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Paul Flynn: I welcome the statement that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made. Does he agree that the information that he gave the House earlier shows that there has indeed been a substantial change in the level of danger into which we are sending our troops? Does he also agree that a valuable precedent was established when the House voted to send our soldiers to Iraq to kill and, tragically, to be killed? Is it not clear that many of the assumptions on which those decisions were based were false and that there is a need for a new decision if more troops are to be sent?

Mr. Ancram: I do not accept that our troops were sent to Iraq to kill and be killed; they went there to restore stability and democracy in that sad country after many years of a vicious and evil regime. I have said what I said about voting. I very carefully judged my words and do not want to add or detract from them.

We need a credible economic strategy to create employment and to remove a major cause of resentment, which is itself a recruiting sergeant for dissent and worse. Lack of income is fostering enormous resentment in various parts of the country. As Jeremy Greenstock wrote, the guiding slogan for the coalition should be "security and jobs, stupid".

What plans are there to promote a comprehensive, long-term, job-creating investment programme? What plans are there to ensure a credible humanitarian strategy? For instance, what is the current situation in the hospital in Basra in relation to reported shortages of personnel and equipment?
 
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Would not reconstruction be more acceptable locally if it was bottom-up rather than applied top-down?

We also need to ensure that anything that is done by the coalition that is not consistent with the objectives for which we went to war ceases. The objective of removing the threat posed to international peace and security by Saddam Hussein has been achieved, but the objective of creating a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq is not yet achieved.

Mr. Hogg: My right hon. and learned Friend needs to be very careful. The stated purpose for going to war was to ensure compliance with United Nations resolutions. I did not happen to agree with it, but that was the stated purpose. No doubt the restoration or creation of democracy was an intended by-product, but it was not the lawful justification for the war.

Mr. Ancram: My right hon. and learned Friend has, on many occasions, made the case against regime change. The terms of the United Nations resolutions acknowledged and recognised that Saddam Hussein was a threat to international peace and security and was required to be dealt with. That was the justification upon which we backed the decision to go to war. Indeed, I understand from the Foreign Secretary that that was also the position that he took at the time.

We should, however, acknowledge, as the Secretary of State for Defence did, the substantial body of work of reconstruction that is actually being carried out in Iraq. Electricity is now more equitably distributed and more stable than it was under Saddam Hussein, who used to feed most of it into Baghdad for political reasons. Basra alone now receives 21 hours electricity each day, and the sweet water canal system that provides drinking water to 1.75 million residents of Basra city has been renovated. The number of telephone subscribers, including mobile users, is 33 per cent. greater than it was before the war. Some 2,500 schools have been refurbished and 70 million textbooks have been reprinted. Almost all of Iraq's 240 hospitals are functioning, more than 1,200 clinics are open and more than 3 million children under the age of five have received vaccinations. That is solid progress and we should recognise and welcome it.

As several hon. Members have said, however, we must recognise what is undermining those efforts. In the vital battle for hearts and minds, perception matters. How the coalition is perceived matters, so how the coalition acts matters, too. There is a difference between what is seen as an army of liberation intent on restoring the state to its people and what is seen as a conquering army with all the heavy-handedness that can accompany that. I am always wary of commenting from afar on specific military actions without experiencing the real threat on the ground and the nature of the insurgents that are being faced. Nevertheless, I believe that the military conduct of United Kingdom forces has, in this regard, been exemplary.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram: I shall not give way again because, as I said, many other Members wish to speak in the debate.
 
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There is no doubt that confidence right across Iraq has been shattered by the horrific incidences of prisoner abuse, particularly in the Abu Ghraib prison. We roundly condemn them. Such behaviour has no place in the conduct of the army of a democratic state. They are not only unacceptable in themselves, but highly damaging to the coalition's credibility in Iraq. One thing that would help to prevent further such abuses is, independent monitoring of all detention facilities in Iraq. When the Minister replies to the debate, can he specifically confirm that all and every part of coalition detention facilities throughout Iraq are open to unfettered inspection by the Red Cross? I repeat: all and every part of coalition detention facilities. Perhaps he can also clarify whether, after 30 June, responsibility for these detention facilities will pass from the coalition to the interim government.

I come finally to the underlying theme of this debate—the Government's relations with the United States. I bow to no one in my belief that our special relationship with America is crucial to our national interest. I believe in a true partnership with America, based on shared values, shared traditions and, frequently, shared interests. Shortly, Europe will be reminded of what, 60 years ago, the United States, as liberators, did for our war-ravaged continent and the debt of gratitude that we owe to them. Our relationship, however, must always be, as it always has been, a partnership in which frankness is at the core.

