§ The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)
With permission Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Iraq and on the middle east peace process.
Let me start with the security situation in Iraq. Large-scale combat operations are over. The overwhelming majority of the country is under coalition control. The vast bulk of Saddam Hussein's forces have been defeated, dispersed or isolated, although minor pockets of resistance remain in Baghdad and some other towns.
When the House rose for the Easter recess, the main challenge confronting coalition forces was civil disorder and looting in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the regime. It would have been a miracle had there not been such an outburst of anger, frustration and lawlessness in a country where the population had lived for so long in daily fear of torture, arbitrary arrest and summary execution.
In the past two weeks, the looting and civil disorder has declined. In Baghdad, local police have offered their services, and joint patrols with coalition troops are under way. An effective curfew is in place. Baghdad's main hospitals are working and the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq reports that clean water is available in most parts of the city.
More widely, schools and markets are reopening. Local hospitals are resuming normal service and field hospitals, including those supplied by Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are functioning well. Electricity and water supplies are reaching most parts of the country. Again, the UN Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator has said that it is about to declare the area to the south of Baghdad "permissive".
In Basra—the centre of the area under British military control—United Kingdom forces are carrying out joint operations with local police and providing food and water through aid distribution points established on the outskirts of the city. A local judicial system is being established with our assistance and encouragement. Thanks to help from British engineers and local Red Cross workers, the three main power stations supplying Basra are now up and running, and the city's electricity and water supplies have been restored to pre-conflict levels. In some respects in the south facilities are already in better shape than before the military action commenced. The seaway into Umm Qasr is being dredged to take larger vessels and the grain store is open. The railway line from the town to Basra, which had not worked for many years, is now running, thanks to British military engineers, and plans are in hand to reopen the line all the way to Baghdad.
§ Mr. Straw
I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the all-party message about the important role that the British military might play in this country.
22 In northern Iraq, essential supplies of wheat, oil and medical goods are being delivered unhindered. UNICEF reports that all schools in the north have reopened, and that the vast majority of people displaced by the conflict have now returned to their homes.
In the coming weeks, coalition forces will increasingly share the burden for the delivery of essential services and aid with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, and with UN agencies and nongovernmental organisations. When, just before Easter, I visited Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, I discussed ORHA's plans with its head, Jay Garner, and other colleagues of his based then in Kuwait. Mr. Garner moved into Baghdad with most of his colleagues just a week ago, and a number of other countries, aside from the US and the UK, are now making substantial contributions to that organisation. Australia, Denmark and Japan have already provided personnel. Others, including Spain, Romania, South Korea and Italy, are about to do so. For our part, we have so far provided 20 British staff, including one of Mr. Garner's three deputies, Major General Tim Cross, a serving officer with the British Army. We will be making further contributions to OR HA to help get Iraq back on its feet.
As well as meeting humanitarian and other essential needs, and starting the process of physical reconstruction, a key objective of the coalition is to support a viable political process that allows the Iraqi people to create representative, democratic government for themselves. In Basra and the south-eastern sector, which we control, we began this process at a local level by sponsoring representative town meetings. Similar local and regional meetings, based, not least, on that model initiated by the British military, have been held elsewhere.
On 15 April, the first meeting of national Iraqi representatives was held in Nasiriyah, with about 60 delegates present. That meeting was attended by a senior British diplomat, Edward Chaplin. A second such meeting—on a larger scale—is being held today in Baghdad, with an estimated 250 delegates in attendance, including a number of Shi'a clerics. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) and a senior Foreign Office official are attending that meeting. We will of course ensure that the House is informed of its outcome.
We hope that the current process of consultation will culminate in a national conference of Iraqi representatives. This would, first, set up an Iraqi interim authority to take over progressively responsibility for the administration of Iraq. Secondly, it would create a constitutional framework to prepare the ground for the election of a democratic Government run by the Iraqi people themselves.
As President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made clear, the United Nations will have a vital role in Iraq's reconstruction. Last week the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1476, which will extend the new arrangements for the UN's oil-for-food programme until 3 June.
In the coming weeks, the Security Council will have to consider a range of other issues. Those will include the future of the sanctions regime and the subsequent management of Iraq's oil revenues.
23 There is also the question of the future arrangements for verifying Iraq's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction. In his presentation to the Security Council last week, the head of UNMOVIC, Dr. Hans Blix, recognised thatin a situation that is still insecure … civilian international inspection can hardly operate,and that
some of the premises upon which the Council established UNMOVIC and gave it far-reaching powers … have changed.He also accepted that coalition authorities would be as eager as UNMOVIC to find weapons of mass destruction.
