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Clare Short: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I give way to the right hon. Lady, who voted for the war in the Cabinet.

Clare Short: We do not have votes in the Cabinet. We do not have much discussion, either. Everyone tends to justify their own actions, but surely the lesson is that being willing to use force to back up the authority of the UN to support the people of Iraq in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, perhaps by indicting him, could have been done more carefully, in a more considered way and with more international co-operation. The people of Iraq would be much better off if that had happened. Should we not all face up to that and stop trying to justify every position that we have taken in the past?

Mr. Ancram: I will take a lot from the right hon. Lady but I find it difficult to take that when she stayed in the Cabinet throughout the war, regardless of the fact that there had been no second UN resolution.

Support for the war, however, does not and cannot entail placid acceptance of everything that has followed. That support cannot—nor should it, in a democratic Parliament—inhibit us from criticising the conduct and drift of the post-conflict programme.

Secondly, the Prime Minister hit rock bottom last week when he inferred that our criticism of him was a criticism of our armed forces. We have always made it abundantly clear that we not only support the effective and courageous manner in which our armed forces are carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq in the face of great difficulties and dangers, but are immensely proud of their professionalism and dedication.

The whole House will share my disgust at the malicious attempts in some quarters to damage the reputation of our armed forces in Iraq by making untrue or faked allegations that also endanger their lives. With
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the editor rightly gone, I hope that the Daily Mirror lessons have been well and truly learned. Of course, where there are serious and genuine allegations of abuse, those responsible must be rooted out and dealt with firmly and effectively. We can have no time for such people.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that at the time when war was embarked upon, Iraq represented a real danger to other countries. Can he tell me of any country, apart from Israel, that recorded in any international forum any threat that it felt itself to be under from Iraq?

Mr. Ancram: The words that I used were, "The threat posed to international peace and security was acknowledged and real." That is because during the previous 12 years, 17 United Nations resolutions had been passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which relates to threats to international peace and security and which allows, under article 43, for military action to be used to deal with such threats.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Ancram: I want to make a little progress. This is not our debate and I am conscious that many hon. Members want to speak. Those who know me will be aware that I am usually very generous in taking interventions.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke rose—

Mr. Ancram: However, I shall give way to my old friend, the former Chancellor.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for that privileged treatment and I shall try not to abuse it.

Given that I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that our attitudes today cannot be determined by whether we were in favour of the war in the first place, does he agree that even if the war was justified, the present situation has been made infinitely worse by the painful lack of planning for what was to follow after the occupation and the incompetence with which the interim Government have at times conducted themselves in trying to impose security on the country? Is it not important that the House should address itself to the problem that we now face: how do we get from being an unpopular occupying force to being part of a genuinely international effort to create a stable Iraq?

Mr. Ancram: My right hon. and learned Friend has either been reading my mind or reading my notes from a distance, because he pre-empts what I am about to say.

This debate is important because of the crisis of public confidence that has been brought about by the lack of direction, lack of candour and general incompetence in the Government's handling of Iraq. That has its roots in the Prime Minister's refusal to hold a proper inquiry into the Government's use, in the run-up to the war, of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. It has been further deepened by the incredible failure of the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues to keep abreast of the
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serious reports on prisoner abuse by the Red Cross and Amnesty International, and by the extraordinarily conflicting reasons for that failure that were given in the House last week—including, as hon. Members may recall, the Secretary of State for Defence saying that he had not read the Red Cross report because it had been given to the Government in confidence. That is compounded, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) says, by the Government's failure a year ago to set out a clear post-conflict plan—for which, incidentally, I had been calling since the debate in this House on 24 September 2002.

Strategy is still being developed on the hoof. Last Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary chose to announce—not in this House, but on "BBC Online"—that British troops would leave Iraq if the new post-30 June interim Government asked them to do so. Having called for the transfer of power to be real, not cosmetic, Conservative Members welcome that announcement—but why was it not made in Parliament and why was it not made earlier? There remain other unanswered questions that I shall come to shortly.

Today, we find Downing street apparently briefing about—hon. Members can choose their phrase depending on the newspaper that they read—"gear changes" and "new exit strategies". To me, exit strategies are redolent of failure at a time when we need a clear, positive plan with a clear end game for achieving our overall objective: to return Iraq to the Iraqis under a representative and democratic Government.

If we are to understand the strategy, we first need to know the full details of the handover on 30 June. To whom will it be made and who will have been responsible for making that decision? Given the role of the United Nations representative in the handover, what will be the role of the coalition in the run-up to the handover?

We believe that, even in the remaining six weeks, there is still a need for a high-powered United Kingdom political representative in the coalition, working alongside General McColl on the military side, to ensure that the UK political voice is clearly heard and heeded.

We need some answers now, to show that the handover will be a real transfer of sovereignty. How does the Foreign Secretary's statement on withdrawing UK troops if requested by the interim Government conform to what I understand was the crucial Brahimi agreement with Ayatollah Sistani, which was reported in Sir Jeremy Greenstock's article in The Economist on 7 May, namely, that the unelected Government who will emerge from the handover and precede elections will not have sovereign freedom to affect the future of the Iraqi state? How is that consistent with saying that they can decide whether coalition forces stay or go?

We also need a clear security strategy to restore public order and stability in Iraq, not least, as has been said, because of the forthcoming elections next January. What will be the position of our troops if we are asked to remain after 30 June? Will they be, in the old phrase, "in aid of the civil power" at that power's request? What is a realistic assessment of when Iraqi security forces will be capable, in terms of numbers and training, to impose
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and maintain the necessary degree of security? Despite the fact that the Secretary of State told us again today that no decision has been made about whether further deployments of British troops will be needed, what is the likelihood of a requirement for more UK troop deployments and in what capacity? We should at least be given an indication.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is one thing if further troops are necessary at the behest of British commanders to secure the safety and positions of British forces, but that many of us would be gravely concerned if there were to be an open-ended commitment for the deployment of British troops anywhere in Iraq at any time?

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He, too, must have such good eyesight that he can read my notes. I was just coming to a point that has been discussed over the weekend and raised in the debate: whether the House should vote on future deployments. I am firmly of the view, which I suspect is shared by my hon. Friend, given what he has just said, that the House should never try to second-guess operational decisions or requirements on the ground. However, where a decision is to be taken that would substantially or materially change the nature of our military involvement, which could include a request to undertake operations that are outside our current area or not under our command, seeking the opinion of the House would probably be justified. That does not indicate that we would oppose such deployment, but that we should want to consider it on its merits.

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