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Before my hon. Friend moves from the treatment of prisoners, will he assure the House that the deaths in custody in the area under British administration are the subject of a thorough investigation that will be publicly reported? Does he accept that, as a coalition of forces is occupying Iraq, the
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joint administration in Baghdad bears some responsibility for what has happened in the American sector as well as the British sector?
Mr. Rammell: It is critical that all instances of abuse, wherever they occur, are thoroughly investigated, and we are committed to doing so. I can assure my hon. Friend that instances of abuse in the British sector are being actively and thoroughly investigated at the moment.
We fundamentally agree with the Liberal Democrats' argument about the need for a greater role for the United Nations. It is a fact, little reported at present, that there is a consensus in which the UN, the Iraqi governing council and the coalition provisional authority all agree that the UN should take a more substantive role once the occupation formally ends on 30 June. We are strongly pushing for that in the United Nations. As Kofi Annan and the Prime Minister recently made clear, we want a new Security Council resolution marking the end of the occupation and the handover to a fully sovereign Iraqi Government.
Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Can it be the end of occupation when there will be an interim Government selected by the UNI accept that that is progresswithout either authority over the coalition forces, the Iraqi police and military or the right to change economic decisions that have been made? Is that really a handover and an end of occupation?
Mr. Rammell: My right hon. Friend is wrong. The exact arrangements for coalition forces in relation to the caretaker interim Government will be determined in the resolution, which, I believe, will be submitted to the Security Council in the near future. I hope that that provides her with reassurance.
The discussions on the interim Government are proceeding successfully, with Mr. Brahimi indicating that its full structure and officials will be announced by the end of May. I have a problem with people who argue for a greater UN role, but then criticise the timetable for elections as being too slow.
The UN itself and Mr. Brahimi himself have made it clear that they believe that the present electoral timetable is correct and, bluntly, the only realistic one in the present circumstances, and it is important that we go forward with that view.
Let me turn to some of the issues raised during the debate. I was interested and intrigued to listen to the arguments of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch). In summing up the debate, he made it explicitly clear that the Liberal Democrats are seeking to use the war as an electoral issue in the forthcoming elections. In that regard, I am indebted to Conservative Members for reminding me that the leader of the Liberal party recently made clear his intention not to use that
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issue during the forthcoming campaign. No one should be surprised at such discontinuity between different members of the Liberal Opposition.
Dr. Julian Lewis: I can confirm that the leader of the Liberal Democrats made that commitment on the "Politics Show" on 9 May, which only goes to show that a week is a very long time in politics, especially if one is a Liberal Democrat.
Let me turn to the views put forward in introducing the debate by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). On 18 March last year, he said that we went to war on both a threat and a promise. There has been much rewriting of history in the past year by the opponents of war[Interruption.] It is important to remember that we went to war because Saddam Hussein did not comply with resolution 1441, which gave him a last chance to disarm and comply with successive UN resolutions. It is important to remember as well that, if we had not taken that decision, Saddam would have been reinforced and reinvigorated, and whatever difficulties we face at the moment would have been significantly worse.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife went on to argue explicitly for the phased withdrawal of troops from the date of the elections in January 2005, regardless of the security situation or the wishes of the elected Iraqi Government. I do not believe that, in those circumstances, that would be the right or responsible thing to do.
Mr. Rammell: Of course we respond to the wishes of British people, but we also have to give a lead in this situation. With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, his speech was extraordinarily long on critique, but short on substantive alternatives to the argument and course that we propose at the moment. I was very mystified by his argument when he said that arrangements similar to those put in place at the end of Gulf war one were needed. I presume that he was referring to the surrender document that was agreed at that stage, but there is no comparison whatsoever between the situation now and then.
Sir Menzies Campbell:
Let me help the Minister with his mystification. I was suggesting that there should have been a resolution to authorise the use of force in the same terms as was required in Gulf war one. That would have required the coalition to report back to the Security Council, under the supervision of the Security Council.
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Mr. Rammell: We could have an historical debate for as long as we like, but I believe that we were right to do what we did; the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that we were wrong. However, the key point is what we do in the current circumstances, and I heard not one substantive argument from him about a substantive, alternative course of action.
