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Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I am grateful to the Defence Committee for producing the   report before us, and I am also grateful for the opportunity to speak in today's debate. As the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), pointed out, the report refers to the public being kept in the dark about how the money has been spent on Iraq—on which I want to concentrate today—and on Afghanistan. That is a very good point, and deserves an answer from the Minister and the Government. How do we know that we are getting value for money for what we have spent? As I say that I am chuckling ironically, because frankly, given the situation in Iraq, we are getting no value for money. One could argue that money is being spent on servicing the troops, and perhaps on reconstruction aid—but how do we know? How, moreover, do we know that we are getting good value for it?

That is a very serious point, given the spectacular corruption cases that we are starting to see in the United States. Custer Battles ripped off tens of millions of pounds-worth of the Iraqi people's money by supplying the Iraqi forces with broken-down trucks, and Robert Stein has received a prison sentence for rip-offs amounting to millions of pounds. I am pretty sure that the money spent by the Ministry of Defence does not involve such spectacular rip-offs, but how do we know? It is important that such issues be out in the public domain.

The Government maintain that we spent £3.1 billion on Iraq to March last year and in excess of £1 billion since then, so such spending totals well over £4 billion. But as the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) said, that does not include combat costs—the initial costs of the war—which, presumably, are heavy, or other Departments' costs. Where are they listed? As the Select Committee said, we do not have clear-cut accounting. That money is our taxpayers' money, but what about the great deal of Iraqi money that has been squandered? Some £23 billion-worth of their money, which was held by the United Nations and handed over to the allied forces, has gone without any result. According to an article in The Independent last November, the Iraqi people could lose £200 billion-worth of oil resources under agreements that the allies are forcing through. Lots of money and resources are going down a bottomless drain; some of those are ours, but most belong to the Iraqi people.
 
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Despite all that spending, the Iraqi people are actually worse off. An article by Professor Glen Rangwala, whom I have quoted in the House before, and who helped to expose the dodgy dossier, stated:

I saw an article recently that showed that according to official figures, unemployment in Iraq is more than 60 per cent. I recall raising that matter soon after the occupation and saying that the situation needed to be dealt with if trouble was to be avoided. Instead, a rip-off was going on at a pace. All the contractors from outside—Halliburton and its cronies—took the jobs instead of the Iraqi people. As I said, recent figures show again that unemployment among Iraqis is well over 60 per cent. There has been no change. As we heard, only 13 per cent. of women are in employment in Iraq. That remains an appalling scandal. Iraqis are no better off.

Just this week there were some good articles in the New Statesman. Zaki Chehab's article begins:

He writes:

Iraqis are worse off. I put that to the Minister, because after the occupation it was made clear by the then Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), that where there are difficulties, it is for the armed forces to make the situation safe and then carry out the reconstruction work. That is the Minister's responsibility, but the figures show that he has not succeeded. The reconstruction has been an abject failure.

We do not know where most of the cost has gone. The Government have talked about training the Iraqi police and the Iraqi armed forces. What about that cost? Is that something extra to be added to the costs that we have?
 
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Presumably we are not talking about the armed forces just doing their everyday job and the cost being included in that figure. If it is so important that we train the Iraqi police and armed forces, why have we not seen the figures for that? Actually, it is a pretty incredible thing to be doing, because they have cut off co-operation with us at the moment. In reality, we cannot be doing that—so where has the money allocated for that particular job gone?

Let me quote from one last article from this week's excellent edition of the New Statesman. John Simpson writes:

that is what the Iraqis are saying. The article continues:

That is a good question in such circumstances. Why are they in Iraq at all, and why are we in Iraq at all? There has been £4 billion—if that is the official figure—of wasted money. Not a penny of it should have been spent, and I do not think that we should spend a penny more. We should get out of Iraq.

4.45 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): I never thought that I would follow the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) and have to confess to agreeing with a great deal of what he said. I begin by quite properly declaring an interest in a public company that does business in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

I welcome the debate not only for the reasons that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) mentioned, but because, in an extraordinary way, this is the first opportunity since the general election that hon. Members have had to debate Iraq and Afghanistan on the Floor of the House. The conflict has been the single greatest political disaster that the United Kingdom has faced since Suez—indeed, it is far worse than Suez because that was over in a few weeks with relatively few casualties—and here we are, three years into it. It is right that we address not only the financial costs, but the implications for British soldiers. I hope that there will be more opportunities for such debates.

There is an important question whether the House should give its approval before this country goes to war. It is equally important that once a war has happened and there are ongoing consequences, the House should have the right to scrutinise properly the way in which the policy evolves, but that has not happened until now.

The background to the presence of British troops in Iraq is that the war was pre-emptive. The situation was unusual and we went into the war in unlikely circumstances. I do not automatically exclude the right to have a pre-emptive war. Of course, if one knows one is going to be attacked, one does not necessarily wait until that happens before taking action to stop it.

If there is to be a right of pre-emption that leads to British troops going to a country such as Iraq, with massive costs and casualties, we should bear in mind two
 
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fundamental considerations for both this country and the United States. First, if the United States and Britain have the right to take pre-emptive action, so, too, does every other country in the world. Any country throughout the globe that thinks itself threatened can, according to Washington and the present British Government, initiate a war simply in order to prevent one. Secondly, if pre-emptive wars are contemplated, one needs at the very least not just theories, ideas and suspicions, but solid evidence that can be shared with the public—preferably before the war, but at the very least after it—for why the action is appropriate. Those criteria have not been justified. One recalls Bismarck's remark in similar circumstances when he referred to the pre-emptive approach as being rather like committing suicide because of the fear of death. There are very serious consequences when starting a war in such circumstances, but they do not seem to have been taken into account.


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