Thursday, 7 July 2016

Chilcot and Iraq: Wise words remembered from former leader of Labour against War, February 2003

26 Feb 2003 : Column 32

4.29 pm

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): For me, one of the most powerful passages in the United Nations charter is not in the detail of any of its chapters but in its opening preamble:
    "We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind".
The preamble did not seek a pretext for other wars, and did not seek to justify a little ritual slaughter when the mood took us. It was a declaration by the international community at the end of the second world war that we had to pursue a path where the avoidance of war and its human consequences had to be a global priority.
Against that background, I regard today's motion and the war rhetoric surrounding it as a low point in contemporary British politics. They mark the disconnection of the House from the society we claim to represent. The realities of the wider world are clear—the case for a war against Iraq remains unproven. I shall therefore vote for the amendment, and against the motion. We should look at the sorry state of our current Parliament. Increasingly, we appear to have a Government who are looking for a pretext for war, rather than its avoidance. We appear to produce 26 Feb 2003 : Column 327
dossiers of mass deception, whose claims are dismissed as risible almost as soon as they are released. We have the embarrassment of a Prime Minister whose arguments chase from one discredited case to another in the search for something that will convince the public of the case for a war in which they do not believe. If anything slightly relieves the pain for Labour it is the condition of the shadow Cabinet, whose members appear to have given up the will to live and believe that they can only be redeemed if they offer to bomb earlier and more often. That is not, however, the position of the overwhelming majority of the British public.
I have just returned from a visit to the United States and Canada, where I was part of a citizens weapons inspectorate. We went to the Edgewood research base just outside Washington, where we attempted to ask its personnel for rights of access to inspect the site and for an account of the weapons of mass destruction that they were working on. They openly acknowledged working on anthrax, plague, botulinum, ricin and cholera. If such weapons were found in Iraq, they would immediately become the basis on which President Bush would declare war. Dr. Julian Lewis rose— Alan Simpson: I shall join everyone else in saying no to the offer. All those weapons are illegal under current chemical and biological warfare conventions. That is a measure of discrepancies, if not hypocrisy, in our approach to the role and rights of inspections as a way of stabilising and securing international confidence in the removal of weapons of mass destruction. That site also manufactures non-lethal biochemical weapons, which Defence Secretary Rumsfeld referred to in his testimony to Congress on 5 February, when he acknowledged the US intention to use such weapons in any war on Iraq. Those weapons, too, are illegal under current conventions. Perhaps the most frightening thing for me was not the stark openness of that work but the attitude of the pro-war protesters who followed the inspectors round. Their banners and slogans said much about the popular culture created largely at the behest of the American Administration and the American press. "We tried to give peace a chance and got 9/11," said one. Another said, "Give war a chance." Perhaps the most frightening of all said, "Today Iraq, tomorrow France." Those were measures of the visceral feelings of gung-ho militarism that characterise the debate taking place in the USA. We ought to think carefully before wandering even partially down that path. Those are President Bush's people, who stood up following the last report of the weapons inspectors and said that the objections made by a succession of countries that did not accept that a convincing case had been made for war were not objections in principle, but the objections of countries holding out for a bigger bribe. It is clear that the US view of the UN is that it is simply a body to be bought or bypassed. Our view must identify with the 30 million people worldwide who say no, war is not the answer, nor is it acceptable. It is not justified in the current 26 Feb 2003 : Column 328
circumstances and it would be a horrendous gift to one group and one group only: al-Qaeda. From the evidence of the past 50 years, we know that containment works and inspection works. That is the basis on which the United Nations has worked at its best. We ought not to dismiss the value of that work.
In relation to Iraq, have we found weapons of mass destruction that threaten to destroy the west? No. Have we had any threat from Iraq to destroy the west? No. In those circumstances, we should listen to our other allies in the United Nations—to Germany, France, Russia and perhaps to China—and to the inspectors. Their claims for more time, rather than more troops, are the voices that we should hear. We need inspections, not invasions. The west and the UK must find the courage to speak out in favour of the peaceful settlement of international conflict and tension, rather than the presumption that we can drift into a war that would do nothing but scar the entire century. We owe a duty to our children and our society to find the courage to ally ourselves with those whose voices urge a peaceful solution to the issue, not a descent into warmongering.

*On 31 October 2006, Simpson was among the 12 Labour MPs to back Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party's call for an inquiry into the Iraq War

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