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Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will remember, because he was involved in events at the time, that about nine years ago, in good faith and based on repeated personal assurances from the highest possible official advice, I made a statement at the Dispatch Box that turned out to be untrue. Within days, I came back to the Dispatch Box, put the truth on the record and apologised to the House of Commons, simply because I believedI was advised at the time that there were other ways of correcting the recordthat we degrade public life if we do not adhere to truth. Why will not the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister please now apologise for giving information to this House that was not true?
Mr. Straw: I remember the case when the right hon. Lady came before the House then and she did well, but I also remember plenty of occasions when I was Home Secretary when I apologised to the House for the sort of disastrous thing that used to happen more often when she was running the Home Office than when I was. I once described it as "business as usual" at the Home Office, and I recall her castigating me for doing that on four separate occasions in one week.
I am the first to make an apology when I feel that it is due, but I must tell the right hon. Lady that the position is rather different here. The Prime Minister has already made it clear in his speech at the party conference that
"The evidence about Saddam having actual chemical and biological weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong. I acknowledge that and accept it."
"And the problem is, I can apologise for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam."
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that deeply held views expressed in the House on both sides of the argument are to be respected. That is certainly my position. A local doctor working in a hospital in my constituency who comes from Iraq is in regular contact with his family there. They know what is going on and they are constantly telling him that life is much better for them, that they now enjoy a sense of freedom and a decent future at last. What troubles me about the whole debate is that such quiet voices are not getting through. I am not looking through rose-coloured spectacles about what is happening in Iraq, but I believe that we need to listen to those quiet voices.
I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. The security position is very difficult in some parts of the
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country, but many of the Iraqis to whom I spoke, who represented a wide range of parties, made exactly the same point as my hon. Friend.
I want to apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) for omitting to answer his question about the casualty figures. I have not seen those figures. We keep a close eye on the figures provided by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and by one of the independent websites. I will follow it up, write to my right hon. Friend and place the letter in the Library of the House.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that if the present appalling level of violence continues in Iraq, there is little prospect of achieving long-term, enduring political stability or successful economic reconstruction? Is it not the case that the violence will be significantly reduced only if there is a radical increase in the number of trained and effective security forces available to the Iraqi Government? Does the right hon. Gentleman see any prospect whatever of achieving that?
Mr. Straw: There are signs, notwithstanding the difficulties of the security situation, that the multinational force and the Iraqi security forces are getting on top of it by a combination of tough security measures and a political processthe two go together. That is how some semblance of stability in Samarra and how understanding between the leaders in Sadr City and the MNF were achieved. A huge amount of effort is going into the training and equipping of the Iraqi security forcesthe army, the Iraqi national guard and other paramilitary groups, the facilities protection force and the police. The numbers are rising rapidly, but I entirely accept the burden of the right hon. Gentleman's pointthat the quicker the Iraqis become wholly responsible for their own security, the better.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) (Lab): I support everything that my right hon. Friend has said today and I particularly welcome his comments about the Muslim Council of Britain and its role in the efforts to save Ken Bigley. It is important for the House to focus on the way in which Islam does not agree or go along with the activities of the organisations that perpetrate such actions.
Does my right hon. Friend intend to have any further conversations with Dr. Blix to go over some of his statements made at the time to compare them with his current statements? It would be worth trying to establish where exactly Dr. Blix stands now on some of his earlier statements before and after the inquiry.
On the last point, I made sure some time ago that Dr. Blix was made aware of our intention to publish the material in due course. It was also considered by the Intelligence and Security Committee and by the Butler committee, which is useful. Dr. Blix's opinions in September 2002 were a matter for his own judgment, and he came to a different judgment from ours, but it is important for everyone to understand that, far from the dossier being some sort of confection, it was based on the best available judgments not only of ourselves but of the wider international community, including the intelligence agencies of countries that were
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not in the end supportive of our approach, and of people in the United Nations. Everybody assumed that Saddam had these weapons and made their judgments on that basis. Everybody also assumed that he would become an even bigger threat if the UN measures were not successful.
On my hon. Friend's point about the Muslim Council of Britain, I entirely endorse what he said. I hope that we can acknowledge the efforts of the Muslim Council of Britain in one particular respect by not falling into the trap set by the terrorists and adorning or dignifying them with the label "Islamic terrorists". They are no more Islamic terrorists than Irish terrorists were Christian terrorists. They are simply terrorists, evil people, and everything that they do defies and defiles the values of Islam.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I accept the good faith of the Foreign Secretary, so will he accept the good faith of those of us who voted against the war and acknowledge that we were not just star-struck Arabists or pacifists? Does he accept that we may have had a point in saying that the invasion would make international terrorism worse, and does he think that we may have a smidgen of an argument when we say that the continuing presence of western troops in a Muslim country is a gift to Arab terrorists and extremists? What is his exit plan and how are we going to get our troops out of the morass after the elections in January?
Mr. Straw: I have argued with those like the hon. Gentleman who have taken a different view, but I have never challenged their good faith. I am glad to hear that he does not challenge mine, the Prime Minister's or the Cabinet's. For the record, I have never thought of the hon. Gentleman as a star-struck Arabist or a pacifist. I reserve my contempt for those who took one position before and during the military action and a different position after it.
In Afghanistan, the great fear is of abandonment by western troops, not of occupation. I accept that it is different in Iraq, which is why we are moving rapidly to hand over responsibility to the Iraqi security forces. Resolution 1546 provides that the mandate of the MNF will run out at the end of next year or the end of the political process, which is more or less next year. It would then have to be renewed; otherwise the troops would leave automatically. We are working towards a sensible and orderly process negotiated with the Iraqis. They do not want us to leave until they feel fully capable of running their own security affairs themselves.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab):
People are wondering why we cannot have a debate on Iraq. The ISG report certainly demolishes the Government's case for going to war and we are also seeing daily bombing of cities and heavily populated areas such as Sadr City, Falluja, Samarra and others, which is resulting in the huge loss of civilian lives. Are the Government taking account of how many civilians are dead, or of how many women or children are dead or injured? Iraq Body Count estimates about 15,000 losses, and we have heard reference to the Iraq health group, according to which
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two-thirds of the casualties over the last three months have been civilians. Surely the House should be debating Iraq when those killings are taking place in our name.
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