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Dr. Julian Lewis: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous in giving way again, especially as he is not now getting injury time. Was it not also reported at the weekend that al-Zarqawi himself was in Falluja at   that time, and that he was arrested but not recognised and inadvertently released? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if that mistake had not been made, the assault on Falluja might well have had a profound effect on the insurgency?

Harry Cohen: The assault on Falluja would still not have been worth it, even in those circumstances, because masses of innocent people were slaughtered in the attack.

Hala Jaber continues:

She continues:

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That shows that for the bludgeoning coalition forces, the Iraq war is not a war of hearts and minds. We need to change our policy. If the troops are going to stay, a policy that I resent and oppose, we should try to make the winning of hearts and minds much more important than the violence that the coalition forces—including their private contractors, who often also operate militarily—are very much a part of.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to put these matters on the record. I wish that we could have had a proper debate on Iraq, and perhaps even a vote, before we continue with this killing policy. I conclude by wishing a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all those who have suffered so abysmally in Iraq.

1.55 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a great delight to see so many right hon. and hon. Members here and to realise that the House does not adjourn until this evening. This is a splendid opportunity to raise constituency issues, and the one that I have raised in the past eight years in debates such as this has been Frome Victoria hospital. I am very happy to say that I do not need to raise it this year because we are now to get the new Frome Victoria hospital. That said, we are still somewhat worried that the Government's messing about with the health authorities might put the new hospital at risk, but our plan to deal with that is to get the foundations built as soon as possible, in the hope that even a change in NHS structure will not leave a new hospital in Frome half built. We look forward to its opening.

We had an excellent debate yesterday on police restructuring—a debate that was wrung out of the Government by continuing pressure from the Opposition. It was clear that without such pressure we would not be able to make the points that many of us felt we ought to make on our constituents' behalf, and with that in mind I want briefly to address the issues as they affect my constituency. I wholly reject the concept of a regional police force that stretches from the Scilly Isles to the north of Gloucestershire and to the east of Swindon—a region the same size as Belgium, which appears to be the international measurement for these things. To put the issue in context, the north of Gloucestershire is nearer to Scotland than it is to the tip of Cornwall.

I have always been against regionalisation of the   police—a policy that has been knocking around the Home Office for a very long time, and which has been rejected by some others in the Chamber in previous incarnations. Regional police forces have always been a Home Office aspiration, but there are four problems in that regard, the first of which is the loss of the desperately important sense of community policing. So far as I am concerned, the tradition of the police being of, with and for the community that they serve is essential, and as soon as we lose that we lose something precious in how our police operate. That is quite apart from the fact that people, particularly in rural areas, will feel increasingly remote from the police who serve them.
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Nothing will persuade people in rural Somerset that they will even get the same level of service as they currently receive—and we get enough complaints as it is that Bristol, understandably, absorbs a great deal of Avon and Somerset police's resources.

The second problem is that I have heard not a single argument in favour of the efficacy of the new proposal compared with other ways of achieving the same ends. I   have argued for a long time that the changes in patterns of crime need a response. International and national crime cannot easily be faced with the traditional police forces, which is one reason why I was so strongly supportive of the concept of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and, indeed, why I argued that it should have a wider role and greater resources than it has. The obverse is that local police forces and chief constables are left to deal with what they should be most concerned with: local crime and keeping the peace in our towns and villages, which is often forgotten. Even within the constraints on existing forces, an awful lot can be done in sharing resources and co-operating that has not yet been done.

Thirdly, the transitional cost of reorganisation is massive. Hon. Members may wonder why Avon and Somerset police retain that name long after the demise of the county of Avon. The answer is simple: when I was chairman of the Avon and Somerset police authority, I   refused point blank to change, at enormous cost, every cap badge and every decal on every police car in the force when that money could be spent on providing more police. Those would have been lost costs—they would be gone for ever—and the priority of the local community is having more police.

