HC Deb 21 April 2004 vol 420 cc69-92WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Gillian Merron.]

9.30 am
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing) (Con)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am very glad that we have the opportunity, at some point in the House this week, to debate the all-important subject of Iraq. Although this debate provides the only opportunity to do so, I am grateful to the Minister and all hon. Members who are attending. I will come to the current situation in Iraq, the severity of which has been all too tragically highlighted by the appalling multiple bombing in Basra this morning, with terrible loss of life, including children, but I want to start with what prompted me to request this debate—the lessons to be learned from the circumstances in which we originally went to war in Iraq last year.

I make no apology for repeating what I have said before, which is that those circumstances were wholly unique. They bear no relation to the circumstances under which Britain has become involved in other wars in living memory, going back to the first world war. There was no incontrovertible, observable, factual event on the ground that constituted the trigger for war in Iraq. There was no invasion, such as the one that precipitated the first Gulf war, no looming humanitarian disaster, such as precipitated the war in Kosovo, and no appalling act of terrorism, such as what happened on 9/11, which precipitated the war in Afghanistan. Quite uniquely, the war in Iraq rested fundamentally on an intelligence assessment that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction on a large scale, that some of those weapons were at 45 minutes' readiness, and that some represented a current threat to vital British interests, most conspicuously the sovereign base areas in Cyprus and the facilities associated with them.

I understand that Ministers have a considerable degree of nervousness about associating the decision to go to war with the issue of the intelligence assessment of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, listening to the Prime Minister, one might be forgiven for thinking that the only reason we went to war in Iraq was to change the regime. However, that conveniently ignores the fact that the Prime Minister, on 18 March last year, in making the case to go to war, specifically stated that it would be illegal to go to war in Iraq to change the regime. He said: I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base."—[Official Report, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.]

Equally, listening to the Foreign Secretary, one might also be forgiven for thinking that the trigger for going to war was nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, but was simply to do with Saddam Hussein's violation of UN resolutions. That conveniently ignores the fact that the UN resolutions in question, not least 1441, are all about Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction, and the need for him to disarm and give the necessary access to the UN weapons inspectors.

The trigger for the war was undoubtedly WMD. The documentary evidence that makes that conclusively clear is the Government's own paper entitled "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives", which the Government placed in the Library just before the war started. The opening paragraph states: The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles, as set out in relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

As we went to war uniquely on the basis of an intelligence assessment, it was, of course, incumbent on the key senior Ministers involved—specifically the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary—to subject that intelligence assessment to the closest scrutiny and to ask the key questions about it. Also, if that intelligence assessment was materially in error in respect of its portrayal in the public domain and to Parliament, Ministers should have produced the necessary corrections. One has to ask whether that degree of ministerial scrutiny applied; I fear that it did not.

I want to make it clear that I do not consider Ministers personally blameworthy for the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not so far been found. I accept, of course, that the buck finally stops with Ministers, but they had clear advice from the intelligence professionals that there were weapons of mass destruction, and in my view they were entitled to rely on that advice. That poses important questions for the intelligence services on both sides of the Atlantic, and those are obviously the subject of inquiry and scrutiny.

However, there was a clear responsibility on Ministers to ask the key questions to ensure that they understood clearly what the intelligence assessment meant, particularly in relation to claims based on that assessment that were put into the public domain. There was also a clear obligation on Ministers to produce corrections. Of no claim is that truer than the one that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes' readiness to deploy. That was a claim to which the Government gave extensive publicity. It appeared four times in the September dossier, and was used by the Prime Minister in his 24 September speech to the House of Commons. It was also used by the Foreign Secretary, a matter of weeks before the war started, in his speech of 21 February at Chatham house.

With the benefit of hindsight, there is no question but that Ministers were ill advised ever to allow the 45-minute claim to appear in the September dossier. Hindsight aside, it was clearly central to Ministers' responsibilities to ask themselves the key questions about that claim. Especially before the war began, Ministers should have asked, and should have had the answers to, one question that was more important than any other—that is, to which weapons was the 45-minute claim related?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

All of us have made mistakes, but I was cartooned in The Times as asking why the dossier was not nominated to be on the shortlist for the Booker prize for fiction. Many of us challenged the dossier at the time.

