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Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Will the Secretary of State tell us which of the Government's overseas commitments, if any, will need to be reassessed in the light of the redeployment of the battle group?
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): I entirely accept that the decision was not made for political reasons, but does my right hon. Friend accept that it carries a political cost? That cost will be borne in part by our political party, but alsoperhaps more important in the big scheme of thingsby the standing of this country abroad if the civilians deaths that we fear turn out to be on the scale that people are worried about.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the unease that is being expressed arises from a feeling that while our Government are willing to volunteer that political cost, when we look to our allies to make difficult political decisionsfor example, on the Prime Minister's priority in regards to the middle east peace settlementthere is very little reciprocation?
My right hon. Friend has always approached these issues in a careful, thoughtful and sophisticated way. It is important for us not only to continue our efforts in Iraq to promote the reconstruction of that country, but to use the influence that we gain as part of that process, and bring it to bear on all countries that are trying to obtain a secure and
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just settlement in the middle east. I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is necessary to continue the process, and I assure him that the Prime Minister and other members of the Government are continuing their determined efforts to that end.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): If it is the case that only 40,000 American troops have the requisite combat capability, does the Secretary of State agree that the additional deployment only amounts to an extra 2 per cent.? Can he explain why he considers it to be a significant contribution?
Mr. Hoon: As I have tried to explain, this is an armoured capability. The request is for us to replace a relocating similarly armoured US capability so that it can be freealong with other forces, including significant contingents of Iraqi forcesto continue operations of the kind that are being conducted in places such as Samarra. The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is a modest contribution, and indeed it is; nevertheless, it is a vital contribution and one requested of us by an ally.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): Is it not the case that the present policy, which this deployment of British troops will reinforce, has been a total and unmitigated failure? Far from eradicating terrorist centres, it has encouraged actions by terrorists and insurgents. Is it not also the case that it is impossible to guarantee that the minimum number of civilians will be killed in the all-out attack on Falluja? Surely the best thing that a British Government could do to support and protect the Iraqi people is to argue strongly to the American Government that they must, sooner rather than later, change their policyand change it dramatically.
Mr. Hoon: The difficulty I have with my hon. Friend's observations is that they take no account of the appalling terrorist attacks that are occurring throughout Iraq and affecting the Iraqi people more than anyone else. While I can subscribe to many of the principles that my hon. Friend has enunciatedwe certainly do not want to target civilians, and in any event we are not allowed to do so legallyit is important for her to bring to the House not only the criticisms that she makes in such an articulate way, but some suggestions as to what we should do to deal with the terrorist threat that exists in Iraq today.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Given the record-breaking speed with which the military and political decision-making machine operated this weekand, indeed, the incredibly short time that the recce group has had in which to reconnoitre the operation in Iraqwhat guarantee can the Secretary of State give us that the same will not happen in future? There will be a request from the Americans for our troops to operate somewhere else, there will be a record-breaking decision to allow that, and we will end up with the severe mission creep mentioned by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice).
I do not accept that that is a likely outcome of this decision, which is a specific decision, limited in
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time and space, to deal with a particular problem arising from potential operations in places such as Falluja. I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there are plenty of opportunities for Members to question Defence Ministers on deployments of this sort. There will be one later this afternoon, and another on Monday. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take every opportunity that is presented.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I have received calls on this issue over the weekend from constituency party members and from members of the public. We went into something of a tailspin over the weekend, with all the furore in the press. Ultimately, however, if this action is necessary, it is necessary; and if it is right, it is right. If the Black Watch have a pivotal role to play in securing the future democracy of Iraq and the holding of elections in January, we should praise that role, let them go in there and get on with the task, and get them home to their families in time for Christmas.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I assume that the Secretary of State has forward planning. On the assumption that the Black Watch come home for Christmas and that the Iraqi elections are in January, will there be any British troops in Iraq by Christmas 2005? Will any of them be from the Colchester garrison? Bearing it in mind that I represent the garrison town of Colchester and that I am proud of the troops I represent, will the Secretary of State reflect on whether his criticism that I did not back British troops was fair?
Mr. Hoon: I invite the hon. Gentleman to think through the policy of the party that I assume he continues to support. That policy is to say that the Liberal Democrats would not have deployed British troops to Iraq. I am not at all sure what the hon. Gentleman actually supports, although I am willing to give him the opportunity to explain that during the debate that will follow this statement. Does he support taking robust action to deal with terrorism? Does he support the deployment of British forces to achieve that? None of those questions has been properly answered by his leader or, if I may say so, by him.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):
In his opening remarks, the Secretary of State said that it was important to see events in the British sector in the context of what is happening in Iraq as a whole. I put it to him that it is also important to see the impact on the broader region of events in Iraq as a whole. He will be aware that there is massive disquiet in the middle east not only about the events leading to the overthrow of Saddam but about America's approach to winning the peace. Is he also aware that concern about Britain's closeness to the United States has so far been tempered by an awareness that we understand things a bit better and have a rather more sensitive approach than that of the United States? Does he understand that this deployment will undermine that distinction in the middle east, and that that will undermine our ability to be a force for good and for sanity in that part of the
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world, particularly given that our priorities on issues such as the middle east peace process do not seem to be shared by our allies on the other side of the Atlantic?
Mr. Hoon: Since I first became a junior Minister under my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), with responsibility for affairs in the middle east, I have been a regular visitor to the region. During that time, I have not had a single conversation with any middle eastern leader or senior figure who has not either looked for or welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): In the light of the recent wave of kidnappings, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of this controversial new deployment on the personal safety of the remaining British workers operating in Iraq? Does he have a strategy to deal with that impact, and will the Government be changing their advice to those workers?
Mr. Hoon: That is precisely why it is necessary to conduct this kind of operation. For the moment, the personal security of those people is threatened by terrorists operating from places such as Falluja. It is necessary to deal with Falluja, to help to secure the personal status of those people.
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