The fourth point is that the Government offices for the regions bear no relationship to the patterns of crime.   Dorset does not get its criminal activity from Bristol or from Plymouth; it gets it from Portsmouth or Southampton, or from the south. Dorset relates to Hampshire rather than to either the far south-west or Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman clear up some of the confusion that has arisen over the past few weeks? The Liberal Democrats say that they oppose the regionalisation of the police forces, yet for many years they have been proposing regional government. Is he speaking from the orange book or the yellow book today?

Mr. Heath: I wish, first, that the hon. Gentleman had been listening to what I was saying and, secondly, that he had not tried to inject what he obviously thought was a clever point into a serious issue about policing in the south-west. We have always said that, given that there is a regional tier of government in this country, it should have democratic control and accountability. I do not think that that is an unreasonable request. Clearly, the police boundaries do not follow those regional boundaries, which were set up by a Government who, I   believe, the hon. Gentleman supported.

I find it incredible that the Government, through crass mismanagement of the service, have produced the first strike by officials of magistrates courts in over 800 years. We should be seriously concerned about that. These are not people who are prone to industrial action and they
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are not prepared to take such action without a great deal of soul-searching; they are very loyal servants of the Crown. Yet all over the country today they are taking industrial action due to insensitivity on the part of the Government, a lack of understanding of the role of court officials and a readiness to make promises prior to a reorganisation that were not kept later.

We also saw today the publication of the report by the Law Commission into the offence of murder. Without going into detail on this very complex subject, I am deeply disappointed that some commentators, even before reading the report, have chosen to entertain a knee-jerk reaction to one of the most difficult and complex areas of law. We all agree that the crime of murder is uniquely repugnant and has to be dealt with exceptionally.

Equally, I hope that we all agree that there is a vast range of circumstances—this is recognised in many jurisdictions—in which murder and the taking of a life unlawfully can take place. All 51 American jurisdictions recognise the differentiation and, in a common law country such as ours, it is right and proper that we at least see what the Law Commission has to say and whether there is merit in its proposals.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) was absolutely right: it is extraordinary that we have not had a debate on Iraq in Government time —I have made this point repeatedly at business questions—and it is now well over a year since we last debated Iraq. I was against the war from the start and have not resiled for one moment from the position I took then, as I believe that later events have proved me right. However, given the circumstances and the complex political decisions that need to be taken, surely this House ought to be debating a British Army in the field and a political situation that has the capacity not only to destabilise an entire region but to create the circumstances in which we can expect an enhanced level of terrorism in our country. Those are serious issues and the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to bring them up.

Neither do I apologise for bringing up again the issue of extraordinary rendition, which has been brushed aside by the Prime Minister and his colleagues as if it were something only an obsessive would worry about. It   is not. In this country, we have a right to be told if our airspace and airports have been used for reasons that are, in the eyes of the law and of many people, wholly improper. If there is nothing to hide, let us have a clear indication of that. I have to say that every response from the Prime Minister and others increases the suspicion that there is, and has been, something happening that we would not condone.

The Government should think carefully about this issue over the Christmas recess, come back and make a clean breast of what has been happening and not try to pretend, as the Prime Minister did at his last Question Time, that it was absurd that we should know why   American Government flights should be landing at   British airports. It is not absurd. It is required knowledge when foreign Government planes, whether from our dearest friends or our bitterest enemies, are using our airspace and landing at our airports. I do not think it unreasonable to be asking those questions.
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During our corresponding debate last year not one Member could have foreseen the terrible events of the tsunami on Boxing day. I hope, of course, that we will have a peaceful and prosperous new year without any such events, but I hope also that we have learned from that experience—and, indeed, from those of Pakistan and India—and that we develop the international will to have robust contingency plans in place so that we know where the resources are to deal with emergencies of this kind. Such emergencies will recur; we know that. Disasters happen and, during a period of climate change, it is almost certain that we will have more of them. We must be ready for them and be ready to act appropriately.

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