Sir John Stanley

I do not take the view that the whole September dossier was fiction. Some of it has, to a degree, been corroborated by the results of the Iraq survey group. However, I agree that key elements in that dossier, particularly in relation to the immediacy of the specific threat to British interests, appear so far to have rested on uncertain, and possibly dubious, intelligence.

Of the three Ministers concerned, it appears, from the written answer that he gave me on 23 February—which can be found at column 2W in the Official Report for that date—that only the Defence Secretary asked the key question about which weapons of mass destruction the 45-minute claim related to. The Defence Secretary knew that the answer was simply battlefield weapons, and he knew that shortly after the publication of the September dossier, months before the war began. Extraordinarily, the Foreign Secretary went into the war without asking that question or getting the answer to it. He found out that the 45-minute claim related solely to battlefield weapons only in June last year, well after the war had ended.

Perhaps most reprehensibly of all, the Prime Minister, who was leading the Government and taking the country into a war for which he sought the approval of the House of Commons, did not know until after the war which Iraqi weapons systems the 45-minute claim related to. In the answer that he gave to me on 10 February—it can be found at column 1346W in the Official Report for that date—he said that he did not know until the Intelligence and Security Committee had examined the issue. That Committee's inquiry did not commence until May, which was after the war had ended.

It is an issue of serious and culpable negligence as far as the Prime Minister is concerned, The Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), was justified in calling for the Prime Minister's resignation on that particular key issue. It was no small matter, because on the answer to that question rested the issue of whether or not the high-readiness Iraqi weapons of mass destruction represented a threat to vital British interests. If the 45-minute claim related only to battlefield weapons, there was no threat to British interests. Only if it related to Iraq's supposed longer-range al-Hussein missiles, which were capable of reaching the sovereign base areas in Cyprus, could the idea of the 45-minute claim affecting British interests be valid. It was a fundamental question and, sadly, it was not asked by key Ministers.

In addition, Ministers failed to make the necessary corrections and they have tried to blame the media, both in the House and elsewhere. In particular, they have blamed The Sun for running a story, under the headline "Brits 45 minutes from doom", which referred to British service men, and British tourists, in Cyprus. Along with other sections of the British media, The Sun was entirely justified in drawing precisely that conclusion from the wording of the September 2002 dossier. Whether or not it was justified in drawing that conclusion—and in my view it was—there is no question but that it was incumbent on Ministers to correct that very serious misapprehension. Ministers knew that it was in the public domain and they failed to correct it. Most of all, it was incumbent on the Prime Minister, before he asked the House of Commons to approve his motion to go to war on 18 March last year, to put that key correction before Parliament and the public. That was not done.

It may be said, and perhaps the Minister will want to do so in his reply, that that is all just a matter of history. Well, we would all be relieved if it were just a matter of history and this country was not going to face the dilemma of whether to carry out military operations of one sort or another based on an intelligence assessment. However, given the way that the world is going—and given everything that we are told about the extent of terrorism, the proliferation of WMD and the clear intentions of certain terrorist organisations to try to get access to them—it will be a near miracle if we get through the next five or 10 years without finding ourselves in a situation similar to the one that we faced last year. That is, our Government might very well obtain intelligence information to the effect that a very dangerous terrorist organisation, or other group, has WMD capability and that it might at some point be on its way to this country, or be directed against British interests.

If that happens, the Government will have to come to Parliament and to the country again and, on the basis of an intelligence assessment, ask for support for a military operation that may have taken place already, or which may take place in the future. In those circumstances, it will be of critical importance for the Government that the British public and Members of Parliament are confident that what the Government say about the intelligence assessment is as accurate as possible.

Sadly, I believe that the Government's mishandling of the public dimension of parts of the intelligence assessment made before the war in Iraq has seriously damaged their credibility. The Government must decide how to restore that credibility, but I shall offer one suggestion. I read the recent press reports of Dr. Condoleezza Rice's eventual public appearance before the 9/11 investigation commission in Washington. The day after her performance, it was reported that Dr. Rice, along with senior members of the Bush Administration, had carefully avoided using what I call the "M-word". The Blair Administration also seem careful to avoid using that word, which in this case is "mistake". The Government would be well advised to come clean and acknowledge mistakes that were made, including at ministerial level, in their presentation of the intelligence assessment that led to us going to war in Iraq last year.

The security situation in Iraq has undoubtedly deteriorated alarmingly over the past few weeks, and the practical terms of what will happen when the transfer of sovereignty takes place on 30 June are a huge unknown. There must be increasing worries about whether the critically important reconstruction programme can be fulfilled in the current alarming climate of poor security and kidnappings.

