LONDON -- The British Parliament gave overwhelming eve-of-deadline backing yesterday to the use of allied military force against Iraq.
A 534-57 vote at the end of an emergency parliamentary debate gave Prime Minister John Major's government approval for going to war.
The vote came despite opposition from the minority parties and reference to misgivings expressed by a substantial minority of members of the U.S. Congress during the recent Persian Gulf debate.
In Parliament, the Labor Party qualified its support with a call for more time for sanctions to work but committed itself to military action if necessary.
"To say Saddam Hussein should retain his power in the region is to light the fuse for God knows what in the future," Labor leader Neil Kinnock said. He said that he favored "doing everything possible to achieve the objectives of the United Nations without the use of force, if possible," but he pledged the government his support if the troops were ordered into action.
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for all last-minute peace efforts to be pursued but added, "If, at the end of the day, all avenues for peace having been exhausted, we have to grasp this terrible nettle, it would be better we grasp it when we have to rather than pay a terrible price later."
Mr. Ashdown, a former paratroop officer, said, "In voting tonight with the government, we are not only giving that support which our troops in the field are entitled to, we are also expressing our view that it is only by backing international law and the authority of the United Nations that the long-term peace of the world can be ensured."
Prime Minister Major said there was no indication that sanctions would work. Further delay would allow Iraq to improve its defenses, continue its pillage of Kuwait and increase the cost in lives of allied action, he said.
"No one, I believe, anywhere can claim the international community has not tried for peace. If it turns out we have failed, then we have failed only because Iraq has rejected every attempt to reach international resolution," he said.
He contended that Iraq's stance was now blocking a Middle East peace conference rather than promoting one, adding, "Only when Iraq has withdrawn from Kuwait shall we be able to resume effort to find a solution with any hope of success.
"We are ready to do with our allies whatever is necessary to implement the U.N. resolutions in full," he said. "We do not want conflict. We are not searching for war, although, if it comes, I must say to the House, I believe it would be a just war.
"However great the costs of such a war would be, they would be less than those we would face if we failed to stand up for the principle of what is right and stand up for it now."