In the absence of the secure environment referred to by Dr. Blix, the task of locating this material inevitably falls to coalition forces. We are actively pursuing sites, documentation and individuals connected with Iraq's programmes. Both the UK and the US have deployed specialist personnel and will be sending more in the near future.
But the investigations are unlikely to be quick. The inspection process itself will be painstaking and detailed. The testimony from scientists and documentation about WMD development and production programmes will be the key to determining the fate of the prohibited equipment, materials and munitions. But we cannot expect witnesses to come forward until they are fully confident that they can speak freely.
Even so, I know that some hon. Members have expressed concerns about the justification for military action in the absence of discoveries of illegal Iraqi weapons. Let me make two observations in this connection. First, military action was taken on the basis set out very clearly in Security Council resolution 1441, namely that Iraq'snon-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles"—posed a threat
to international peace and security.The evidence against Iraq was then—and remains—overwhelming. It was charted by UNMOVIC in damning detail in the 173 pages of its report, "Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes", which was published in New York late on Friday 7 March, and which I published before the House in Command document 5785 the following Monday, 10 March. My second point is that Saddam had ample time to conceal his WMD programmes prior to the start of military operations. Indeed, his experience in concealment dates back to the early 1990s.
Before I move on to the middle east peace process, let me say this. It is only 19 days since Baghdad was liberated, and barely two weeks since the end of serious fighting. In that time, civil disorder has subsided and—as we saw in the joyous Shi'a pilgrimage to Karbala last week—the Iraqi people have begun to savour the taste of freedom. Of course there are problems associated with this dramatic change for the Iraqi people after more than 20 years of coping with a brutal and vicious regime, but a new and representative Iraqi Government, run by the Iraqi people and for the Iraqi people, will help to 24 guarantee this freedom for future generations. Despite all the immense challenges that lie ahead, I know one thing for certain: Iraq's future will be better than its past.
Of course, the middle east will never look forward to a secure future as long as a settlement to the region's most intractable dispute apparently remains beyond reach. For the past months, Her Majesty's Government have therefore worked tirelessly to secure the publication and implementation of the road map—a document agreed by the Quartet group of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union that sets out a path to a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I greatly welcome the commitment from President Bush to devote as much effort to this cause as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given to the search for peace in Northern Ireland.
Later this week, the Palestinian Legislative Council will be asked to endorse the appointment of a new Cabinet for the Palestinian Authority. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, one of the main architects of the Oslo accords, this Cabinet has, I believe, the courage and ability to take the tough measures necessary to clamp down on terrorism and to lead the Palestinians into a constructive dialogue with the Israelis and the international community. This, and action by the Israeli Government to ensure that the Israeli defence force acts strictly within international law, should bring to an end the spiral of killings that has claimed more than 3,000 lives on both sides over the past two and a half years.
Once the Palestinian Legislative Council endorses Mahmoud Abbas's Cabinet, the road map will be published. Then, for the first time for a long time, we should be able to speak of a peace process in which the parties themselves are actively engaged. The road map charts a course to the outcome that the House and the entire world wish to see: a secure state of Israel alongside a viable, separate state of Palestine, consistent with UN Security Council resolutions and the principle of land for peace. We will maintain our very close dialogue with the United States to push this process forward, and we will do all that we can with them and our European partners to help with the implementation of the road map.
With visionary leadership and courageous statesmanship from both sides, the outcomes that I have described for Israel and Palestine can, in our judgment, be achieved within the time scale set out in the road map—that is, by 2005. If that happens, it will not just bring an end to the misery of millions of Israelis and Palestinians who live every day under the shadow of indiscriminate violence; it will remove the single greatest source of resentment and mistrust that bedevils relations between the west and the Muslim world. I know and believe that both sides of the House will support the Government's efforts to secure this great prize.
§ Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me advanced sight of it. The House will have shared my mixed feelings as we learned from Saturday's edition of The Times that we nearly lost the right hon. Gentleman as Foreign Secretary before the war began, and that our support apparently saved him. I suppose that every silver lining has a cloud.
