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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): We were told last weekthe reports were, no doubt, inspired by the Governmentthat extra troops were to be deployed to Iraq, perhaps in Najaf. However, there were reports this weekend that, on the contrary, we were no longer in for the long haul and that we were talking about withdrawing troops before 200506. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Government owe the House an explanation of their strategy and of what we are planning to do with a country for which we have taken responsibility?
Sir Menzies Campbell: There is no way to answer the hon. Gentleman's question other than in the affirmative. I shall set out some conditions that are appropriate in the event that additional troops are thought necessary, but he has put his finger on something that I hope the Secretary of State will explain, not just to the House but to people outside.
It is hard not to be angry that, in the name of a coalition of which the United Kingdom is a member, detainees have been subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, for which no one takes political responsibility. Asking Private Lynddie England to take all the blame seems a little unfair.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the proposition that, if the United States Government deny people in Guantanamo bay their civil and legal rights, it is perhaps not surprising that junior soldiers feel the same way, and that that is a severe indictment of that Administration?
Sir Menzies Campbell: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made that point on previous occasions in the House and I have supported him on some of those occasions. There are still British citizens in Guantanomo bay and they are entitled to due process and a trial according to the accepted principles of law. If no such trial is available to them, they should be returned to the United Kingdom so that we can consider whether or not there are adequate grounds for prosecution.
I am angry about these matters, not because I was deceived, but because my scepticism and that of many others is increasingly justified. I am angry because our relationship with the United States, put into sharp focus in recent times, should be a partnership of influence, and we should not be so subordinate that we often appear to be subservient. What sort of relationship is it if we are actively discouraged from public criticism of the US Administration and their ultimate responsibility for the
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humiliation or, as one writer put it, debauchery towards the Iraqis in their custody? In the House, we have to rely on the feline ambiguities of the Leader of the House.
Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab): While concurring with the sentiments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman about Guantanamo bay and the mistreatment of detainees there and in Iraq, does he not agree that all decent people in the House and beyond hope and pray for peace and democracy in Iraq? Is it not distasteful that his party is putting success or failure in Iraq at the top of its Euro-election campaign agenda, so that real failures such as the assassination this morning or imaginary failures such as the forgeries in the Daily Mirror are desirable to fuel electoral success? Is that not shameful opportunism when there is a need for genuine debate?
Sir Menzies Campbell: I have not met a single elector who objects to the issue of Iraq being raised in relation to the European elections. In the course of the campaign, I have met many people who wish to raise the question of Iraq and Britain's role. They wish to express their anxiety about the nature of present events and the long-term consequences for the United Kingdom.
What sort of relationship allows Members of Congress more licence to criticise the Bush Administration than it does the British Government? The harsh, unpalatable truth for Washington is that only the United Nations can save us all. All the coalition eggs are well and truly in the UN basket. If Brahimi fails, what is the alternative strategy? I do not have an answer to that question, but those who took military action against Iraq ought to have one, because it is by no means certain that the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi will be successful.
Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Ambassador Brahimi has been asked to appoint an interim Government who are truly representative of the Iraqi people, and we all hope that he succeeds. There is more hope if he appoints that Government rather than the coalition, but that does not address the problem of troop withdrawal. We have not said that if the interim Government ask us to withdraw our troops we will do so; we have said that we hope that that would come about. Mr. Brahimi had the same authority in Afghanistan, but he had no authority over the US troops, and the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating. His authority to appoint an interim Administration does not necessarily mean that we will get an exit strategy for our troops, but that has not been made clear.
Sir Menzies Campbell:
My view is that it would be difficult for a provisional Government, appointed by Lakhdar Brahimi, to exercise the sort of responsibility that the right hon. Lady suggests, but I am in absolutely no doubt whatsoever that, when we get to the stage of a democratically elected Government of the Iraqi people, that institution must have total responsibility for the conduct of Iraq. Indeed, at that point, I would say that
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the United Kingdom and others should begin a phased withdrawal of their troops. The responsibility for Iraq, given to the Iraqi people, must be whole and complete.
In New York, we should be arguing for a Security Council resolution that is maximalist, not minimalistarguing along with France and Russia for the maximum transfer of authority to the provisional Governmentbut the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people must be about substance, not simply ceremony. The raising of flags and patriotic music will be no adequate substitute for real authority.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) mentioned the exit strategy. Let me suggest principles that should most certainly apply. First, all our effort should be directed to supporting the United Nations in establishing a provisional Government, to whom as many functions as possible should be transferred. Secondly, once a provisional Government have been established, all our efforts should be directed to supporting the United Nations in the preparations for the elections. Thirdly, as soon as an Iraqi Government have been democratically elected, under United Nations supervision, United Kingdom troops should begin a phased withdrawal.
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware no doubt that the Iraq governing council, no less, has accused the United Nations of massive institutional fraud over the oil-for-food programmea fraud that is estimated to be about $64 billion. Bearing it in mind that that fraud has directly enriched Saddam Hussein and his supporters, undoubtedly involves members of the Security Council and, indeed, the UN itself and has probably provided money to fund the very insurgency that our troops are now fighting, does he believe that the UN is an entirely suitable body to carry out that task?
Sir Menzies Campbell:
I ask the hon. Gentleman to suggest an alternative. I do not know that there is any queueing up, and I do not know that there is any alternative strategy on offer either. He is quite right to point to the disgrace of the fraud in relation to the oil-for-food programme. Perhaps he should consider whether he is entitled to say that members of the Security Council may have been involvedthat is a rather sweeping statementbut he is certainly right to highlight the fraud. I for one am most certainly disappointed that the extent of the fraud was so considerable and that moneys may well have been diverted in the directions to which he has referred, but if he has an alternative to Lakhdar Brahimi, let us hear it, because it is only in him, in the United Nations and in the Secretary-General of the United Nations that any prospect rests of keeping the date of 30 June, chosen not for its intrinsic merit, but rather for its importance as a
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signpost in the American domestic political campaign. That date can be kept only if the United Nations ensures that it is kept.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): The one thing that puzzles me about the line of argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his fellow Liberal Democrats advance is that the United Nationswhile it may or may not have some moral authority, depending on one's point of viewhas no resources other than those provided by its membership. There is no army or police force belonging to the United Nations. Where are the army and the police force that he wants and needs to enhance the security situation in Iraq, outside the current coalition? There are no volunteers who will simply put on blue berets and come and do the job that he wants them to do.
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