Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): May I first declare an interest, in that I recently returned from visiting Israel and Palestine with the Labour Middle East Council? We met Abu Mazen, who made it very clear to us that he felt that he was not being cut enough slack by the Israeli Government, that he did not have the opportunity to produce on the ground the results that the Israelis and the international community were expecting, because that Government were not doing their part with regard to settlements, for example. What steps is the right hon. Gentleman taking to ensure that the Israeli Government give enough room for manoeuvre to a future Palestinian Prime Minister, and have the UK Government given

8 Sept 2003 : Column 47

any consideration to providing direct assistance to security forces on the Palestinian Authority side, to improve their detection of terrorism?

Mr. Straw: As I said, I have already been involved today in detailed discussions with the Foreign Ministers from Israel and the occupied territories, and with Secretary Powell. We stand ready to do everything we can. On the issue of providing further equipment for the security authorities in the occupied territories, we are certainly ready actively and positively to consider such requests, but we have to be assured about who will use such equipment and how it will be controlled. In our view, it will have to be controlled by the Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet—specifically the Interior Minister. They must be people in whom the international community has confidence. If that does not happen, the current spiral will continue downwards.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Now that the Foreign Secretary is in plain-speaking mode, as evidenced by his attack on the shadow Foreign Secretary, will he extend that a little further and tell George Bush that he was a bit naive and inexperienced when he flew on to an aircraft carrier on 1 May and said, "The war's over"? Will the Foreign Secretary also take the following into account? I heard him remark that he is meeting different people such as the French Foreign Minister to try to mend some fences with the United Nations. We tried to do that before the war began, and if there is any grovelling to be done to the United Nations, he should tell George Bush and his Republican guard to do the grovelling.

Mr. Straw: I know that the White House makes heavy use of the House of Commons website and Hansard reports.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Has not the Foreign Secretary been far too indulgent towards the attitude of the French and German Governments? On the issues of a United Nations resolution that can help with the reconstruction of Iraq, and of finding a framework for the operation of an international peacekeeping force, have the French and Germans not merely displayed schadenfreude but done damage to the prospects for peace in Iraq itself, and prejudiced any possibility whatsoever of a common European foreign policy, let alone of a single European Foreign Minister from either France or Germany?

Mr. Straw : I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I have spoken week by week by telephone, and in meetings, with Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer, the two Foreign Ministers in question. Of course, they held a different position in respect of military action in Iraq, and we should respect that, just as some people did in this House. But they have shown a constructive approach to the security and reconstruction needs of Iraq, and conversations with them in New York and in other capitals continue.

On the issue of a common foreign and security policy, all of this emphasises the need to keep the matter an intergovernmental one in principle. One area about which I have been speaking today—Iraq—has been the

8 Sept 2003 : Column 48

subject of a divided approach within Europe. The other area—the middle east—has been the subject of a common foreign policy. I should tell the hon. Gentleman that our own position has been greatly strengthen by the fact that we have the European Union with us, and I shall give one practical example. We could have taken action here to freeze the whole of Hamas's fundraising activities, but the fact that we were able to get the other 24 member states on board greatly strengthens the effectiveness of that action. The hon. Gentleman needs to address the question of whether he wants us not to seek to co-operate with our European Union partners. My view is that we should co-operate where we can. Often, co-operation achieves success, and where it does not, well, we take our own decisions.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Despite the existence of a recent opinion poll in Iraq showing overwhelming support for the strategy and record of the coalition in recent months, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is still far too early to judge either the success or, indeed, the failure of the current strategy? Does he share my confidence that in one, two or five years' time we will be able to look back on the difficulties that face us today, and on the sacrifices that are being made, as stepping stones towards the successful re-establishment of a free and independent Iraq?

Mr. Straw I do not think that there is any doubt that the vast majority of Iraqis overwhelmingly wish to see not only the end of Saddam Hussein but, obviously, the establishment of a representative Government in a stable and secure society. There are profound frustrations at the moment in some areas—not all—that we have to understand, but it is certainly too early to judge whether or not we have been successful. What I can pledge to the House is our determination, along with that of the coalition authorities and other countries working there, to do everything that we can to secure this goal of a secure, prosperous and stable Iraq.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Does the Foreign Secretary recall that many of us who voted against the war did so because we felt that no weapons of mass destruction would be found that posed a threat to this country? Indeed, we argued that this invasion would make terrorism worse, not better, and that is precisely the situation that we face now. Does he agree that we are in danger of being sucked into a Vietnam-type vortex whereby we will be constantly told that more troops are being provided? Is not the solution to try to re-engage the international community, and is it not about time that the American Administration and ourselves made active efforts to re-engage the French and the Germans? There is no point talking about the accession nations of eastern Europe. We have to deal with major international powers that have the ability to move the UN forward. Is the Foreign Secretary prepared to take the necessary steps to get us out of the morass?

Mr. Straw: Terrorism in a terrible form existed before 18 March and I do not accept for a second the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the causes of terrorism in Iraq today. As to re-engaging with France and Germany, and other key partners, we have been engaged with them throughout and, as I have already told the House, I am

8 Sept 2003 : Column 49

greatly encouraged by the constructive atmosphere in which I have held many discussions with my French and German counterparts in recent weeks.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): My right hon. Friend has always been particularly candid about the difficulties that we face in the reconstruction of Iraq, but can I ask him to re-examine the position of the Iraqi army? I believe that it was a major mistake to stand down that army and we should reconsider the possibility of it serving the country again. I spoke this morning to someone who had been a general at a military academy, who told me that he could provide between 50 and 100 people to help the coalition to bring about security. We should think more about the contribution that Iraqis themselves can make to the stability and security of their own country.

Mr. Straw: The answer to my hon. Friend is yes. As I announced earlier, the Iraqi army is being rebuilt and the aim is to have three brigades—about 40,000—by the middle of next year. I shall certainly take forward my hon. Friend's specific suggestion with the coalition provisional authority.

Mr. Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what additional non-military British and foreign resources will be made available for the reconstruction of Iraq, so that our Army does not have to spend time training police, running the banking system and supervising contractors? Will he have discussions with the Russians about the rebuilding of power stations, because they built them and they understand them best?

Mr. Straw: On additional funds, the Department for International Development has committed £198 million altogether this financial year. Within that overall figure, an allocation of £20 million was recently made for short-term infrastructure projects in the south of Iraq.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that we should, as quickly as possible, shift some responsibility from the military to civilians. That is why additional troops have been sent. The more quickly they can help the security environment, the easier it will be for civilians to do the job themselves.

I am familiar with the hon. Gentleman's argument that many power stations in Iraq were built by the Russians, and therefore have Russian parts and Russian dimensions. I have already witnessed what can only be described as serious sales pitch by representatives of the Russian power supply industry about the need for them to be in Iraq. I very much hope that they will be able to secure a fair proportion of the contracts.

Next Section

IndexHome Page