25 Although the war is over, our armed forces are still engaged in Iraq in the promotion of public order and security and in the process of initial reconstruction. With their courage, professionalism and dedication, they are once again doing us proud. The overarching priority now is to rebuild confidence within Iraq and in the wider region. I believe that the key elements are that, along with the maintenance of public order and security, basic public services and amenities are restored; that the elimination of weapons of mass destruction is achieved; that the interim administration and any system of government that emerges from it will be genuinely representative of Iraq as a whole, including women, and will not create disfranchised minorities on religious or ethnic lines; and that real progress can be made on the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Could the Foreign Secretary reassure the House on a number of points? The Prime Minister, in his press conference this morning, insisted that weapons of mass destruction would be found in due course. He had no doubt. The Foreign Secretary seemed to dilute that view in his statement. What is his position? Is it that weapons of mass destruction will be found or that they will not be found? Will he confirm that, if they are found, independent verification will be essential? The Prime Minister had no such doubts this morning. Does the Foreign Secretary share his certainty?
Will any independent verification be carried out by the United Nations inspectors? If not, why not? Will the Foreign Secretary clarify what role the United Nations will play in the oil-for-food programme? Washington wants sanctions lifted and the oil-for-food programme phased out. France has proposed a temporary suspension of sanctions and a gradual phasing out of the oil-for-food programme. Russia wants the United Nations Secretary-General to run the entire programme until an internationally recognised Iraqi Government come into power, which, as we know, could take several years. What is the Government's view on that central question?
In looking to the future shape of the Administration and Government of Iraq, are there any democratic outcomes that the Government would find unacceptable? If so, what are they? What discussions have there been in Iraq about possible forms of government that would underwrite power-sharing and avoid disfranchisement or secession?
What practical steps are the Government taking to ensure that countries such as France do not seek belatedly to engage in the commercial exploitation of Iraq? Does the Foreign Secretary share my suspicion that their recent repositioning on sanctions may have more to do with economic advantage than with altruism?
Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that members of Saddam Hussein's regime, wherever they may be hiding, will be returned to Iraq to face the legal consequences of the crimes that they perpetrated against the people of Iraq? Can he tell us yet where and under what law they will be tried?
The confidence of the whole region will be massively strengthened by genuine progress in the middle east peace process towards the two-state solution. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that dialogue between the two sides, at whatever level, would be an important step 26 forward, and does he join me in welcoming Ariel Sharon's reported invitation to Abu Mazen to meet him in Jerusalem for discussions? Will he give such dialogue all possible encouragement, especially if the publication of the road map is further delayed? Does he foresee any reasons why it might be further delayed?
We have supported the Government in the removal of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction because we believed it right and in our national interest to do so. Now, the challenge is to build confidence and stability across the region. That, too, we believe, is right and in our national interest, and so long as that remains the Government's objective and they pursue it with due competence, they will continue to have our support.
§ Mr. Straw
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and I shall answer some of the specific questions that he asked. On the role of women in any new government whom we assist in creating, we are very strongly committed to ensuring that women play a proper role inside any government. [Interruption.] I hear some muttering from behind, and I should say that I am not in partisan mode. We are committed to ensuring that women play a full role in any government of Iraq, and with luck, they will do so in the Conservative party at some time in the future. We wish to see the full implementation of United Nations resolution 1325, passed unanimously by the Security Council, which calls for wider participation by women in Governments of all countries that are member states of the United Nations. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire, has already spoken today in Baghdad about the importance of ensuring that there is a proper role for women.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I am certain that WMD will be found. I am not certain where they are—such certainty seemed to be the implication of what he was saying—but I am absolutely certain that Iraq had illegal possessions of—[HON. MEMBERS: "Had?"] Hang on a second. I am absolutely certain that Iraq had illegal possessions of weapons of mass destruction, and recently. Therefore, there is every reason why they ought to be found, and that is the position of the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the oil-for-food resolutions. The oil-for-food programme is a United Nations programme that was rolled over by resolution 1472, and again last week by resolution 1476, until 3 June. It will continue as a United Nations programme until the Security Council makes decisions about the future of oil-for-food and of the sanctions regime.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether there are any democratic outcomes that are unacceptable. Well, we cannot have it both ways. If we wish to see a democracy established in Iraq as elsewhere, we have to accept that in the end, such a democracy is one in which the people of Iraq—like the people of this country—have to make up their own minds about their own future. That is the essence of democracy. Of course, there are some outcomes—outcomes that would lead to a change in the territorial integrity of Iraq—that would be unacceptable.
§ Mr. Straw
Of course that is true, because that is a matter that affects international peace and security, in 27 which the international community has a role. But within that, we have to establish strong and robust political institutions in Iraq, and to have some confidence and faith in the Iraqi people to run their own government—a confidence and faith in their ability that the dictator Saddam Hussein never had.
§ Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)
Perhaps I might take a moment, Mr. Speaker, to thank you and colleagues on both sides of the House for the messages of support that have meant a great deal to me and my family in recent weeks. However—to the business of the day.
Can the Foreign Secretary give the House some illustration of what the Government envisage as a vital role for the United Nations? Does not a vital role involve more than merely acting in an advisory capacity, or being concerned with humanitarian relief? What progress has he made with his entirely sensible suggestion that there should be a United Nations-sponsored convention to consider the future of Iraq? In recognising Dr. Blix's reservations about civilian inspection in an insecure environment, does that mean that when security is established, there will be an opportunity for Dr. Blix and the inspectors to return? In the meantime, can we take it that they will be invited to provide independent verification if any suspect materials are discovered?
Dr. Blix told the Security Council before the conflict that the inspectors could complete their task in some months. What is the Government's estimate?
The appointment of Mahmoud Abbas is one of the most encouraging events in the middle east peace process for a long time. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would not have come about without the promise of the publication of the road map? Does not that make it vital to keep to the timetable in the road map, lest momentum be lost? Finally, will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to make sustained representations to the Israeli Government to suspend all new settlement activity, including the building of a so-called security fence on the west bank?
§ Mr. Straw
May I first say how pleased I am to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his place and on such good form? I am sure that, in saying that, I reflect the sentiment of the whole House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's wise contributions, which he has made over many years, have been greatly missed by us all.
I was asked about the vital role for the UN to which President Bush and the Prime Minister committed themselves at Camp David and again at the Hillsborough summit a few weeks ago. There is an essential role for the UN to play for—example, in the suspension or lifting of sanctions; the future of the oil-for-food programme; the question of the title to Iraq's oil; working alongside the coalition and any putative Iraqi representative domestic institutions in building 28 governance; and, more generally, supporting reconstruction. There is also the issue of weapons inspections.
However, precisely how the UN's vital role turns out does not depend solely on the United Kingdom and the United States, the two key coalition partners, but on the degree to which we can secure active co-operation from our other partners in the Security Council. It is a matter of history that we were able to secure that co-operation in the run-up to resolution 1441, but after 8 November, we were unable to maintain it and, sadly, no second resolution was possible, leaving the international community divided.
In the UN headquarters in New York and in capital cities, detailed discussions are now taking place about how to ensure that the UN is able to play a vital role, but to do so constructively in a way that is not disruptive of the coalition, nor gratuitously disruptive of the process towards democratisation in Iraq. I am as committed as anyone—and so is the Prime Minister—to the fullest possible role for the UN, but it requires work, activity and good will by others as well as ourselves.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) for what he said about the middle east peace process. I should like to take this opportunity to respond to one of his questions to which I previously omitted to reply—whether I welcomed Prime Minister Sharon's offer to hold meetings with Prime Minister Abu Mazen as soon as the road map has been published. OF course I welcome that, as I welcome any positive steps by either side in the conflict to put the terrible and violent past behind them.
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) asked whether we are ready to call for the suspension of all new settlements. Yes, we have already done so, but I am happy to reinforce that point. We are also keen to see an end to the building of the fence, which is taking more land that belongs to the Palestinians into what amounts to Israeli territory.
§ Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
The whole House will surely welcome the progress report made by my right hon. Friend in respect of both Iraq and the middle east peace process. Given the great scepticism among Arab opinion about the bona fides of the coalition, does he agree that the best means of persuading Arab opinion of our even-handedness is the manner in which we deal with Iraq and implement the road map?
Is he confident that at the end of the process all the countries of the region, including Iran, will be ready to accept the existence of the state of Israel?
§ Mr. Straw
I agree with my right hon. Friend's overall sentiment. Having been in a representative but significant part of the Arab world, in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, two weeks ago, I have to say that sentiment towards coalition action is interestingly ambiguous. Certainly none of the predictions about massive and sustained protest in the Arab street came to pass. A great many people in the Arab street, as well as those in Arab Governments, have been only too glad—as we anticipated—to see the back of Saddam Hussein and of the instability that he brought to the region and the terror that he brought to his own people.
The road map is critical, however. Time without number, I have made the point that, yes, Security Council resolutions such as 242, 338 and 1397 impose obligations 29 on Israel: broadly, to recognise the 1967 borders, to withdraw from the settlements, to secure a resolution of the refugee issue, and so on. However, those resolutions also impose the clearest possible obligations both on the Palestinians to end terrorism and to co-operate with Israel, and on all the Arab and Islamic states to recognise the state of Israel and to accord it the same respect that any state in the world has the right to expect—its very existence should not be challenged on a daily basis. There cannot be peace in the middle east between Israel and the Palestinians unless all three sides recognise their obligations and responsibilities.
§ Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, in advance of the coalition invasion, his Department and others, including the Prime Minister's office, were repeatedly warned that hugely important antiquities and works of art in Iraq were in danger of being looted? What response did he make to those warnings; and now that we know that more than 100,000 antiquities have disappeared, what is he doing to get them back?
§ Mr. Straw
We were warned, and the coalition forces were, of course, aware of the great importance of the museum of Baghdad and its holdings to antiquity and to our sense of the origins of our own civilisation. It is, therefore, the most appalling tragedy that the museum was looted in that way. However, that happened because of the military situation in Baghdad at the time. Although I realise that the hon. Gentleman is not one of them, it is easy for people to say, from the safety and comfort of their armchairs, that the US military should have taken immediate action. However, the problem that the US military faced at that time and for some days afterwards was that, the moment they left their armoured personnel carriers or tanks, they were shot at and some of them were killed or injured. That made for a difficult environment, which was different from the one that obtained in Basra. Would that the situation had been different and that it had been possible to put a proper cordon around the museum.
As regards the future, much work is being undertaken by the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries to help the Iraqis to rebuild their holdings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is taking a close personal interest in that. Tomorrow, the British Museum is holding a meeting about the whole situation to consider what more can be done.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Recollecting that the peace efforts of Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak were destroyed by deliberate acts of terrorism carried out by Palestinian terrorist groups, and taking into account the fact that those terrorist groups can be relied on to carry out such acts in order to destroy this peace process, will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that when such acts take place—as they will—the Prime Minister of Israel will not be allowed to use them as a pretext or a device to delay or disrupt the peace process, and that the Government will insist that the peace process be completed by the date set out in the road map? Furthermore, will my right hon. Friend tell the Israeli Government that, if they want to demonstrate their good faith in the process, the first thing they must do is end the virtual imprisonment of Yasser Arafat in his headquarters in Ramallah?
§ Mr. Straw
My right hon. Friend is correct to say that the good offers that Prime Minister Barak made to the Palestinians were effectively sabotaged by escalating violence by rejectionist terrorist groups. All sides have a responsibility to act with restraint in this situation. Of course, that includes the Israeli Government; but in addition, it includes those countries in the region that have been sponsoring or financing rejectionist terrorist groups. One of those was Iraq, which has now been dealt with, but there are other countries to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred in his press conference this morning. We seek dialogue and cooperation with Syria and Iran, for example, but we also expect to them to exert new restraint on those rejectionist terrorist organisations in so far as they have direct influence over them.
§ Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)
May I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that, if the Palestinian-Israel problem is to be settled, we all know pretty much what the terms of that agreement and deal will be—they were discussed and so nearly agreed at Taba—but the difficulty will be to get both sides to accept that agreement? That will involve an awful lot of arm twisting, and I wonder whether I can bring him back to the role of the other states in the region because, in particular, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have a vital role to play. From his knowledge of the current state of the negotiations, does he believe that those countries are playing a positive role and that they meant what they said at the Arab League summit in Beirut this time last year, when they said that they would offer Israel recognition and peaceful, normal relations with its neighbours in exchange for the recognition and creation of a Palestinian state?
§ Mr. Straw
I am in no doubt that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are fully committed to the processes set out in the road map, and I had conversations about that with Prince Saud, the Saudi Foreign Minister, when I was in Riyadh just two weeks ago. In addition, it is important for the House to note that the single most important factor that led to the change of heart by Chairman Arafat to approve Abu Mazen's Cabinet was pressure from President Mubarak of Egypt and, in particular, his dispatch of his head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, who played a most constructive role in Ramallah itself to end the impasse and ensure that Chairman Arafat endorsed that Cabinet.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
My right hon. Friend will recall that, a few weeks ago, I asked that documents found in Iraq should be very carefully collected, but some very interesting documents have turned up. The point that I make today is about the story on the front page of The Daily Telegraph—it is the lead item—concerning Indict. It alleges that French security services were assisting Iraqi intelligence agents deliberately to threaten the lives of British subjects. We had two bomb threats on that day: one in Paris, with the message that everyone in the building would be dead by the end of the day and another in London, with the same message, and we had to clear our office in London. We made a full report to the French police. We made a full report to the British embassy in Paris, and we were told that the special branch followed it up, but we heard nothing further.
