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Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to both Mo Mowlam and Robin Cook. I remember arriving as a young, new Member five years ago when Robin Cook was one of the towering giants on the Government Benches. He was a distinguished holder of the office of Leader of the House. I think that even the present Leader of the House would admit that he would be a hard act for any future one to follow. He will be much missed in the House. Mo Mowlam, a distinguished figure for many years who made a major contribution to the Government, will also be missed by people on both sides of the House.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the update on the business. Thursday's business relates to terrorism issues. It is only a statutory instrument and, given all the press reports in the last few weeks, we are clearly waiting for the full set of proposals from the Government, so can he give us any indication as to when we can expect those?
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
I join in the tributes paid to Mo Mowlam and Robin Cook, both of whom not only made enormously distinguished contributions to the work of the House and to Government, but also established firm personal friendships with Members on both sides of the House and maintained great respect throughout their time in the House and beyond.
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Will the Leader of the House confirm that, on Thursday, we will debate a single order, dealing with, I think, 15 different organisations, that is incapable of amendment? Will he reflect on the fact that that does not allow for proper and separate consideration of the different organisations involved on their merits, which might be appropriate in this case? I thank him for the fact that the order and the explanatory memorandum are now available in the Vote Office and for the clear notes that are provided explaining the significance of each of the organisations mentioned.
Given that the notes indicate that, as far as we are aware, many of the organisations have no actual membership within the United Kingdom, and therefore we are largely dealing with association or perhaps financial movements, will any subsequent orders be required under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002? Would it not be appropriate to bring those forward at an early stage, given that, if the Home Secretary feels that there is a proper threat, it is right that the House should consider them at the earliest opportunity?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that the draft order is available in the Vote Office, which allows hon. Members to see the details for themselves. At this stage, I do not want to be drawn into a debate about the draft order's contents and I am sure that hon. Members will take full advantage of the normal arrangements for debating a statutory instrument, when they have the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall that a two-week September sitting to put an end to the nonsense of the 80-day summer recess was one of the wide-ranging reforms introduced by our late colleague, Robin Cook. Now that the nice new screen has been fitted, will he assure the House that the September sittings agreed by Robin Cook will continue in the next parliamentary year?
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend has been assiduous in asking that questionit was the last question he asked before the recess, so it is entirely appropriate that it is the first thereafter. I am relieved to see the screen in place, because my reply to his earlier question made it clear that the length of this year's summer recess was due to its fitting. It is important that we discuss and debate the parliamentary timetable, which the Modernisation Committee will do on Wednesday.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con):
In endorsing the Leader of the House's gracious tributes to departed colleagues, may I say that Robin Cook, whom I was privileged to know, was an outstanding parliamentarian whose presence enriched this House, which has been greatly impoverished by his passing? Given that anti-terrorism legislation is of the highest importance in establishing the balance between security and freedom, and that it is desirable to try to command as much consensus as possible between the parties, does the
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Leader of the House accept that it makes a great deal of sense to debate all stages of the Bill on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Hoon: That question does not strictly concern this week's business, but I shall answer it in the spirit in which it was asked. I am sure that the usual channels will consider the hon. Gentleman's point in due course.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): May we have an opportunity for an urgent discussion this week on the recent European Court of Justice case that increases criminal law jurisdiction by the European Union against the wishes of the Government, whom I support on that issue?
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): We will debate issues relating to terrorism on Thursday. The Leader of the House knows that incidents about which hon. Members may want to ask questions have occurred in this country during the 81 days that we have been off. Will he reflect on opportunities for hon. Members to table written questions during the recess?
Mr. Hoon: As I have said, the Modernisation Committee will consider a paper on the organisation of the parliamentary year and I take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion as a contribution to that discussion.
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Leader of the House will recall the final business statement in July, when, in response to my question, he agreed to a fresh debate and a fresh vote on whether to sit in September. I assume that that promise still stands.