I regret to say that it appears to me and to plenty of other commentators that a huge political misjudgment has been made by the American-led coalition provisional authority. How many of us had ever heard of Moqtada al-Sadr—I certainly had not—or of his small circulation newspaper, al-Hawza? There is no doubt that the decision of Mr. Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator, to close down that newspaper and arrest one of al-Sadr's aides has had profoundly disadvantageous consequences for the coalition. The publicity that al-Sadr has received has been of a saturation order, both in Iraq and worldwide, and it is in danger of enabling him, as an extreme militant, to outflank the more moderate Shi'a leadership. There is plenty of evidence that the events of the past few weeks are bringing the Sunnis and the Shi'ites closer together against the coalition forces. That is exceptionally dangerous.

The security consequences have meant that during the past few weeks more than 100 members of the US armed forces, and now nearly 1,000 Iraqis, have been killed. It is against that background that we must consider the right approach for the future.

As far as I am concerned—and I hope that this is the position of most hon. Members—there can be no question of quitting and running. That would be totally disastrous. It would have the most profound and damaging effects, in the middle east and worldwide, on our attempts to deal with the security threat from terrorism. However, we must view the security position in Iraq with a greater degree of realism than some people have shown.

Although it may be unpalatable to say so, the security reality is that, however unreasonably and unfairly, the coalition forces in most of Iraq are, at best, tolerated and, at worst, hated. There are unlimited numbers of terrorist targets, both physical and human, and in security terms we are spread pretty thinly in that vast country. Moreover, the past few weeks have demonstrated unarguably that Iraq is a security tinderbox.

The key security requirement is to avoid political and military decisions that end up making the security situation very much worse than it was before. If we are to have an orderly exit from Iraq, and if we are to improve the security position, it is crucial that we and the Americans demonstrate the requisite sophistication, astuteness and realism in making those key political and military decisions.

The British representatives in the CPA, both on the civilian and military side, have a full awareness of that necessity. I am afraid that I am much less convinced that that is the case among US civilians or military personnel. I would be interested to know whether the Minister shares that analysis. If so, what steps will the British Government take to try to impress on our American allies and friends the need for the greater sensitivity and awareness to which I have referred?

Finally, I move on to the political situation in Iraq. I welcome and fully support the decision made by the British and American Governments not to delay the date of handover. To have done so would simply have played straight into the hands of those in Iraq who want to misrepresent us as occupying powers determined to stay in Iraq for as long as possible and to deny the Iraqis their sovereignty. I am sure that that was the right decision. However, the worrying feature at the moment is that we have just 10 weeks to go until 30 June, and absolutely key questions remain unanswered.

I read in the press that a few short days ago that Mr. Paul Bremer, when asked by a journalist about who would be handed the keys in Iraq on 30 June, replied that that was "a good question". It is indeed, and I suggest that it needs a good answer, given the shortage of time. In his statement in the House on Monday, the Prime Minister was not able to shed any light on the answer. I do not know whether the Minister can do so today, but I urge him to. In his statement, the Prime Minister outlined the institutional arrangements for Iraqi government, and then said, "That is the vision." With 10 weeks to go, we do not want to be in visionary country.

I hope that the Minister can put some flesh and bones on the arrangements, and indeed tell us some names. In particular, can he shed any light on who will be the new President and two vice-presidents of Iraq? Who will be the Prime Minister? Will members of the existing Iraqi interim governing council continue in post, and will they be added to? Most particularly, can the Minister tell us whether the Americans will effectively approve appointments to the key political leadership of the new sovereign Iraq that takes over the reins of power on 1 July? If it appears that the key new political figures are American appointees, I doubt very much that that will be a basis on which they will be able to command authority and respect over a large section of the Iraqi population.

Mr. Dalyell

The last people to whom key positions ought to be given are certain Iraqi émigrés and exiles who have given us such bad advice for a long time, and who are hated by many people in Iraq. I am thinking of Mr. Chalabi, in particular.

Sir John Stanley

I broadly agree: there are those with a previous history outside Iraq who are not well regarded inside the country.

Lastly, I hope that the Minister can tell us what role the British Government will play in these crucial 10 weeks during the formation of the new sovereign Government of Iraq.