31 What did the Foreign Office do, and what was the response? It is time we had a full inquiry into those alleged activities on both sides, and I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that that takes place.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Following on from that, is it not a fact that, usually when enemy capitals are captured, an intelligence objective subcommittee will have previously arranged for the incoming forces to secure such obvious intelligence targets as the foreign ministry headquarters and the intelligence organisation headquarters? Why was that not done in this case? Why was it left to The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph and their enterprising journalists to find out what our own intelligence people should have found out?
§ Mr. Straw
The situation in Baghdad was not one in which every building could be secured. That is the simple truth of the matter. I have already given an answer to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) about the reasons why the museum of Baghdad ended up being looted. Of course, the coalition recognises its responsibilities, among other things, for the collection of intelligence, and is doing so. We must also recognise, however, that in the aftermath of a military defeat of the kind that took place 19 days ago, a degree of disorder and lawlessness was likely, which others exploited.
§ Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I too welcome the statement on Iraq and the progress that is being made, particularly in reference to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's words with regard to governance and democracy. Great patience will be needed on the part of the coalition to bring about the successful governance of Iraq. I share his view that democracy is perhaps the greatest force for progress that the world has ever seen. Regrettably, however, that ancient doctrine is not necessarily shared by those who are of a fundamentally religious turn of mind. In view of the fact that he was prepared to give assurances about the role of women in the governance of Iraq, can he give similar assurances that we will not see the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism and the clerics taking over the governance of Iraq, perhaps bringing about just as oppressive a regime as that which we have successfully dismantled?
§ Mr. Straw
My point to my hon. Friend is that, in the end, that is something for the Iraqi people to decide. If they have strong representative institutions that are democratic—the essence of democracy is that people are able to change peacefully a Government with whom they disagree—that is for them to decide. I do not believe for a second that any future Government will remotely meet the terrible standards set by Saddam Hussein: quite the reverse. If my hon. Friend looks 32 around elsewhere in the Islamic world—at Turkey, Indonesia and next door in Iran—he will see those peoples paying full respect to their religion, just as we do in this country and in this House, where we still have a Church by law established. He will also see, however, those countries—Turkey, Iran and Indonesia—trying to come to terms with principles of democracy and with post-agrarian society, and I believe that Iraq, too, can do that.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
What steps are the Government taking to destroy safely the unexploded munitions littered across Iraq, which, since the end of the war, are believed to have killed some 80 civilians and wounded another 400, many of whom are children?
§ Mr. Straw
Every step is being taken to deal with those munitions. It is in the interests of coalition forces as much as it is in the interests of local people to ensure that they are disposed of safely. It is a further indication of the utter irresponsibility of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen that he left those munitions in such dangerous places in the first instance.
§ Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)
What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Israeli Government about two British subjects: Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head and seriously injured by Israeli soldiers, and Ian Hook, a UN worker, who was shot and killed by the Israelis?
§ Mr. Straw
I have personally made a number of representations in respect of the second gentleman to whom my hon. Friend refers, including to the previous Foreign Minister, Bibi Netanyahu. As to the first gentleman she mentioned, our concerns about what happened to him were raised by the permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office in a conversation with his counterpart at the end of last week. I am happy to give her further details.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) regarding the possible trial of members of the former Iraqi Administration? I am sure that he will agree that he has had ample time, together with the American Government, to reflect on that matter. Will he please tell us what is the likely mode and venue of trial? Will he also please tell us what steps he will take to ensure that the trials are fair? Lastly, will he give an assurance that those people will not be dropped into the legal black hole that is Guantanamo Bay?
§ Mr. Straw
I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a precise, definite answer because these matters are still subject to discussion with the United States Government, and they will not be resolved until a functioning interim authority has been established. We want the Iraqi people, in the main, to take responsibility for ensuring justice in respect of former members of the regime. They had no effective justice system during the 24 years of Saddam Hussein's rule, but historically Iraq had a reasonably well functioning and fair judicial system. I held a discussion last week with British 33 Ministers about how our Government could aid and assist in the creation of a new judicial system in Iraq, and I am happy to write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman about that.
There is a question as to whether an international tribunal should be established to try the leaders of the regime. We have not ruled that out, but I am sceptical because of the vast costs of the international tribunals set up to deal with Yugoslavia and, even worse, Rwanda. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not mention the International Criminal Court, but let me say that it does not have a direct role because its jurisdiction is only for events that took place after July last year.
