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Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): Following the same theme as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), this is a very valuable description of the security situation, but it seems to be in pursuit of a totally unchanged political policy. I detect no tone of any change. After June, as we get a UN resolution, what attempts are going to be made to internationalise the problem? Does the Secretary of State agree that we need the support of the Russians, the French, the Muslim countries, if we can get it, and perhaps some Asian countries? Are other countries going to be involved in the political resolution, or will that remain totally in the hands of the occupying forces and people who are free to contribute troops and money, if they wish to join in?

Mr. Hoon: At least two of the countries that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentions—Russia and France—will have to sign up to the Security Council resolution, so they will be engaged in a debate, and indeed in the political process set out in any new Security Council resolution. As I indicated to the House earlier, one of the incidental benefits of such a resolution is the possibility of more countries providing troops on the ground and, therefore, more countries being prepared to engage in the reconstruction effort.

That is crucial in providing employment for Iraqis, which gives them a stake in the development of their country and which is proving remarkably successful. I can give the House a long list of achievements. About 90 schools have been refurbished in our area of responsibility and a further 140 refurbishment projects are under way. We have completed 65 general health projects, 16 hospital projects and 32 health centre projects. A programme is under way to refurbish something as mundane as petrol stations in southern Iraq. Some 21 berths in Umm Qasr port are open to deep-draft ships. A grain-receiving facility has been renovated and can now process up to 600 tonnes of grain an hour. A whole range of projects has been set up across the country to deliver precisely the improvements asked for.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): Should not my right hon. Friend correct the misleading impression given by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), that only British and American troops are in Iraq? I have just come back from Budapest, and I know that Hungary has troops in Iraq under Polish command, whom it will continue to keep there. Some 27 other countries have troops in Iraq. Should not that fact be spread more widely by the Government to counteract the propaganda that only Britain and America are there?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that 30 countries are providing troops and sharing
 
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security responsibilities as they work closely alongside Iraqis. I would be willing to see that figure enlarged by other countries providing forces to Iraq.

There has been speculation in recent weeks that more UK forces may be on their way to Iraq, either to replace Spanish troops who have recently left or to provide more command capability. In fact, US forces have replaced the Spanish contingent. As far as our own area is concerned, we judge that we have sufficient forces in Iraq, although we always keep that under close review.

We are considering, with partners, the levels and disposition of forces in the context of the crucial period we are now entering, from the establishment of an interim Government through to the election of a transitional assembly and Government early next year. We have not yet reached any conclusion on what that may mean for our own military contribution. If we decide to make any significant change, we shall, as I have already indicated, inform the House in the usual way.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Winning hearts and minds is one of the important things that British troops have to do. Recent events have made that far more difficult because of stories appearing in newspapers that have proved to be false. I am the Member of Parliament who represents Fulwood, which is home to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment. Does the Secretary of State accept that the great anguish and frustration felt by members of the regiment and their families has been relieved by the fact that the stories proved to be fake? Will he assure the House that the Daily Mirror is fully complying with the investigation now taking place so that those who are culpable may be brought to justice and so that everyone may know that what was published in the newspapers over the past two weeks put the lives of our servicemen, which were already at stake, under even greater tension?

Mr. Hoon: I, too, have received strong representations from the hon. Gentleman's constituents and from those of surrounding constituencies that provide recruits for the regiment. The Mirror group has certainly said that it will fully co-operate with the investigation, but I have not yet seen the results of that.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con) rose—

Mr. Hoon: I must make progress. A great number of hon. Members want to speak, but I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I wish to raise a matter on which he may need some notice before replying, but which is germane to the debate.

A story is running on the wires, on Associated Press in particular, that a roadside bomb containing sarin nerve agent has exploded in Iraq near a United States military convoy. Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt said:

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There were no casualties.

As we are constantly talking about weapons of mass destruction, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman should have the chance to take advice on that incident and inform the House of the background to it.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for setting out that information for the benefit of hon. Members. I have been in the House since business started today, so I have not had an opportunity to receive that information. In due course, no doubt, I shall be able to verify it. It certainly indicates the kind of risks and threats that coalition forces face and the extreme lengths to which some fanatics who oppose us are prepared to go to cause loss of life.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hoon: I really must make progress and reach a conclusion, so I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way.

I regret that allegations in recent weeks about the conduct of some coalition forces have marred our record in Iraq. No one who saw those photos from Abu Ghraib could fail to be shocked. The President of the United States and the United States Defence Secretary have apologised for any mistreatment, and I am fully confident that the United States' investigations will be comprehensive and thorough. Mistreatment of prisoners is wholly unacceptable. In an environment where insurgents are prepared to murder police officers, humanitarian aid workers, civilian contractors and innocent children, our own standards cannot be allowed to fall. Allegations have also been made against UK forces and they are investigated as soon as they are received.

Hon. Members have rightly raised concerns about the effect that recent allegations will have on our standing in the Islamic world. I can assure the House that we are considering how we can ensure that we make it clear to the Iraqi people how seriously we take these charges, and how determined we are to deal with them. The governor of Basra, however, whom I met only a few weeks ago, has said that he has not registered a single allegation of human rights abuses by British forces.

We will continue our mission in Iraq. I have no doubt that when we succeed—and succeed we shall—the lives of ordinary Iraqis will be improved beyond anything they could have dreamed of under Saddam Hussein. We are making further progress every day. It would be wrong of us to falter now.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State has finished.

4.21 pm

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I, too, wondered whether the Secretary of State had finished or was giving way yet again.
 
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I welcome the debate, although it is a disgrace that it is not being held in Government time. Had the Government had the courage to initiate such a debate, and as Iraq is not for them or us a cynical European or local government election issue, we could have had a full day's debate on this important and urgent matter.

As both the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the Secretary of State indicated, this debate is being held in the grim shadow of the tragic assassination today of Izz al-Din Salim by those who still seek to prevent the peaceful return of Iraq to the Iraqis. They must not be allowed to succeed.

I shall start with two comments. First, we were right to support the Iraq war. The threat posed to international peace and security was acknowledged and real. Iraq and its peoples needed rescuing from Saddam. Those two facts were not going to change and if we had not done it last year, we would still be looking to do it in the future, at almost certainly greater risk and cost. It is worth remembering that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, Saddam would still be murdering his people, still destabilising that volatile region, still posing a threat to international peace and security and still requiring to be dealt with.


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