us have sympathy for some of the feelings expressed. Military action inevitably has direct human consequences. Nobody involved in authorising or taking military action should ever close his or her eyes to that fact. Those who oppose the use of force must ask what alternative there could have been in the present circumstances.
§ Mr. Canavan
Earlier this year, I asked the Foreign Secretary specifically, whether he could rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack on Iraq. He replied:Yes, I can rule that out straight away."—[Official Report, 10 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 154.]More recently, he said that nothing could be ruled out. Which of his statements does the Defence Secretary agree with?
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware of what the position of Governments in this country has consistently been on that subject. If there is any question of this country's existence being under threat, the position is quite clear. Those who oppose the use of force—
§ Mr. Robertson
Those who, in the debate today, have opposed the use of force have to answer the simple question of what the alternative would be. I contend that 1186 there was no alternative to what we have done. Quite simply, Saddam has almost certainly retained some stocks of chemical and biological weapons and has the capability to regenerate more. It is clear from the concealment, lying and deception that we have witnessed over the years that his prime objective is to keep that capability, and that cannot be allowed. The only reason that he would go to such lengths to retain his weapons of mass destruction capability is if he is prepared to use them. As long as he retains that capability, Saddam will remain the most serious threat to the stability of the whole of the middle east and to the security of his neighbours—neighbours who have been under threat for a long time.
It may sound far-fetched to some people to suggest that Saddam would actually use chemical and biological weapons, and to those who are normal that is indeed true. However, he has already done so. He used chemical agents extensively against Iran and even against his own people at Halabja in March 1988, when he killed thousands of Iraqi Kurds with mustard gas and the nerve agent tabun. I have met the refugees from Halabja and spoken to some of those who survived. They talked of what they called the bombs with no voices. The effects of that attack were indescribably horrible, and left physical and psychological scars on the survivors which will never heal. However, that was using only chemical weapons; the potential devastation that he could wreak with biological weapons—the biological weapons that have been uncovered by the UNSCOM inspectors—is many times more serious.
§ Mr. Cohen
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Will he clear up one point that was raised during the debate? He has referred to chemical weapons. During the Foreign Secretary's speech, it was pointed out that we would not be targeting chemical weapons in the bomb and missile attacks, yet the Prime Minister and other Ministers have talked of degrading them. Will the Secretary of State for Defence square that apparent contradiction?
§ Mr. Robertson
There is absolutely no contradiction. We are targeting the machinery through which the chemical weapons could be used. I am not prepared to go into detailed operational issues for understandable reasons, but I can assure the House that all relevant factors were taken into account in selecting the targets for the operations and only precision-guided weaponry is being used.
We are united in agreeing that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and his capability in that respect must be dismantled. That is a sentiment that unites the international community and all members of the UN Security Council. We would all prefer that to have been achieved peacefully and diplomatically. Some believed that that was still possible. The Government and, I believe, the majority of those in the House did not. Saddam has had seven years in which to comply with his obligation to the UN to give up his weapons of mass destruction. He has been given chance after chance after chance to co-operate and on every occasion he has lied, cheated and obstructed. The time for diplomacy has passed.
The Prime Minister and the President of the United States gave the clearest possible warning on 16 November that if there were any further obstruction we would strike without warning. True to form, Saddam Hussein not only 1187 obstructed UNSCOM yet again, but made its whole job impossible. The conclusion of Ambassador Butler's report is inescapable to anyone who has concerns about the subject.
The campaign is limited but intensive; we have chosen targets that are connected to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capability, with other capabilities which pose a threat to his neighbours, such as command and control capabilities, and with air defence systems which could pose a threat to coalition aircraft involved in the operation. That operation is on-going, and United Kingdom aircraft are in the air as we speak. It will continue for as long as is necessary.
