Today's splendid debate in the Commons Chamber was a triumph for Tory John Baron.
He did not amass many votes because his motion was thought to be pacifist. It was not. But the success was the approaching war was at last discussed in the Commons. There were many speeches of high quality from all sides. Below are some of my interventions and responses.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What precise act of brilliance justifies the payment of an £85,000 bonus to one of the Secretary of State’s civil servants? Will the Secretary of State make a bid for his own bonus for today becoming the first Minister to stop blaming the previous Government for all his problems, and tell the House on what precise date the coalition Government will take responsibility for their own conduct?
Mr Hammond: The hon. Gentleman might not have heard my previous answer when I stated the fact that this contractual, performance-related pay system was put in place by the previous Government. I happen to approve of it; I consider it the right way forward. If he wants to ask about the details of its design and why it was done the way it was, perhaps he should ask the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) or one of his many right hon. Friends who served in the previous Government as Secretary of State for Defence.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of any IAEA evidence on Israel’s nuclear weapons programme?
Mr Baron: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In certain quarters in the middle east, it is felt that double standards are being applied in that Israel has developed nuclear weapons and the west does not seem to worry about them. [Interruption.] My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) suggests that the evidence is circumstantial, and I am willing to grant him that point.
Paul Flynn: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current situation is very similar to the prelude to the war in Iraq? Does he really think that going to war on the basis of what proved to be non-existent weapons of mass destruction was worth the loss of 179 British lives?
Mr Straw: The two are very different, and in any case I have already said that I do not regard us as being remotely close to the bar for military action at present. It is important that Members, particularly those who support the amendment, are cautious and do not get themselves into a lather, as some but not all did in respect of Iraq and other issues. It is very important to acknowledge the evidence.
Paul Flynn: Does not the right hon. Gentleman see the danger that increasing tension between the west and Iran might well persuade it to expel the IAEA inspectors from its land, meaning that the transparency that we have now will end?
Mr Hague: First, it is of course not the IAEA’s view that Iran has been fully transparent. Indeed, it states in paragraph 52 of that report that
“the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities”.
I hope the hon. Gentleman listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, who pointed out that it could very well be argued that adopting the policy prescribed in the motion would increase tension and the likelihood of military conflict in the near term. I certainly hold to that view.
Paul Flynn: Does my right hon. Friend think that, although the Foreign Secretary rightly condemned what were probably terrorist attacks by Iran, he failed to attack incidents involving major explosions in Tehran, a cyber-attack against Tehran and the murder of four of Iran’s scientists? If we are to be taken as honest brokers, is it not right that we attack terrorism on both sides and insist on transparency not only in Iran but in Israel?
Mr Alexander: There is surely consensus on both sides of the House on the desire for a peaceful resolution to this crisis. That is why I argue that the strengthening of the sanctions regime to an unprecedented level is a necessary response to the growing tensions. All of us have an interest in a peaceful resolution.
Paul Flynn: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the immediate priority is to ensure that the present war of words does not deteriorate into a war of weapons, and that our task should be to reduce tension, not to increase it?
Mr Llwyd: That is absolutely right. I referred to sabre-rattling, and the hon. Gentleman puts it succinctly. That is not the way to have a diplomatic dialogue with any country.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): This House engaged in a war with Iraq that was based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and 179 of our brave British soldiers died along with an uncounted number of Iraqis. We remained in Afghanistan and went into Helmand on the basis of a non-existent terrorist threat to the United Kingdom from the Taliban. When we went into Helmand, two British soldiers had died in warfare and five more in other ways; having gone into Helmand, however, the figure is now 398. We are now in a position of stumbling into another war on the basis of non-existent nuclear weapons and non-existent missiles.
Some of us present when those decisions were taken vividly remember how the decision on Iraq went through this House—not on the basis of truth or evidence, but because this House was bribed, bullied and bamboozled into taking a decision that many thought was wrong. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) was one Member and the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) another who opposed that decision because the evidence was not there.
