House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002

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8.16 Pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): All Members would agree that the House of Commons has been at its best today, with thoughtful and independent- minded speeches from Members on both sides of the House. It is a source of great regret to me and, I am sure, many hon. Members that it has taken so long for the House to be recalled. The ability to recall the House should lie with hon. Members. If a majority want a recall, that should be the case.

I was rather surprised by the expression in the Prime Minister’s otherwise extremely thoughtful and well-argued speech this morning about the Chamber being kept "in touch" with the situation, which is reminiscent of a phrase I might use about a relationship with a distant relative. The House of Commons deserves considerably more than that. I echo the anger and frustration of many hon. Members in saying that we had but three and a half hours this morning to look at the dossier. I did not want to read it in the Chamber—I wanted to listen to hon. Members—so that was a discourtesy to the House which, I hope, will not be repeated.

I speak today with some personal feeling because my brother, his wife and two young children were living in Kuwait when it was invaded by Saddam Hussein many years ago. My brother told me how he looked out of his apartment window and saw Kuwaiti soldiers and civilians being shot and mown down in cold blood. As a family we have been affected by what Saddam Hussein has done. I completely accept—there has been agreement on both sides of the House about this—that our overwhelming purpose is to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We must do so through the only organisation able to achieve that—the United Nations. Incidentally, why are the inspectors not being sent in now, as we are being told that evidence is being destroyed? Why must they wait until mid-October? Surely there is an urgent need to get them in as soon as possible. We must, however, use the UN, and there is agreement on both sides of the House about that. It is vital that we stick within the confines of international law and act legally—there is widespread agreement on that.

I support indicting Saddam Hussein. We have seen Milosevic being tried in The Hague. There may be huge practical difficulties in getting Saddam Hussein there, but we should subject him too to the process of international law. Regime change is not and should not be the objective, but I think that we all know in our hearts that it may be and could well be a consequence of what we are talking about.

Why has the issue become so urgent and why are we discussing it now? Has not the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which we have had for many years, kept the peace? What has changed? The answer could be that since 11 September 2001 we are looking at a different world. For example, let us picture the scenario of a terrorist group getting some of these weapons from Iraq by ship or other means, secreting them on the plains of North Africa and launching an attack against a third-party country. That is the sort of scenario that we are considering, but the dossier is somewhat silent on the Government’s assessment of such a risk and the UK’s preparedness in terms of civil defence. Middle eastern countries are much better prepared than we are. I ask the Minister to reply specifically to those two points.

We have heard that UN authority has been flouted for 11 or so years with regard to Iraq. Many UN resolutions have not been implemented and should be, but it is no argument to say that because they have not all been implemented, some cannot be. We were right to provide humanitarian help in Rwanda. It was not argued that we should not do so there because we were not doing so elsewhere, and the same logic applies now.

We have heard a lot today about the international community, and I support what has been said. Is not the tragedy the fact that so often America and Britain have had to stand alone? We must remember that it was not, as some might have thought, the rather more suave and sophisticated President Clinton who patiently assembled an alliance of many, many nations before advancing against Afghanistan after 11 September but President Bush. Let us wait and see what he does. Let us judge him on what he has done, not on his recent words. Surely it is important that the UN should be able to call on the military support of many countries, not just be left with UK and US forces. We need to consider seriously what voluntary commitment can be given to the UN so that all the resolutions can be enforced. Of course, those relating to Israel and Palestine are supremely important to what we are discussing.

We must also remember our history. We have heard today about the League of Nations and Abyssinia in 1924. We have heard about German rearmament between 1933 and 1936. I commend the film "The Gathering Storm" to those who have not seen it. We should think of what the House went through in that period, and how its opinion changed over time. We need to reflect on that. We have heard more recently about Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, about which some people here had doubts but who perhaps later felt that the action taken was justified.

In the foreword to the dossier the Prime Minister says: "I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest."

That may well be the case but the reasons for that do not spring out from the pages before us. Is it because we are worried that Iraq is about to buy missile systems from North Korea which would reach these shores? What is the risk assessment on that? Are the Government concerned about that? Or is it because we are concerned about the release of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq to a terrorist group that will come to this country, or because we are concerned about agents coming to this country and releasing poison in the underground, as happened in Tokyo? We need a much more detailed assessment. The document does not contain sufficient answers. The British people will need that explained to them by the Government. We know that, for security reasons, the Government cannot share all that they know with us, but we need to have the threat explained much more clearly.

The Iraqi opposition e-mailed many Members yesterday with the proposals that the no-fly zone be extended; that Iraqi assets be unfrozen and given to opposition groups; and that Iraqi foreign representation around the world in embassies and so on be changed to reflect the opposition in Iraq. I do not know how practical those proposals are, but we have a duty to examine every option. Again, I should like to hear the Minister’s response to that point.

We have to bear it in mind that there will be dictators all over the world looking at the international community. This is a defining moment and we have to believe that what we do here will be looked at. If Saddam Hussein is allowed to get away with his behaviour, he may well be copied by other dictators. That is a serious and onerous responsibility that rests on all hon. Members.

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Chicago: "8.16 Pm," House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002 in House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002 (London, United Kingdom: The United Kingdom Parliament, 2002), Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FP2DA26CEFRLXE.

MLA: . "8.16 Pm." House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002, in House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002, Vol. 390, Part 187, London, United Kingdom, The United Kingdom Parliament, 2002, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FP2DA26CEFRLXE.

Harvard: , '8.16 Pm' in House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002. cited in 2002, House of Commons Hansard Debates for 24 September 2002, The United Kingdom Parliament, London, United Kingdom. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8FP2DA26CEFRLXE.