Saddam Hussein's record of non-compliance is considerable. His non-compliance with resolution 687 is not confined to his disavowal of the regime of the UNSCOM inspectors. He has not complied with practically every point that he accepted as part of the ceasefire settlement. I shall outline just one. At the time of the ceasefire, Saddam Hussein was called upon, and agreed to, repatriate the Kuwaiti prisoners of war. They have never been repatriated, and that is a disgrace and a continuing stain on Saddam Hussein. We will not forget those who were captured and remain in detention.
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary explained fully and clearly how Saddam has failed to comply on the weapons of mass destruction front. The fact is that that non-compliance has continued on and off throughout the period since the end of the war. Saddam Hussein attacked the Iraqi Kurds in April 1991 and we introduced the northern no-fly zone. He threatened Kuwait again in 1994. In 1992, he attacked the Shia in the marshlands of southern Iraq and we were obliged to establish no-fly zones in southern Iraq as well. In 1996, Saddam Hussein again attacked his own countrymen and women in the Kurdish north of Iraq. Throughout those years, he obstructed and deceived the UNSCOM inspectors. He said at first that he had no chemical or biological weapons. As those weapons were disclosed and discovered, he continued to lie about the weapons that he retained and failed to disclose.
Several hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples)—asked an important question during the debate. As the military action continues, I think that it deserves an answer in my winding-up speech. That question is: what is the long-term strategy after this military operation has ended? First, Saddam Hussein's obligations to disarm will remain and, come what may, he must one day comply fully with the resolutions agreed at the end of the Gulf war. Secondly, as a result of this military action, his capability to build and use chemical and biological weapons, and therefore his ability to threaten his neighbours, will be severely damaged and diminished.
Thirdly, the sanctions regime will remain in place and enforcement will be tightened so that the funding of the soft life of the Iraqi elite and the military superstructure of Iraq will become increasingly difficult. Saddam Hussein will eventually have to take back the UNSCOM inspectors if he wants the sanctions to end. Fourthly, until Saddam Hussein complies fully with the United Nations Security Council resolutions, we will not withdraw the threat of renewed military action without warning. If he tries once again to regain his capability to develop 1188 weapons of mass destruction and his ambition to intimidate and threaten his neighbours, he will have to face the consequences. We will not go away.
Hon. Members have asked about the command and control of British troops in the Gulf operation. Royal Air Force aircraft engaged in operations over Iraq are under the tactical control of the US joint force commander, but political control is retained at all times by this Government.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin) and others asked what our deadline is for military action. I am not willing, and no Member would expect me, to answer that question in detail. Military action will cease when we judge that we have achieved our objectives. We are, of course, sensitive to the start of the Muslim holy month, as hon. Members would expect us to be.
§ Mr. Robertson
No, I have very little time and I should like to do justice to hon. Members' questions and arguments.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) cast doubt on the legality of the operation, but they could not have been listening to my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. If stating the case a third time will enable them to comprehend, let me say that in February—few of us will ever forget it—following Kofi Annan's initiative and visit to Baghdad, the UN Security Council resolved that any violation of the provisions of its resolution 687, relating to the immediate, unconditional and unconstrained access of UN special inspectors to the sites that they believed held the weapons of mass destruction, would lead to the severest consequences for Iraq. That warning was enshrined in a Security Council resolution.
I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and anyone else who needs reassurance on that important point that Ambassador Butler's report yesterday to the United Nations could hardly have been clearer in outlining the systematic failure of the Iraqi regime to honour those conditions. There is no doubt about that fact.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon and the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), asked about Arab support for our action in the Gulf. I remind them that, when the Damascus declaration states—Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman—met on 12 November, they stated that Saddam alone would be to blame for any repercussions following his decision to cease co-operation with UNSCOM. They were clear and unambiguous on that point. The Gulf Co-operation Council has more recently reiterated the need for Saddam to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.
I know that the House is conscious of how grave is the situation in the Gulf this week. Of course, there is a price to be paid for taking military action against any brutal dictator, especially one with no principles, no scruples and no sense of humanity. There are risks to human beings, whether they are the pilots of our planes or civilians and others in Iraq, many of whom will be deliberately placed 1189 in danger by that regime. I know, more than most, how important are those considerations in making plans for any military action. I would regret bitterly any loss of life or limb.