We should look at the evidence before us now of the threat from a missile in Iran with a range of 6,000 miles. Members will recall that we heard of this threat three or four years ago when America wanted to set up missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russians were quite rightly angry about this, but the pretext for it was the protection of the Russians and the Poles from missiles from Iran. It was a wholly implausible threat and we have not heard much of it since, but now that an election is coming up in America, the myth has been resurrected.
I claim some pedigree in opposing nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in Iran. I raised the subject in December 1992 in parliamentary questions—I shall not bore the House with the details—to the then Minister, Michael Heseltine. At that time, we were told that it was absolutely right to hand over nuclear technology to our ally at the time—the Shah of Persia.
One Conservative Member said, “We must still punch above weight.” Why? Punching above our weight means dying beyond our responsibilities. A young soldier from south Wales died last month, but he will not be counted among the 398 dead in Afghanistan. He was shot twice there and was slightly injured in two further incidents involving improvised explosive devices, but the event that destroyed him was watching his virtually limbless best friend die in his arms. He came back broken in mind, and last month he took his life.
We have lost 398 and at least 1,000 others are also broken in mind and body because we as a House decided that we wanted to punch above our weight in the world. That was our decision, and we cannot escape from it. The present Government and previous Governments have tried to minimise the extent of the bereavement and the loss. Those who have suffered because of this, the loved ones and the bereaved, will face an awful situation in the future. When the death toll reaches 400, which it surely must, although we all regret it, all the grief will be churned up again and there will be attention to it. To get the list of the dead on to the Order Paper requires 24 early-day motions, but what we should look at is what those people will see. Many of them were consoled by the belief that their loved ones died in a noble cause—that they died preventing terrorism on the streets of Britain. What conclusion will they reach when, in a few years’ time, we hand over the government of Afghanistan to the very people whom we said we were fighting against, to the very same threat? We will be handing it back to the Taliban.
The hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) was absolutely right. The effect of our intervention in Iraq was to replace one rotten, cruel, oppressive regime with another rotten, cruel, oppressive regime, and the result in Afghanistan will be the same. A bad regime, the Taliban, will go out, and we will replace it with what? With the Taliban again. It seems extraordinary that we have to behave as though we were still in the 19th century and that Britannia still rules the waves. We do not have to take on these situations. We do not have to be the Little Sir Echo to American policy.
There is an unsolved riddle in the House about how we have been represented. There was an investigation of the conduct of the last Defence Secretary that was alleged to constitute a breach of the ministerial code, but the investigation itself constituted a breach of the ministerial code because it was not carried out by the sole enforcer of that code, Sir Philip Mawer. He has resigned within the last couple of months and someone else has been put in his place. There is great concern that the person involved in this matter, Adam Werritty, who was the adviser to—
Paul Flynn: This is precisely about Iran, because it has been claimed that Adam Werritty and the former Secretary of State were in meetings with Israelis—indeed, it is a proven fact that at least five meetings took place—and that the subject of those meetings was Iran. That has been reported in many of our national newspapers. However, the investigation has yet to be carried out. We have seen a brief investigation by a civil servant who was not entitled to carry it out, and we have seen the resignation of the person who is the sole enforcer and who told a Select Committee that he believed that he, not Gus O’Donnell, should have conducted the investigation.
We have yet to find out what on earth was going on. Did we have a Secretary of State who was conducting his own foreign policy on Iran and perhaps bringing us to closer to war? The Select Committee has yet to finish its report, but a fortnight ago I asked Philip Mawer’s successor, “If the Committee decides that you are not a fit person to take on this job”—because he has not shown the robust independence that is necessary to the job—“what will you do?” He said that he would relinquish his position. That has yet to be decided.
Finally, let me say that the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay deserves great praise for introducing the debate. He has already succeeded.
Mr LeighWill economic sanctions work? We have to proceed on that basis, but they may not, which is why I come on to the second part of my speech. I am sorry that there is not a simple solution, but I cannot follow the hon. Member for Newport West in saying that we can do nothing—that we can accept the motion and rule out force and that somehow things will be all right. Yes, it is calamitous to attack, but it is even more of a calamity if that country acquires nuclear weapons.