On returning to the House, may I first express my sincere condolencesand, I am sure, those of the whole Houseto the families of those UK forces personnel who were most recently killed in Iraq: on 5 September, Fusilier Donal Anthony Mead and Fusilier Stephen Robert Manning, both from C company, 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; and on 11 September, Major Matthew Bacon of the intelligence corps, who was serving as a staff officer with the headquarters of the Multi-National Division (South-East). We express our gratitude to those who gave their lives in the service of their country, and we express our condolences to their families and to their loved ones.
Let us remind ourselves of our objective in Iraq. It is to work, along with the rest of the international community, and now the United Nations under United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, to assist the Iraqi people and their elected representatives: first, to establish their own democratic Government and institutions; secondly, to build their own security forces to safeguard that democracy; and thirdly, to develop their economy and civil society. We are helping the Iraqis to build all three of them; the terrorists want to impede and destroy all three of them. That is the battleground. I can put it no better than President Talibani did in The Times this morning:
The political process, despite the worst intentions of the terrorists, continues to be on track. Following the elections in January of this year and the establishment of the constitutional commission, the Iraqis have now produced a draft constitution that will be the subject of an historic national referendum later this week. Few people thought that we would get to this point. Preparations are also under way for full, democratic, national elections in December. These are, in any context, enormous strides forward, and, in the context of the continual terrorist activity, hugely significant strides forward which have been made in spite of the terrorist attempts to derail Iraq's progress towards a peaceful and democratic future.
Against this political backdrop, the coalition's top priority is working with the Iraqis to improve the security environment and to build the capability of the Iraqi security forces so that they themselves are increasingly able to take responsibility for delivering law and order. In this we are working not alone, but with 27 other nations under the United Nations Security Council resolution. Despite, again, all the efforts of the terrorists, I can report to the House that we are
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beginning to see real progress in building up the Iraqi security forces. There are now more than 190,000 Iraqi security force personnel who have been trained and are capable thus far, and the number of Iraqi units capable of conducting effective counter-insurgency operations is increasing steadily. That means that there are now, for the first time, more trained and capable Iraqi security forces than there are multinational forces in Iraq.
But as everyone involved in this process recognises, there are no quick fixes, and building the Iraqi leadership, command and control, logistics and support structures will take more time. We have always said that our handover to the Iraqis themselves will be conditional upon their developing their own security capabilities, and that we will see the job through until those conditions have been met.
The House may wish to be reminded of the criteria and the terms on which those conditions might be fulfilled, since there has been some demand outside this House for clarification on what is sometimes called the exit strategy. The conditions that will permit the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi security forces have been defined by the joint committee to transfer security responsibility, which, as the House may recall, was formed by the Iraqi Prime Minister over the summer.
The basic principles for transfer of security to the Iraqi authorities are based on four broad categories: an assessment of the insurgents' threat level; Iraqi security forces' ability to take on the security task themselves; the capacity of provincial bodies to cope with the changed security environment; and the posture and support available from coalition forces. Those are the criteria; we expect the committee's criteria to be confirmed soon. Thereafter, assessments will be made by the Iraqis to determine which areas of Iraq are ready to transfer to Iraqi control.
I emphasise that we therefore stand by the strategy that we have maintained up to now, which sets out the conditions under which we will hand security to the Iraqis themselves and begin to draw down our forces. I want to emphasise again that we will stay in Iraq until the job is done and that we will not make significant changes to the United Kingdom's force posture in Iraq until we, the coalition partners and, in particular, the Iraqis themselves, are confident that the conditions are right. That was, is and remains our position and any speculation to the contrary is simply wrong. Indeed, I would go further and say that the biggest obstacle now to our leaving Iraq in view of the build-up of the Iraqi forces' capability is the actions of the terrorists themselves. Terrorist activity only delays our leaving Iraq; it does not hasten it.
Turning specifically to the security situation in Multi-National Division (South-East), hon. Members will have seen the graphic television pictures of events in Basra on 19 September. Two soldiers in MND(SE) were arrested by the Iraqi police service and held at an Iraqi police station in Basra. We agreed with the Governor of Basra and the chief of police to collect the personnel from the police station but, as we prepared to do so, it became clear that the two soldiers had been handed to local militia. The decision to mount an operation to enter the police station was then takena decision that I fully supported at the time and still fully support.