In conclusion, whatever the rights and wrongs of our decision to go to war in Iraq last year, the inescapable reality is that the British and American Governments, under the relevant international conventions, have legal and moral duties to the people of Iraq. Those duties are inescapable, and those responsibilities must be discharged. I trust that both the American and the British Governments fully understand the scale of the task that they face in discharging those responsibilities, the difficulty of doing so, and the need for the resources and the determination to see the matter through to success.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. I remind the Chamber that it is customary to start the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the conclusion of the debate. We therefore have only 33 minutes left for Back-Bench contributions.

9.58 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) on his extremely thoughtful speech. In one basic matter, however, I must be candid and say that I disagree. I am one of those people, albeit a minority, who thinks that we have no alternative but to withdraw the troops—embarrassing though it might be in causing red faces.

If I mention that I was on television this morning expressing these views, I do so for a reason that will become apparent. I argued that the very presence of coalition forces, far from curtailing violence and terrorism, acts as an incentive for terrorism. We now have a war of liberation, and I fear that we are the enemy. Let us be clear about the fact that it is not only former pro-Saddam people attacking us. We believe that there are many who hated Saddam, and to whom Saddam was extremely cruel, and—all right—for traditional reasons of nationalism they are taking up arms against coalition forces. The situation is appalling.

I said that I was on television this morning because I was immediately followed by Julian Manyon, the veteran reporter in Baghdad, who started by saying, "Tam Dalyell is absolutely right." I had not expected Julian Manyon to say that, but for him to endorse my view brings home the reality.

You have asked us to be quick, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall be. I have only one other matter to raise, which is the question of al-Sadr. I am told that there are many al-Sadr posters; the difficulty is that this man, who has been created by some very foolish things that the west has done, is now seen as a symbol of the Shi'a.

Those are minority opinions, but in my defence I should say that I was in Iraq in 1993 and 1998. That is partly why I challenged intelligence throughout our debates. Apart from anything else, I did not know how it was possible to be an intelligence agent in the Saddam society—by God, one would have been risking one's life. I doubted intelligence because of that.

Here we are, however, in this mess. I fear that, shamefacedly though we may have to do it, the correct decision is for the west now to withdraw. There may be enormous bloodshed, but I think it more likely that Shi'a and Sunni, who were never as divided as was made out in the west, will come together and that by some alchemy an Iraqi state will be born.

10.2 am

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

We should be grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) for ensuring that we are having the debate, although it is a pity that we are not having a major debate in the main Chamber, as this is a matter of supreme importance. However, we are grateful to him, particularly for the moderate and informed way in which he opened the debate.

I shall not repeat my right hon. Friend's points, but it is important that we do not allow the Government to move on from the arguments about weapons of mass destruction. There is a tendency now for the Prime Minister to say, in the very charming style that he uses, that there was a difference of opinion and that he understands our point of view but we must move on and talk about reconstruction. I am sorry, but this is a crucial matter that must be referred to again and again. We need answers from the Government.

Issues of peace and war, especially declaring war, are the most solemn duties placed on a Government. This country has a record unequalled by that of any other, at least in the 20th century, for going to war for only the most solemn reasons—if attacked or to protect our vital interests and our allies. That was not the case with the Iraq war, so the issue must be referred to again and again. We want answers from Ministers.

We now hear in the latest revelations from Washington that the CIA had fewer than five agents on the ground in Iraq, that its intelligence on Iraq was woefully lacking and that in recent history there were no weapons of mass destruction that posed any threat to this country. The reason for the war was spurious, and we have to nail the Government for that.

All that was foretellable and it was indeed foretold by those of us who voted against the war; that was our first reason for doing so. The second reason, which we also referred to continually, was that invading a Muslim country would make terrorism worse rather than better. That is precisely what has happened. We have provided an excuse for extremely unpleasant fanatics in the Muslim world to convey the impression to gullible masses throughout the Arab world that the invasion was part of a western plot to undermine Muslim and Arab culture. We played into their hands.

The Prime Minister repeatedly says that his reason for going to war was to break the links between rogue states. terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. There has never been any evidence that Saddam Hussein either had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to us or our allies or was responsible for the events of 11 September. That is the second thing that was foretellable and foretold—the war has made terrorism worse.

The third point that we made again and again was that Iraq was ungovernable. We referred back the British experience in 1920 and to the wise actions of the elder President Bush in 1991 when he realised the difficulties of breaking up the Iraqi state and did not go further than liberating Kuwait. Those three factors were foretold and we must remind the Government of them again and again.

