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Mr. Straw: Because it is at the heart of the issue. I may have misheard the hon. Gentleman but Hansard will tell us tomorrow whether his recollection or mine is correct. I thought that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that he wanted the instructions to be published as well. We have had a spirited debate about whether or not the legal advice should be published and the basis for our decision to use force against Iraq. Whatever our differences over military action, we should look forward as well as back. I am not dismissing for a second the need for clear retrospective examination of Government decisionsnot least and above all where military personnel are put in harm's way and innocent and military lives are lost.
Yesterday we saw a potentially historic step along that path. For the first time, representatives of Iraq's different communities, ethnic and religious groups have come together and agreed a common political approach for their country. The signature of the transitional administrative law is a significant Iraqi achievement.
I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to all parties to that agreement. The members of the Iraqi governing council have shown great patience and fostered a spirit of consensus throughout the negotiations, which has laid the foundations for success. I also want to pay tribute to the work of Ambassadors Paul Bremer and Sir Jeremy Greenstock in facilitating the negotiations on the transitional law, and for everything they and their teams are doing to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country.
Sir Jeremy comes to the end of his period as a British representative on the coalition provisional authority, working directly alongside Paul Bremer, at the end of this month. He has been an outstanding diplomat and public servant, and I venture to suggest that, without his skill and ability to relate to others, the job of securing the transitional law would have been much more difficult. I pay tribute to him and to his wife, Anne, who first had to endure long periods of separation, but has more recently been in Iraq with Sir Jeremy, working particularly on women's issues.
Looking at the detail of the transition law shows how far Iraq has come since the dark days of Saddam Hussein's rule. The law enshrines fundamental principles of human rights, including protection for the freedom of religious belief and practice, freedom of expression and a free and independent judiciary. All Iraqis will be equal in rights, and equal before the lawwithout regard to gender, sect, opinion, belief, religion or origin. The law makes provision for a national commission for human rights and it includes provision for an electoral system designed to achieve 25 per cent. representation of women in the national assemblya higher target than has been achieved in our Parliament.
I would say to right hon. and hon. Members who were sceptical about the military action against Iraq, that none of those achievements, including a free press, an independent judiciary, recognition of all religionsSunni and Shi'a Kurds, as well as Arab Kurdscould possibly have been achieved without the military action that we set in place.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): We can certainly agree about the enormous contribution of Sir Jeremy Greenstock to Iraq, and, indeed, his contribution when he was our permanent representative at the United Nations. However, all the constitutional elements to which the Foreign Secretary has just referred stand no chance of implementation unless the security situation is sufficiently stable. What is the Government's present judgment on the extent to which a stable security position will obtain when the constitutional responsibilities are handed over? How many British troops will be required to be in station in Iraq and for how long?
Mr. Straw: I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the signature of the transitional administrative law is the clearest demonstration to date of the strong desire of the overwhelming majority of Iraqis to build a free,
As regards how long our troops will remain in Iraq, it is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and we will not be able to make judgments about that until nearer the mid-year point. I have already made it clear to the House that it will take at least this year before there is any possibility whatever of significant British troop withdrawals. The crucial point is that we committed ourselves to Iraq for the long term and we shall stay there in support of the Iraqi people. On 30 June, unless something wholly unanticipated happens, there will be a transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.
Other good developments are taking place. Nine months ago, I recall endless concern being expressedquite rightlyabout the lack of electricity and water supply, failures in sanitation systems, difficulties with the transport system and problems in schools and hospitals. We do not hear so much about those problems these days, because huge efforts have been made to raise the standards of those public services, not just to their level on 17 March last year, but well above the level that most Iraqis in most parts of the country have ever known. We have also helped to establish a free trade union movementI would hope that that would be welcomed on both sides of the House, but particularly on the Labour Bencheswhich never existed under Saddam.
All that is in stark contrast to the repression, neglect and exploitation practised by Saddam's regime. The full extent of the crimes committed under that regime is only just emerging: dungeons, shackles and instruments of torture in police stations and prisons; vast qualities of documentation on those killed and persecuted by the regime; and testimonies of arbitrary imprisonment, beatings, torture, amputations and mass executions. Some 270 mass graves have been reported, containing hundreds of thousands of bodies. The fate of hundreds of thousands of missing Iraqis, and other nationals, remains unknown.
There are many challenges ahead in Iraq, but the Iraqi people are, with international help, making good progress in rebuilding their country. Whatever our different positions on the justification for military action, our focus now should be on supporting the Iraqi people, and all those who are working with them, as they build a free, safe and prosperous Iraq at peace with its neighbours and taking its rightful place in the international community.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I have no difficulty in associating myself with the Foreign Secretary's last remarks about the position in Iraq. In a sense, it is probably right to say that the judgment of
The difficulty with the current debate is that we seem to be in danger of straying from the single essential point into much wider considerations. The motion requests the publication of the Attorney-General's advice. I fully accept what the Foreign Secretary said when he enunciated the general principles pertaining to an Attorney-General's advice; it is little different from that given by any other lawyer to his client. It is essential that the Government have access to the best legal advice, as they do through the Attorney-General, albeit that it is not always him who writes the adviceor at least provides some of the basic information or gives an opinionbecause he has a pool of talent on which to draw in supplying the advice.
It is ordinarily important that such advice should remain confidential. The reason for the confidentiality is exactly that enunciated by the Foreign Secretary: the desirability of being able to get advice without it being published and also becauseI suspect that the right hon. Gentleman would not disagreethe Government cannot hide behind the advice of an Attorney-General. It is the Government's decisions, based on advice, that have to be taken. In the old days, the advice used to be called an opinion. It is someone's opinion, not the gospel truth, that is offered to the world. It is the best advice that an individual, having sought the opinion and help of others, can offer the Government on what may be a complex and difficult issue.
I have no difficulty with those basic principles. I think that the Foreign Secretary accepts that the convention has not required that previous advice from those who held the office of Attorney-General must never be published. The pages of parliamentary history show that that has happened on a number of occasions. Interestingly enough, it has generally happened when a problem about the legality or appropriateness of subsequent Government action has arisen. Matters such as the Archer Shee case and the Belfast riots seem to me to fall roughly into that category.