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I am pleased to be able to tell the House that, while one of the soldiers injured on that day is still receiving medical treatment, the others have returned to their units. They all have my thanks and admiration for a job well done, and I believe that they have the thanks of the whole House.
The fact that we were able to mount an extremely complex operation in defence of our own soldiers, which led to the successful rescue of two soldiers held hostage by militiamen without firing a single shot, is a credit to our forces. I can also confirm that the Iraqis have now withdrawn the warrants that they issued later that week for the arrest of the two British soldiers concerned.
I would not wish to downplay the challenges that remain before us. For instance, the arrest of 12 suspects last week on Friday demonstrates our determination to deal robustly with those implicated in improvised explosive device attacksbomb attacks to the laymanagainst our UK forces. I can confirm that weapons and other equipment were found in those raids.
Nevertheless, serious as they were, we need to keep those events in perspective. The rest of MND(SE) was unaffected, Basra has remained largely calm since the incident and we have been working hard to restore relations with Basra council so that we can work together for the good of the people in Basra.
On troop roulement and troop presence in Iraq, I very much regret the speculative and often wildly misleading press reports that have appeared since we last met here. I have not discussed any troop roulements in detail until the House returned because I believe that the House should be the first to know our intentions. Unfortunately, holding for that length of time sometimes prompts wild speculation outside.
Let me therefore turn to the details of the next routine troop rotation of UK forces in MND(SE), which begins this month. The lead UK formation in Iraq, currently 12 Mechanised Brigade, will be replaced by 7 Armoured Brigade, which will take over command of UK forces in early November. In addition to 7 Armoured Brigade's Headquarters and Signals Squadron, the following major units will be deployed to replace those currently in Iraq: 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment; 1st Battalion the Highlanders; 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; 9th/12th Royal Lancers; 1st Battalion the King's Own Royal Border Regiment; the Scots Dragoon Guards; 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery; 32nd Engineer Regiment; and 2 Logistics Support Regiment.
The Territorial Army units involved in this roulement are a single company from the 4th Battalion the Parachute Regiment and a composite company from the West Midlands Regiment and the Royal Welsh Regiment. During what will be a very busy period of troop movements, I have also decided to deploy one company from the Cyprus-based theatre reserve force to relieve the rotating troops of some routine security tasks, such as static security or guard duty. A company of 1st Battalion the Royal Highland Fusiliers will deploy for a few weeks while that rotation lasts.
The total numbers of troops in Iraq following the deployment of 7 Armoured Brigade will be around 8,000. That is about 500 fewer than at present, reflecting the closure of two small bases in Basra, the transfer of some training tasks to the Iraqi security forces and
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structural differences between the two brigades. These are relatively minor adjustments, however, and will not affect the activities being carried out by United Kingdom forces.
We will continue to build Iraqi security capability and to keep the security situation under review during the referendum and through the elections later this year. The Iraqi security forces themselves will lead on security in the referendum, with our support. In MND(SE), we have been assisting the Iraqi army's 10th Division to ensure that it is prepared for this task. Earlier this year, I visited the 10th Division in Iraq.
This summer has seen much positive progress in Iraq, despite the worst intentions of the terrorists. The production of an Iraqi constitution, written by democratically elected Iraqi politicians on behalf of their own people, is a huge step forward. We have no intention of undermining this historic achievement by abandoning Iraq before it is ready to stand on its own two feet, or before its democratically elected politicians feel that to be the case. Of course, we will encounter more obstacles. There will be more major hurdles to overcome, particularly in the run-up to the elections in December, when a minority of the Iraqis and some from outsidethe terroristswill almost certainly seek to disrupt Iraq's progress towards security, democracy and self-determination.
The recent discovery and recovery of more than 160 more bodies from a mass grave in the al-Muthanna province in MND(SE) is a sober reminder of the horrors that the Iraqi people have had to face in the past, and of the reasons why we must continue our efforts to support them in building a better future, embracing democracy and free from tyranny. So, while we do not want to be in Iraq any longer than is absolutely necessary, we will not be deflected from our task. We have made a commitment to the Iraqi people; it is important that we honour that commitment and see our task through, and that is what we will do.
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