What is so sad, and disastrous, is that since the mistaken decision was taken to invade a Muslim country, the American Government have made matters so much worse by disbanding the Iraqi army and spurning the offer by France and Germany, shortly after the war, to come in under UN auspices. The American regime wants to go it alone and is over-confident of its ability to hold down Iraq with so few troops. Eric Shinseki, the US army chief of staff, gave evidence to Congress that, in his view, 500,000 troops would be necessary to ensure peace and security in Iraq. I am told that it is generally accepted that holding down a country after occupation following war requires 20 security personnel for every 1,000 inhabitants.

At one time, there were 60 small US army units scattered throughout Baghdad, but the US army has retreated into eight camps around Baghdad. It has a laager mentality and simply drives through Baghdad in armoured convoys making itself a target. As my right hon. Friend said, at best it is tolerated and at worst hated. Again and again, decisions have been taken that have made things much worse. What about the offers of Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his advice? He is a modern influence in the Shi'a world and the Americans should have listened to him, but his offers were spurned. What about his calls for genuine democracy? Again, they were spurned.

We are where we are, however, and that is the trouble with this debate. Those of us who voted against the war are constantly told that that is in the past and asked for our solutions to the problem. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) says that we should leave Iraq immediately. I believe that general opinion is that we simply cannot do what the Spaniards are doing and scuttle out, but we must have an exit plan. I hope that the Minister, instead of reading out a Foreign Office brief, tries to respond to the debate and tell the Members of Parliament gathered in this Chamber exactly what exit plan the Government have and how they will ensure that our troops leave safely.

In the Defence Committee yesterday, General Jackson implied that there is friction between the different approaches of the British Army and the American army to peacekeeping operations. We should all pay great tribute to our troops who, because of their huge skill and experience in Northern Ireland, have managed to keep a lid on the situation in southern Iraq, but can we rely on that continuing for weeks or months? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said, we demand answers from the Government now on exactly what their plan is for the handover of power. We hear that the UN envoy, Mr. Brahimi, proposes the concept of a Prime Minister and presidential council of three. As my right hon. Friend asked, who will be appointed? Will they be seen to be appointees of the American Government? Will they be stooges? Will that make the situation far worse?

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman rejects the idea of an immediate exit, and I understand why, but did he see Brigadier Nick Carter in Basra saying that if there was pressure at Najaf and if things got worse, he would have 150,000 Shi'a at the gates of his barracks? What would we do then?

Mr. Leigh

That is a pertinent point and it is deeply worrying for our armed forces, who are under-resourced and are holding down southern Iraq with pitiably few personnel. What will happen if the Shi'a are incited to rise up against them? We would have to retreat, just as we did in 1920. I am afraid that, in one sense, the hon. Gentleman is quite right. There must be an exit strategy—not one of scuffling out in the next few weeks, although we must know precisely what our plans are.

We will never solve the problems of the middle east unless we detach moderate Arab opinion from extremists, and we will not do that until we make some effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute. What were the American Government doing—in this week of all weeks—allowing the Israeli Prime Minister three huge settlements in the middle of the west bank? What does that say to moderate Arab opinion throughout the region? Only the Americans can put pressure on the Israelis; nobody else can. The American Government sustain Israel. I support the state of Israel; we all do in this Room. We all believe, after the dreadful horrors inflicted on the Jewish people in the 20th century, that they have a right to their state, but the Palestinian people also have a right to justice. That is what the American Government must address. This is a sad and disastrous decision. The debate is timely, and I hope that the Minister gives us some good answers today.

10.11 am
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) (LD)

I thoroughly endorse the comments made by other hon. Members, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) on securing the debate and on making the points that he made. I want to refer to issues concerning the role of the United Nations, the transitional process and the reconstruction of Iraq.

On 19 April, the Prime Minister said in his statement: We will hold absolutely to the 30 June timetable for the handover of sovereignty … The UN should have a central role, and it should be developed still further once the occupation ends". I welcome his sudden recognition of the importance of the UN's role in these affairs, although it is a little belated. However, it is important to consider the mechanics of the UN's current involvement, comparing it with the disastrous events of a few weeks ago, when Kofi Annan's deputy was murdered in Baghdad. I am concerned to know how the UN's new involvement will be handled. Who will provide the security for UN personnel, given the recent disastrous attack on their headquarters? What guarantee will be provided to UN personnel and what discussions have been held with the UN in New York or anywhere else? When I last had the opportunity to discuss these matters a few weeks ago, it was made clear that the UN would not he releasing personnel to go to Iraq until they have a guarantee of security. We have yet to see that.

