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Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford) (LD): The purpose of the motion standing in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends is not to secure a re-run of the vote
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held on 18 March last year; rather, it is to urge hon. Members to focus on where we now find ourselves in Iraq and on the future. We have heard a dozen or so Back-Bench speeches on that issue, the two best coming at the end of the debate from the hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) and the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney).

The continuing unrest in Iraq, which is fuelled by the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr and which we have seen in action just today, has been further inflamed by the pictures of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by United States forces and by some allegations against UK forces. There is little sign of the unrest abating. Only last week, the Secretary of State said:

Today's debate has given the House the opportunity to reflect on the current situation in Iraq and, more important, to determine what steps should be taken next. Once again, I am glad that it has been the Liberal Democrats who, in our time, have given the House of Commons a real opportunity to discuss the matter.

It is a sad fact that Iraq appears increasingly unstable. Liberal Democrats and Members of other parties warned a long time ago how enormously difficult it would be to restore stability to a post-war Iraq. War is a terrible business, which is why it must always be used only as a last resort. Not only does it put at risk the lives of our armed forces and innocent civilians, but it rips up the fabric of societies and breeds discontent and malice. The appalling images of abuse of Iraqis have added fuel to the fire and will add to the influx of terrorists to Iraq. In his speech of 18 March last year, the Prime Minister suggested that he wanted to break any link between Iraq and terrorism. He has certainly failed to do so. It is sadly apparent to us that Iraq is now more a home for the likes of al-Qaeda than ever it was before we went to war. Back in March last year, the Government were keen to link a potential war in Iraq with progress in the middle east peace process. It is interesting to see that their amendment today makes no reference to that.

But we are where we are. Having chosen the course of war, our duty now is twofold. First, we must ensure that the men and women of Her Majesty's armed forces, who serve with such credit and distinction in Iraq, are given the best possible protection and, secondly, we must try to offer stability, peace and sovereignty to the people of Iraq.

We have heard some good speeches in our debate, including that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). He was right to speak about weapons of mass destruction and remind the House of the casus belli, or the reason why we went to war last year. He pointed out the stupidity of the argument advanced by the Ministry of Defence that it cannot calculate the number of civilian deaths. He said that the MOD has objected to some of his questions; my hon. Friends, too, have experience of it refusing to answer their questions. His speech contrasted sharply with that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who began by complaining about his lack of press coverage, went
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on to rubbish my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and Senator Edward Kennedy in the same sentence and then misrepresented the views of his right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook).

We heard a very good speech from the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), one of two Conservative Back Benchers to make a contribution. He rightly said that Iraq could have been a beacon in the middle east, and could have set an example for other nations. Sadly, however, it has not done so.

As usual, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) made an impassioned speech, and spoke about the need for peace in the middle east. She said that when she canvasses on the doorstep people talk to her about Iraq. My party has been criticised for treating Iraq as an election issue, but when I knock on doors I discover, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) said, that Iraq is an issue that we are right to put before the British people; suggestions from Labour Back Benchers and even Conservative spokesmen that we should not do so in the forthcoming elections are ridiculous. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) talked about the proliferation of terrorists in Iraq.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Keetch: No, I will not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) was right to talk about the body count. It is ridiculous of the Secretary of State for Defence to suggest that we are putting the lives of British forces on the line by trying to calculate how many civilians they may have killed. Such a calculation has been made in every other conflict, and to suggest that we and our hon. Friends on the Labour Back Benches are endangering the lives of our servicemen and women by seeking a figure is wrong. Speaking from his experience of Iraq, my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) talked about the abuse of prisoners and the difference between the attitude of the American Department of Defence and that of the MOD. We may criticise the Department of Defence for many things, but since the photographs were published it has acted speedily. Secretary Rumsfeld went to the prison last week, and he also went to Congress to show lawmakers photographs of some of the abuses. In the United States, the first courts martial have begun. I wonder, however, what happened to the fusilier who came back from Iraq last year and tried to get photographs of Iraqi abuse printed in his local Boots. We have still not heard what happened to him, and do not know whether he has been court-martialled.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood spoke about the United Nations, about which we again heard two myths: first, that we went to war to support the wonderful UN resolutions, and the British and the Americans were champions of the UN; and, secondly, that the UN had failed in its duty. In reality, however, it was not the United Nations that set the timetable for war in Iraq but the United States and Britain. To try either to blame the UN or to suggest that we were protecting its role is ridiculous. Increasing the role of the
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UN, as suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), by internationalising the political and security processes in Iraq, and trying to ensure that our forces are associated not with war but with a future peace is the best way to achieve our goals. The pictures of the abuse of Iraqis do not help us, and I found them shocking and awful. Is that what the Americans meant when they talked of shock and awe?

In a recent newspaper article, the right hon. Member for Livingston said that the Prime Minister is in denial about Iraq. He was remarkably prescient, given the Government amendment, which is extraordinarily complacent and simply says, "Don't worry, everything is all right." It would be nice if we could believe that. I respect the British forces, who continue to serve on the ground with skill and determination. As we have said, if UK commanders on the ground seek support as a force protection measure, we will give it to them. However, we owe it to them to have an exit strategy and a plan for the future, as they are putting their lives on the line. We in the House simply pay lip service to that.

6.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): We have had a constructive debate but, to be honest, I do not think that anyone has changed their view about whether it was right or wrong to go to war. Nevertheless, it is important that, whatever our view, we focus all our efforts on how we can rebuild Iraq, build on the elimination of the Saddam regime and create a stable and democratic state, as we have a legal and moral obligation to do so.

First, however, I wish to reiterate a view shared across the House and express our deepest condolences about the death of Mr. Izz al-Din Salim, the acting president of the Iraqi governing council, and head of the Islamic Dawa party. He will, I am sure, be sorely missed.

I should also like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our armed forces. I am confident that everyone will join me in saying that we can be immensely proud of the job that our armed forces are doing. We have all been conscious in recent weeks of the allegations of abuse by coalition forces in Iraq. The photographs of British troops that appeared in the Daily Mirror have been shown to be fakes. I welcome the fact that the Daily Mirror has admitted it was wrong to publish the photographs. However, allegations of instances of abuse remain, and are being investigated. As my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Defence stated earlier, when an allegation is made against British troops, action is taken immediately. That decision that does not need to be referred to Ministers or made by them.

The Liberal Democrats called for the role of the United Nations to be expanded and enhanced, a view with which we fundamentally agree.

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