§ David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Can my right hon. Friend explain why anyone here should not be absolutely delighted that a murderous tyranny has been destroyed, and why they should not congratulate those involved in the armed forces? As to the middle east conflict, does my right hon. Friend accept that there will need to be a great deal of pressure, not least from the United States, on Israel to give up the illegal occupation that dates from 1967 and the notorious settlements that are in defiance of international law?
§ Mr. Straw
I share my hon. Friend's sentiments; it is for others to explain if their sentiments are different. On pressure on the Government of Israel, I have to say that from my direct conversations with President Bush I am quite clear about his commitment to push forward the road map and to engage in robust conversation with the Government of Israel. As I have said, there must be an equivalent response by the Palestinians and the Arab states if the progress charted in the road map is to produce a reality.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
To achieve a settlement by 2005, the Foreign Secretary has called for visionary leadership and courageous statesmanship that has probably not been seen in Israel and Palestine since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. He has already intimated that the British Government are open to the possibility of enforcing the road map through a chapter VII resolution of the United Nations under international law. What prospect is there of the United States at least admitting that possibility?
§ Mr. Straw
I am sorry that I cannot, in that respect or any other, speak directly for the United States Government. However, I can repeat that they are completely committed to implementing the road map. At Hillsborough, President Bush did not have to say that he would devote to that the same energy as the Prime Minister has devoted to the Northern Ireland peace process, but he did say it, and it is an indication of the way in which he has gripped the issue and is putting his own reputation and great office on the line to ensure that, after so many decades of strife, we secure the prize of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
To what extent has my right hon. Friend used his influence and friendship with the regime in Iran to try to persuade it to withdraw from Iraq the Iranian-based activists who are intent on 34 establishing a new tyranny modelled on the ayatollahs' in Tehran, or does he expect the Americans to follow up their threats against the Iranian regime with action?
§ Mr. Straw
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made it clear that there are no plans or intentions to take any kind of military action against Iran: quite the reverse. I commend the constructive approach that the Iranian Government had taken even before military action was taken against Iraq, and we are grateful to them for the co-operation that has been achieved. We look for the Iranians to continue to play a constructive role in supporting the establishment of Government and political institutions, and to do so in a benign way.
§ Bob Spink (Castle Point)
Would the right hon. Gentleman congratulate the Kurdish people on the help that they gave during the conflict, and would he take all possible steps to ensure that Turkey does not in any way interfere with their right to govern themselves within a Kurdish region under a single Iraqi democratic federal state?
§ Mr. Straw
I am happy to do so. The Kurdish people were very courageous indeed in resisting Saddam Hussein's tyranny. Their current leaders are involved in the conference in Baghdad and we hope that they play a constructive role in Iraq's future. It is important that they, as well as countries in the surrounding area, recognise and respect Iraq's territorial integrity. If that happens, the stage is set for the stability of the whole region. If, however, there are challenges to Iraq's territorial integrity, we will have greater problems than anticipated.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Does the Foreign Secretary recollect from his history that on orders from Washington in 1945 one of the first things that the American and British armies entering Berlin had to do was get hold of Nazi documents because of likely trials? Why have the answers on documents that have already been given this afternoon not been at all convincing? It is not difficult to seize documents and take them into custody, so why were they left for other people to go through?
§ Mr. Straw
With respect to my hon. Friend, I have already answered that question. The world is far from perfect. If it had been possible to secure all those sites, that would have happened, but it was not possible any more I may say, although I was not born at the time, than it was possible in Berlin in 1945.
§ Angus Robertson (Moray)
I welcome the Government's restated position in favour of independence for Palestine and secure borders for Israel, but did the Foreign Secretary on his tour of the middle east speak with servicemen and women deployed there about their widespread concerns about service pensions? What is he doing to maintain the morale of troops in the middle east, and those who have just returned, on that important question?
§ Mr. Straw
I saw a number of British servicemen and women, and greatly admired their complete 35 commitment to the cause for which they had been fighting, and for which some of them had given their lives. The issue of pensions for British servicemen and women is properly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)
Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about reports of sales of chemical precursors to Syria, given President Assad's practical support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and their determination to ensure that there will not be any peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
§ Mr. Straw
I am always concerned about such reports, and we look at them thoroughly. As I said earlier, while we seek active dialogue with Syria it is crucial that Syria end its support for and financing of rejectionist terrorist groups operating inside Israel and the occupied territories and, furthermore, that it recognise that if it wishes to be admitted fully to the international community it has to take that action and stop equivocating about its position on those terrorist groups.
§ Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
The Foreign Secretary will be aware of considerable speculation in the past fortnight that the French Government were involved in briefing the Iraqis in the run-up to the war about the American and EU plans. Indeed, they were involved before then in helping the Iraqi Government to breach sanctions. Is the Foreign Secretary aware of anything either in the Foreign Office or coming out of Baghdad that would support either accusation?
§ Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)
Can my right hon. Friend say, first, whether or not relations between the coalition and Syria have improved as a result of the conflict; and secondly, can he reassure the public that Syria is not next on any hit list that may be around?
§ Mr. Straw
The answer is that relations with Syria have changed. They have deepened, and there is now a more serious dialogue with Syria. Syria is not—to use the language that my hon. Friend uses—on any list. I have already made that clear, and so has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Equally, Syria has responsibilities which we hope that it will meet.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
Further to the question of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), I too was on the board of Indict that she set up for a couple of years. The documents that she has mentioned should be in the hands of the American and British Governments. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that the Government get hold of the documents that The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers have, study them, comment on their authenticity and then make a statement on the motivation, for instance, of the French Government in threatening to impose a veto on any 36 United Nations resolution, of any other Governments, and of any individuals mentioned in the documents who opposed the war so vociferously?
§ Linda Perham (Ilford, North)
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary knows, I represent a large Jewish population in Redbridge. They are concerned, as I am, about the security and future of Israel. My right hon. Friend talked about visionary leadership and constructive dialogue in the process. Does he really think that as long as Mr. Arafat retains any influence or position that is likely to occur?
§ Mr. Straw
I hope that my hon. Friend and her constituents—I know the area that she represents very well—will recognise just what movement has taken place among the Palestinians, and the decision by Chairman Arafat, under external pressure, to recognise Prime Minister Abbas's Cabinet, including the effective head of security, Mr. Dahlan, who was not being approved by Chairman Arafat. Those events represent a significant change by the Palestinian Authority as a whole towards an effective peace process. I also know—I say this to my hon. Friend and her constituents, many of whom have relatives and friends in Israel—that the best chance that we can have for providing a safe future for Israelis is to get the peace process going, to secure the implementation of a road map and to have a secure state of Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine.
§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)
The Foreign Secretary rightly reiterated his determination and that of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that the new structure of governance in Iraq should be as broad and wide as possible, and should have the support of the international world, and he referred to the United Nations. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that not everybody believes that that is the view of the American Government. It is thought by some that they are less concerned about the role of the UN.
Are any other Governments represented at today's meeting? Were any others invited apart from the British and, obviously, the Americans? In other words, what role is being played already, or asked to be played, by the UN or individual Governments that have taken an interest in the Iraq situation, to help to form an interim Government?
§ Mr. Straw
It was President Bush who used the phrase "vital role" for the United Nations. I am clear that he stands by that. I have already explained to the House precisely how that role turns out. That depends not only on the United States and the United Kingdom but on other partners in the Security Council, and the constructive approach that is shown by them.
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a direct answer as to whether other countries were directly represented at today's meeting in Baghdad. I can say, however, that Australia, Denmark and Japan have already provided personnel to the organisation that is headed up by Jay 37 Garner, which is also running the Baghdad conference. Other countries, including Spain, Romania, South Korea and Italy, are about to do so.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Does my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary agree that the priorities for the coalition forces in Iraq should be restoring and maintaining order, and helping with reconstruction and feeding the people, rather than searching every corner of the country for weapons of mass destruction? Will he urge some of our colleagues and the media to have patience? After all, my right hon. Friend has just a passing interest in making sure that the job is done thoroughly.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) a moment ago, the Foreign Secretary said he was confident that Saddam Hussein had had weapons of mass destruction. Does he accept that those words are quite different from those that the Prime Minister used this morning, when he said that he was certain that our forces will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? How confident is the Foreign Secretary that in the reasonably near future he will find, at the very least, concrete evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
§ Mr. Straw
My answer is, as ever, entirely consistent with the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The crucial point that we must all understand is that it is beyond peradventure that weapons of mass destruction have existed—biological and chemical weapons. They were well charted in the 173 pages of UNMOVIC's last inspection report dated 7 March this year.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire;)
Although the Iraqi people can be divided into Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds, fundamentalists and secularists, do they not have many common interests as doctors, electricians, construction workers, engineers and railway workers? What role will there be for a reemerging trade union movement in the democratisation and reconstruction of Iraq?