Returning to the Prime Minister's statement, he said: The vast majority of Iraqis want a … stable, democratic Iraq … That is exactly what the coalition want."—[official Report, 19 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 21–2.] We must ask, on what form of democracy will a democratic Iraq be based? Clearly, not on the Westminster model, or the US model. The agreement on the political process between the Iraqi governing council and the coalition provisional authority makes that abundantly clear. The key area, however, is the adoption of a permanent constitution prepared by the constitutional convention, elected from and by the Iraqi people. That should happen no later than 15 March 2005, but we already know that opposition is arising from certain quarters—Shi'a clerics, for example.

We must address the risk of attempts by fundamentalists to fill the present democratic vacuum with Islamists, whose constitutional aims are underpinned by sharia law. That is not what I understood to be the reason for being in Iraq, if we are to create a great democratic republic in the region. Has the coalition set out its red lines on what changes to the administrative law and the constitution would be acceptable?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

I apologise for intervening, but I need to clarify what the hon. Gentleman said. Did he say that during the transitional administrative period sharia law would be the code?

Mr. Chidgey

No, I did not say that. That was not my intention, but I am trying to speed things up. I am concerned that we shall end up with a constitution underpinned by sharia law. Got that, Minister? Good.

Clearly, this is a key issue not only for us, but for the US. Senior US politicians have made clear their view that should the constitution for Iraq result in an Islamist republic, there would be no way that the US could keep its forces in Iraq a moment longer; that would be politically unacceptable. I want to know from the Minister the United Kingdom's view. Do we take the same position? Have the Government made such an assessment? What would happen next should that development unfortunately occur?

We are all aware of the vast sums that the US has allocated for reconstruction in Iraq and that that is tied fundamentally to US business. We are also aware of charges that have been levelled about how such contracts have been awarded. They were supposedly negotiated, but there are claims of a different means of allocation—for example, that Halliburton, the company once led by the US Vice-President, has been found to have vastly overcharged its client for the services that it supposedly provided. Even worse are the recent reports of corruption and bribery on top of the cronyism with which we have become familiar. I raise that point with the Minister.

UK taxpayers are contributing quite a large amount of money to the reconstruction process in Iraq. Perhaps the sum is not as big as that being contributed by the US, but it is certainly significant in our terms. I am sad to say, however, that UK firms appear to have been generally sidelined in their attempts to win contracts from the Americans in the effort to reconstruct Iraq. I think the expression used in Iraq is that the UK process for awarding contracts was "stupidly fair" compared with the way in which the Americans are tying their reconstruction budget to their own firms.

Can the Minister confirm that such is the desperate situation with regard to UK firms' inability to win any projects in Iraq that a trade Minister recently sent out this message, which was quoted in The Guardian: All ministers in the government who are in frequent touch with their US opposite numbers need to ensure that the US administration are in no doubt about the political importance we attach to UK firms being seen to contribute actively to the reconstruction process"? The result, however, has been an absolute no—a big fat zero—which is of great concern.

Finally, I want to pick up on the concerns about corruption. Those of us who read The Sunday Times will be aware that, last weekend, some rather startling and far-reaching allegations were made that the CPA had been awarding contracts "improperly" on the basis of receiving bribes from companies, which then fail to deliver the project. The allegations are quite horrifying. Such behaviour is, I believe, illegal in British industry, as I am sure it is in US industry, whether it occurs in our own country or overseas. I want to hear from the Minister whether he has picked up on that point and what our Government are doing to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq, which is based to a degree on UK taxpayers' money, is kept free of corruption.

10.18 am
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) has done the House a service by initiating the debate. However, it may not have escaped the Minister's attention that, with the exception of the Father of the House, not a single Labour Member has seen fit to take part. I suspect that that is because there is large and growing embarrassment on the Labour Benches. Had they known then what they know now, many Labour Members would never have trooped into the Division Lobby with the Minister and his colleagues. The fact that not a single Labour Member apart from the Father of the House dares to show his face in this Chamber today is effective testament to that.

