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I appreciate the support of the hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues. It is encouraging that right across every fragment of opinion in the House, we say that our democratic methods are the way to prevail and that we are determined to do whatever we
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must in order to ensure that those who seek to destroy that democracy are unable to carry out what they would wish to do.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Yesterday, Londoners were celebrating. Today, we are grieving, sympathising and waiting anxiously for news of our friends, relatives, loved ones andin our caseconstituents. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Londoners have resilience and common sense, and that we will bounce back from this terrible atrocity? Does he accept that we will listen to the advice that is given and wait before we make a judgment about who is responsible? Will he make sure that people are given clear advice about how they might get home, given today's serious disruption to public transport? It is essential that people know what to do in these circumstances. Some of us face a very long walk indeed if no public transport is available.
Mr. Clarke: On that final point, I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is focused on the problem of ensuring that people can get home properly this evening. He will be making judgments on that throughout the day and will give out information at regular intervals to ensure that people can live their lives as normally as possible.
On the question of resilience, I think that it is almost a truism to say that for generations the people of London have shown resilience in the face of appalling difficulties. I have no doubt that the reaction to events today will demonstrate the same courage. However, I want to highlight as well that the various governmental institutions around London present a much stronger and more co-ordinated approach to ensuring resilience, so we are now better able to deal with these emergencies. The combination of the resilience of our governmental structures and that of the people of London is the strength that we can celebrate today.
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John Reid: I want to begin by thanking my opposite number, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). The Conservative spokesman gave the Government his immediate and spontaneous understanding and solidarity today. He also kindly offered to agree to a suspension or postponement of this debate, if the Government decided that that was the best course of action, and I am very grateful for that. Like the shadow Home Secretary a few moments ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman responded with the generosity of spirit that we expect from him, and with the character that symbolises this House in times of difficulty. However, it is right that we proceed with the debate. As was made clear in the statement by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, part of the intention of these awful acts is to disrupt democracy, and it is right that we should show how resilient democracy is.
The sun that set last night on joyous and happy celebrations in London this morning rose to a day of awful, criminal savagery. It brings home to us again the character and courage of the members of our emergency services. Even as we speak, they are the front line of our response to these terrible acts. I am sure that all hon. Members have them in mind, and the difficult and dangerous work that they do, as we continue our work here.
I am also sure that all of us will want to express our utter condemnation of those responsible for today's attacks. We must ensure that they understand that they will not win in their attempt to break our will or undermine our democratic response to today's events.
In a sense, what has happened today reminds us of the terrible dangers that our servicemen and women face as they act in the service of the country. Even as we attempt to cope with the situation here at home in London, thousands of our service personnel are deployed across the world. They are helping to improve lives, deliver security and ensure peace, and they display the professionalism, courage and selflessness that continue to inspire the people of this country. On my own behalf, and I hope on behalf of the whole House, I want to place on record my personal gratitude to, and admiration for, those serving in the British armed forces across the world. On a day when we are expressing our thanks to the emergency services here, I want to thank them for the job that they do.
Only a few weeks ago, I saw that work in Iraq. There, British troops are playing an essential roleamidst the same awful and terrible dangers as appear to have
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afflicted us todayin reconstructing the Iraqi security forces and that country's civil society. We should be proudand we areof the outstanding job that our forces have done in Iraq, as elsewhere. In those dangerous circumstances, they have made an immense contribution to improving the lives of millions of Iraqis, enhancing their security, and providing them with the opportunities that we have taken for granted for so longto vote and to have better access to clean water, health care and education.
The 65,000 UK service personnel have made that happen. Rightly, they deserve our gratitude, but I also want to place on record our appreciation of the support given by their families back home. They deserve our heartfelt gratitude as well.
Our servicemen and women, and their families, have demonstrated the same bravery and determination to get the job done as did those who served in previous decades, including in world war two. This week is veterans week, and so this debate is timely. I know that the House will wish to join me in paying the warmest of personal tributes to those men and women who served their country in the second world war, and since.
A personal highlight of the week for me has been that I and the Opposition spokesman have had the honour to invite and accompany Winston Churchill's daughter Lady Soames to many of the events. It has been wonderful to see the bond of solidarity that still unites people of that generation. It has been inspiring to see how that spirit lives on, in small ways, after all the years.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): The Secretary of State has moved seamlessly from Iraq to veterans, and I agree with what he has said. However, before he moves on, will he give the House some idea of the timetable that he envisages in Iraq? For how long does he think that our troops will be there? Anyone who has been there will realise that there is a huge amount of work to be done, and that the private sector must make a lot of investment. Unless the situation is stable and secure, the necessary investment will not be made. I believe that the troops will have to stay for several years: does the right hon. Gentleman share that view?
John Reid: I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for interveninghe was not to know that I intend to come back to the subject of Iraq. I was merely headlining some of the issues that I shall cover. In bald terms, we all understand that our task is to move forward to the political control of Iraq by the Iraqi people, to move forward in creating the capability among the security forces to protect and serve that democratic Government, and simultaneously to create the economic and social environment that demonstrates the benefits of democracy to the people of Iraq.
We have not set down rigid time lines for the downsizing or withdrawal of troops. Rather, we have made that conditional upon progress on political development and security and, to a lesser extent but nevertheless important, on the third element, economic development, but particularly the first two. This is not a prediction or a pledge, because our movement of troops will be conditional on the conditions that I set out, but I have said that I envisage that the trained complement of the Iraqi armythe army and security forces are now
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170,000 trained personnelcould begin the process of taking the lead, though not the exclusive capability, in some parts of Iraq in the next 12 months. We would provide multinational support for that as long as the Iraqi Government wish, but it is possible that that process will continue.
Simultaneously over that period, we envisage that the political developmentthat is, the inclusion of the Sunnis in the commission to develop the constitution, thereafter the referendum on it, followed by the establishment of a full democratically elected Iraqi Government by the end of the yearwill be progressing over the time lines that we have laid out. I hope that gives the hon. Gentleman some idea.
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