Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Ellwood: I pose again the question that I put in the debate. At present, between 60 and 70 people are being killed every day and Iraq is heading towards civil war. How many more people need to die every day before the Minister wakes up and agrees that the country is heading towards civil war?

Mr. Ingram: There has been much analysis of that point and although I recognise the hon. Gentleman's military background and experience, his view is not the received wisdom and considered opinion of senior military personnel on the ground. I am not saying that there are not serious issues of sectarian violence and divisions in Iraq, but as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones)—who is no longer in the Chamber—commented, what we read in the press is not typical of the whole of Iraq. There are serious hot spots and some big issues to address, but they are not typical of the whole country. The more those situations are talked up, the more we feed the insurgency. I do not believe that the descriptions are valid, but the more we use such language, the more the insurgents will believe that they are winning. They will escalate their efforts because they think that our will is broken. Such talk is
20 Mar 2006 : Column 74
dangerous, although people should express their views if they honestly believe them, but they should be balanced against other advice and opinions. If the situation descends to civil war, we shall have to deal with it accordingly, but we are not in that position yet and every effort will be made, with the will of the Iraqi people, to avoid it.

The hon. Member for Colchester noted, rightly, that on his recent visit morale was high. To read some newspapers, it would seem that our British Army is a broken force and that our forces are not interested and are leaving in droves. That is simply not the case. As I have said before, at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, I am privileged because, due to the nature of my job, I probably meet more members of Her Majesty's armed forces than any other Member. Indeed, I probably meet more of our armed forces than some senior officers, given their roles. The morale of our forces is consistently high; they are extremely committed. Yes, they complain about some aspects of their kit, but that is not a fundamental issue. Any member of Her Majesty's armed forces will say that the current operational welfare package is considerably better than its predecessor. We learned lessons. We knew that we had to adapt and we are committing considerable resources to that element.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about air transportation. As he is aware, the fleet employed for that purpose is ageing. We are trying to ensure that alternative aircraft are available, because it is wrong that forces being recovered from theatre for rest and recreation are unduly delayed—they should not be delayed at all. The point is well taken in the Army and in the RAF, which supplies the logistics. Much effort is being put in.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) is no longer in the Chamber, but he advised me earlier that he had another commitment. He raised many concerns about the style of US operations. However, the US has taken the full brunt of the insurgency and the foreign elements in Iraq, although that is not to say that we have not tackled major issues head-on. We have and, sadly, we have lost a significant number of people in such actions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that it is accepted that the immediate post-conflict and reconstruction process has not been well handled. Lessons have been learned, although we cannot recover what should have been done in the past. We can only learn the lessons and ensure that we make considerable progress from now on. That is why I gave details about the amounts that we were spending on the reconstruction and renewal of Iraq. The US is also spending considerable sums.

We should pay tribute to the US for all that it does to help to bring freedom, stability and democracy to so many parts of our troubled world. We should not forget the role of the Americans in the Balkans and Kosovo—and in Afghanistan, where they are determined to rip out the vestiges of al-Qaeda. If the Americans were not doing that, who would? Who would take on global terrorism if not the US, with us giving significant support? If that was not done, we can be sure of one thing—global terrorist groupings would grow and threaten our very way of life. They will not go away; it is not domestic terrorism, but a global terrorist threat that has to be tackled at the point of threat. We cannot
20 Mar 2006 : Column 75
wait for the next attack before winning public opinion to our side, although that is required. We have to make sure that we are tackling the threat with vigour.

I think that the hon. Member for Reigate was too quick to condemn the US and I ask him to reflect on his position. He said that the Afghan mission was vague, but the mission of UK forces in Afghanistan is clear: to support the Government of Afghanistan in extending its authority across the country. We are part of an unprecedented international intervention, UN mandated and NATO led, working alongside Canada, the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark, Romania, Australia and Estonia in the south, and many other nations elsewhere in Afghanistan including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Nordic countries. We should also bear in mind the growing capability of the Afghan national army. NATO has a detailed operational plan, which sets out precisely what NATO forces need to achieve in Afghanistan. All of that takes place in the context of the much wider international effort building on the success of the Bonn process and marked out comprehensively in the Afghanistan compact agreed at the London conference in January this year.

The mission in Afghanistan is demanding a lot of us, but I repeat the question that I asked a few moments ago. Some argue that we should not do it, or that we do not have sufficient resources for the task—I do not agree; it is part of a wider international effort in support of the Afghan national army—but what would it mean if we were not there? What would that mean for this country? I think that it would be extremely serious if Afghanistan descended back into an ungoverned state.

I found myself agreeing with much of what the hon. Member for New Forest, East said, although I will not tell him which parts of his speech I agreed with and which I did not. As ever, he made a thoughtful contribution. I share his view that it is Parliament's role to hold the Government to account. We have had a brief but wide-ranging debate, and I have tried to deal with the key issues on which the debate is based. I hope that the House will agree that I have responded in a reasonable, helpful and constructive way. Only time will tell.

Question deferred, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5) (Consideration of estimates &c.) and Order [9 March].

20 Mar 2006 : Column 76

Department of Health

[Relevant documents: Oral and written evidence taken by the Health Committee on 1st and 6th December 2005, HC 736-i, -ii, and iii, on Public Expenditure on Health and Personal Social Services 2005; and The Department of Health Departmental Report 2005, Cm 6524.]

This Estimate is to be considered in so far as it relates to NHS financial deficits (Resolution of 16th March).

Motion made, and Question proposed,

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I advise all right hon. and hon. Members that after the first speech, there will be a 10-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches.

6.52 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): First, I congratulate the Committee Office scrutiny unit on its good work on advising Members.

Today's is a timely debate, given that a number of trusts face severe financial deficits. The Department of Health spring supplementary estimate includes large sums—more than £500 million of public dividend capital, including more than £195 million year end flexibility—to increase the loan capital to national health service trusts and primary care trusts. Those sums are in addition to the £200 million requested in the winter supplementary estimate for 2005–06. We are therefore discussing a considerable amount of money in addition to the substantial increase in health care expenditure in this country that has been going on for four or five years under the Labour Government.

The expected NHS deficits are attracting a great deal of press comment. People coming from another planet would wonder how some of the trusts have incurred such massive overspends given that there have been large increases in health budgets for many years now. In the Opposition day debate last November, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said:

She continued:

Next Section IndexHome Page