We wanted a peaceful outcome, but Saddam Hussein did not. The price of doing nothing would be far, far greater. The price of letting Saddam Hussein develop—
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is no Member willing to act as Teller for the Ayes, so the motion now lapses, and we move on.
§ Mr. Canavan
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does this not mean that the House has voted unanimously against the military operation in the Gulf?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a point of order for the Chair. We must now move on to the next business.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The House has not voted. It is now past 10 pm; the motion lapses, and we must move on.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have dealt with that point of order. We shall now move on to the next business.
§ Mr. Galloway
The House has been cheated of an opportunity. The minority of hon. Members who are against the war—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. When I am on my feet, hon. Members will sit down. The hon. Gentleman has had more than his say this afternoon.
§ Mr. Galloway
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I insist on my right as a Member of Parliament to raise a point of order.
§ Mr. Galloway
The country is at war and, as a result of a procedural trick, the minority opposition to that war is being cheated of the opportunity to record its vote. What kind of Government—what kind of war effort—require parliamentary democracy to be abused and mocked in such a circumstance?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have heard the hon. Gentleman's point of order, but we must, I am afraid, now move on.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that there is no motion on the Order Paper on the military action? The only motion on the Order Paper is for the Adjournment of the House. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) has simply misread the procedures of the House of Commons. He does not understand.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is enough. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin is an experienced Member of the House. We all know and understand just how important this debate is and just how much emotion it has aroused. The House has listened to his point of order and fully understands both his concerns and his point of view, but we must move on to preserve the rest of the business. I trust that he will accept that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot prolong the debate, which, in a sense, is what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) are seeking to do.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a separate point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not within your power to ask Madam 1191 Speaker to resume the Chair? Frankly, this issue—I speak with 36 years' experience in the House—bluntly brings the House of Commons and its procedures into disrepute. Minorities have a right to register their view. On one previous occasion, Speaker Selwyn-Lloyd came to the Chair in roughly similar circumstances. Could we ask, through you, that Madam Speaker be apprised of the situation?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid that we have followed the procedures of the House. At this point, there is nothing more that I can do to help. We must move to the next item of business.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We have dealt with matters as the House should. Hon. Members may not be content personally with the way in which things have gone, but we have followed the procedures of the House. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) is here to present a petition to the House. It is only right that we should move on to such business.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must not be on his feet when I am on my feet. He has heard today's debate; the subject has been thoroughly aired. I understand his concern about the way in which the proceedings have ended, but we cannot correct them tonight. I am not prepared to dwell on this 1192 matter any longer. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to make any complaint about the way in which things have gone, he may do so through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Benn
It is entirely separate. I make no complaint about the procedural correctness of what happened. I want to put it on record that the Government called a special debate but the House of Commons was denied the opportunity to register its opinion, yet British service men and women are at risk. I put that on the record as a matter of fact—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. As I thought, the right hon. Gentleman is seeking only to prolong the debate and put further things on record. I am sure that other hon. Members who are rising in their places also want to put other things on the record. I shall now call Mr. Tony McWalter.
§ Mr. Galloway
On a separate point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is an entirely separate point of order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No; I am on my feet. When I am on my feet other hon. Members will sit down. I cannot believe, with all honesty, that the points of order that hon. Gentlemen are seeking to raise are not related to the matters on which we have now spent several hours. I addressed the hon. Member for Kelvin at great length a few moments ago, and I thought that he understood the 1193 position. Many of the other hon. Members who are seeking to rise are experienced Members of the House. I have already said that I understand the feelings that are aroused by a debate like this, but we have done things correctly as the House should do them, and there is nothing more that we can do to correct things tonight. If hon. Members want to raise—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No. I am not prepared to take the points of order. Hon. Members really ought to be fair to the hon. Member who is waiting to present his petition. Mr. Tony McWalter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am now prepared to take points of order only if they are on entirely separate matters.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have to tell the House that there is no such motion that we can put before it. Tony McWalter.