Let me now turn to the arguments of the shadow Foreign Secretary. I wholly agree with him that, if the Liberal Democrats had had their way, Saddam Hussein would still be in place, murdering, terrorising and torturing his people. The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) also raised the important point about the discovery of sarin artillery munitions and asked for a response in the summing-up speech, and I shall try to respond to him.
General Kimmitt announced today that the Iraq survey group has found a 155 mm artillery round containing sarin. It was rigged as an improvised explosive device and discovered by a US convoy. The following points seem clear: it is thought to be an old munition; those who planted it may not have known what it contained; and preliminary field testing of the substance proved positive for sarin and further samples have been sent for analysis. It does not represent a new capability, but it does appear to be part of a programme declared to the UN. However, the munition should have been handed over to UNSCOM and destroyed. It therefore appears to be in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, and it, significantly, appears to back up what we have been saying all along: Saddam concealed some of his stock. That point needs to be made.
The shadow Foreign Secretary also asked for reassurance and confirmation that all and every part of coalition detention facilities are, and will remain, open to ICRC inspection, and I can confirm that that is the case.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) made an interesting contribution, and I strongly support his argument that we should not abandon Iraq now. As he argued, if we did so, that move would dismay the forces of democracy and progress in the region and give succour to extremist forces throughout the world. That is the reality of the situation that we face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) expressed her justified concerns about allegations of abuse of prisoners by the US military. Let me be clear and let me repeat the words that the Foreign Secretary used on the issue last week. The allegations and clear evidence of abuse in the US sector are very damaging. There is no question about that, nor should there be any pretence to the contrary. We should be clear, as President Bush has asserted, that in no sense were those actions supported or connived at by the US Administration, who are as appalled by the evidence as we are. That is the important point to make, and it responds to some of my hon. Friend's concerns.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) gave a speech that was long on moral indignation, but, again, short on substantive alternatives in respect of the actions that we should take. Again, she repeated the 45-minute claim, as though that was the key issue that determined our decision to go to war. It was not: it was
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not mentioned once in the key debate on 18 March 2003, when we took that decision. The reason we went to war was based on Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with resolution 1441.
The hon. Lady went on to saythis is a significant pointthat, because of the allegations of abuse, we have no moral authority in any of the arguments whatsoever, and I think that she was referring to the Government and the country as a whole. I ask her to reflect on those comments and consider whether she really means to make that point. Surely, when allegations of abuse occur, the key difference is the way in which we respond. The allegations are serious, and we deal with them in the strongest possible terms. In no sense do I want to minimise those concerns, however, by making it clear that, of course, brutality, torture and the abuse of human rights formed the very mission statement of Saddam's regime, and there was never any condemnation or investigation in those circumstances. That is the key difference, and it is why we retain moral authority in these issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) made a very telling contribution. He attacked caricature positions on both sides of the argument. He rightly said that we need to respond to the changing situation. He attacked those who opposed the war, who use every setback simply as a justification for their opposition and their original decision to oppose the war, but, similarly, he stressed that those of us who supported the war need to respond to the changing situation, not blithely dismiss criticism. That argument is indeed well founded.
In reaching a conclusion, it is clear to me that the decision to go to war remains extraordinarily divisive, but those of us who supported military action did so with every bit as much integrity and conviction as those who opposed the conflict. That point is too often forgotten in the debates that we have at the moment. However, whatever view any of us took, the critically important challenge now is to secure the future of Iraq and all its people. I fundamentally believe that we are at a crucial and critical juncture.
The attacks by insurgents will continue as we approach the end of the occupation and the transfer of power on 30 June. The attacks will continue because the insurgents do not want a free Iraq run by the Iraqis.
Our task, with the UN and the whole international community, is to see the challenge through. We need greater UN involvementthat is what we are arguing for. We need more Iraqis to take on policing and security roleswe are advocating that. We need a continuing British troop presence, but a clear commitment that we will leave as soon as it is safe to do so. That is our commitment. Above all, we need to hold our nerve and follow through on the commitments we have made. To cut and run at this stage, as some have suggested, would be a gross betrayal of the people of Iraq. It would also, significantly, be wholly lacking in political credibility. That is why we will not do it, and why I urge hon. Members to support the amendment and oppose the motion.
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