We are constantly given the nudge and the wink that that is the case for the Prime Minister, but we are never given the evidence. Even the closest of allies have differences of opinion and emphasis. A candid friendship, except when confidentiality is essential, should not be afraid of such differences—and the advice that follows on from them—being known.

The Prime Minister, however, seems to have established a new doctrine of international relations. He never admits in public whether the differences even exist, let alone the discussions he has had on them. That reticence is not necessary. Margaret Thatcher let Ronald Reagan clearly know of her displeasure at the United States invasion of Grenada in 1983. She quickly made her concerns known after the Reykjavik summit in 1986 between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. How can the British people ever know what influence a British Prime Minister has brought to bear on our American allies if he never discloses it? Is it surprising that people wonder whether any influence has been brought to bear at all?

Although the outlook in Iraq is, for the moment, bleak, we must never fall into the Liberal Democratic trap of just being negative. With them in power, Saddam would still be in place, he would still be murdering and he would still be threatening. Thank goodness he is not. Of course, things could be better. If the Government had planned more effectively when we pressed them to, if they had not dithered on the way forward and if they had not been so incompetent in keeping a grip on what was happening in Iraq, things today would be better. However, although time is short, we can still get it right. The cause we fought for was right and the objectives at
 
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which we are still aiming are right. For the sake of the people of Iraq and of international peace and security, we must ensure that they are achieved.

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

4.41 pm

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): For very many Jewish people of my generation, the major influence has been the holocaust and the second world war. That has certainly influenced my political views. The enduring view of that conflict and the holocaust is that the international community of the day knew what was happening in the concentration camps and knew that the train lines were carrying Jewish people and others from all over Europe to their certain death and destruction, and failed to act. That is an abiding issue for me, my community and many others. Similarly, in recent times, the failure of the international community to take any action until it was far too late led to the genocide and holocaust in Rwanda. I use the word "holocaust" advisedly. I hardly ever use it because to use it in a loose way defiles the memory of those who died.

For me, the Saddam's regime was horrific. I also represent a constituency with an enormous number of Iraqis, including many Iraqi Kurds. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), with her great experience of the situation in Iraq, spoke so well of their plight. The husband of one of my constituents—a very brave woman—was an officer in Saddam's army. He was a dissident. He was called in. He was tortured. While he was being tortured, his wife was brought in and raped in his presence. After the rape, he was executed. She managed to get out of the country. We subsequently managed to get her children out of the country and into this country. She is a brave and wonderful woman.

Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. That is why the events of recent weeks are so disturbing.

The accounts of what happened and of what was done by the American forces are absolutely dreadful. There are two accounts of those events. Either it is claimed, "We were only obeying orders"—a claim that again has an awful resonance for those who remember the events of the last century—or, as I now believe, institutional torture was authorised at a very high level. None of us who saw those pictures—there are probably more to come—can stand by and let that torture happen. I certainly cannot, and I suspect that the whole House cannot. That means that we, on behalf of the Iraqi people, have to make it clear to the Americans in the strongest possible terms how we feel about events. It means that Donald Rumsfeld has to resign now and the practice of using private contractors in Iraq for intelligence purposes must cease. Given what we have heard over the weekend, it also means that we need to ask the Americans if it is correct that filming took place of other appalling incidents in Guantanamo bay involving British citizens who were detainees there.
 
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These dreadful events have overshadowed the magnificent contribution that so many of our British armed forces have made in the most difficult circumstances. There is no doubt that major acts of reconstruction are taking place and that our forces, with their long experience of engaging with civilian populations, have sought to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. There is obviously a great deal of self-sacrifice on behalf of those people, and I congratulate our forces on that. We must be under no illusion, however: with the Americans' recent record, none of that message will get through, either to the Iraqis or to the public in this country. That is why we have to protest in the strongest possible terms.

What does that mean? We cannot simply desert the Iraqi people—that would be wrong—but on 30 June we have to hand over the maximum amount of authority to the Iraqi interim Government. That interim Government must be seen not as a puppet regime but as an interim Government who truly reflect the Iraqi people. We must make sure that the interim Iraqi Government have control over the security forces in Iraq if the country is to prosper and survive. The UN has to have the maximum power and control, and we all need to use our best endeavours to bring that about. On the deployment of troops, we of course need to listen to what British commanders on the ground are telling us, but we must also take into consideration the will of the Iraqis and the interim Iraqi Government, and we must do that in consultation with the UN.

The situation is so grave that this is not the time to seek narrow political advantage—it is too serious for that. We all have to resolve to work together for the Iraqi people. Iraq is a country with a brave, intelligent and able population, where parliamentary democracy once flourished. We must do everything possible to help it and to restore it, but, more importantly, we must do all that we can to give the Iraqi people control over their own lives and destinies.

4.49 pm


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