I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsboro ugh (Mr. Leigh) said in his excellent speech. The House should also appreciate that the effects of the war have spread far beyond Iraq. I chair the Select Committee on International Development. Many millions of people live on less than $1 a day in central and Latin America. However, as a consequence of the war and the need to divert funds to Iraq, the Department for International Development has withdrawn all aid from the whole of central and Latin America. Every DFID office in places such as Peru is being closed. The House did not fully take that on board. It happened when the new Secretary of State was taking over from Baroness Amos. We have now completely abandoned Latin America.

When Baroness Amos was Secretary of State she appeared before the International Development Committee. It is clear that no assumption made by the Government or the coalition before the invasion of Iraq has come good. She said that there was preparation, there was preparation for a range of possible crises, ranging from prolonged urban warfare through large population movements and widespread disruption of essential infrastructure. As it happened what we did see was widespread looting and a breakdown in law and order. which had not been anticipated and which led to serious problems.

With some understatement, she continued by saying that we planned for very specific scenarios which did not occur … I think where mistakes were made were in anticipation of what we thought the problems were going to be. That is like a statement from a general confession; the coalition prepared for eventualities that did not happen and made absolutely no preparation for those that did.

Hoshyar Zabary, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, recently observed that the coalition's greatest error was to assume in international law the role of an "occupying power." Reference has been made to United Nations Security Council resolution 1483. The Iraqi Foreign Minister is a Kurd. The coalition is putting its trust in him. He has said: I reminded Tony Blair that we have pleaded with his senior officials that this language would be catastrophic. The concept of occupation instead of liberation would change the minds of the people … everything we proposed was rejected. They did not have faith in the Iraqis. We have a coalition that fails to get United Nations support; when it does get that support, it is simply to assert the US and UK military as occupiers. The coalition rejected all the advice it received, even that which came from Iraqis whom it was purporting to trust and to put into positions of responsibility.

A year after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, it is difficult to credit how little sensitivity there is towards the Iraqis among some US soldiers. Over Easter, American soldiers who had arrested some Iraqis and bound their hands in plastic restraints were quoted as saying: We picked up these guys for wearing black … we are under orders to arrest anyone dressed in black. My experience in Islamic countries is that Muslim pilgrims frequently wear black. In Iraq, Shi'ite pilgrims wear black. It may have escaped the attention of the coalition commanding officers that hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims were converging on Iraq's twin holy cities of Najaf and Karbala for the Shi'ite festival of Arba-Een.

Such cultural insensitivity and heavy-handedness is part of the reason why, for the first time, the coalition is facing the twin threats of Sunni insurgents and Sadr's Shi'ite gunmen. No wonder on Good Friday, the Foreign Secretary was obliged to observe on "The World at One" that there is no doubt that the situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced. Ministers in the Foreign Office would have done well to take heed of the remarks of my right hon. Friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, a distinguished Foreign Secretary under whom I was privileged to serve when he held that office. He said: You really don't win hearts and minds by filling hospitals and mortuaries.

Haifa Sangana, an Iraqi novelist and a former political prisoner of the Ba'ath regime observed that ordinary Iraqi people are appalled at the way in which the coalition Provisional Council have seemingly been watching in silence while Iraqis have been killed ". About 10,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the start of the conflict, and although most of the governing council's members were once victims of Saddam's regimes they now seem to turn a blind eye to the violation of human rights by occupying troops.

One of the first things that the coalition provisional authority did was to issue a memorandum to remove the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts over any coalition personnel in both civil and criminal matters. Amnesty International recently produced a report. There was a time when Labour Members used to quote what that organisation said, but they no longer do. That report states: Coalition forces appear in many cases to be using the climate of violence to justify violating the very human rights standards they are supposed to be upholding. They have shot Iraqis dead during demos, tortured and ill treated prisoners, arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely, demolished houses in acts of revenge and collective punishment

Senator Kerry described the June deadline for a handover of sovereignty to an interim Iraqi Government as a fiction; he said that it was an arbitrary decision that had almost certainly been affected by the elections schedule. Those of us who voted against the war on the grounds that it did not have the authority of the United Nations can only sadly observe that far from striking a blow against terrorism, the invasion of Iraq seems to have unleashed the very forces of extremism that it was supposed to destroy.

During the Easter recess, we watched sadly as the situation in Iraq became blacker by the day, and often by the hour. Dozens of Iraqis have been killed or injured, lives of coalition troops have been lost, foreigners have been kidnapped and any scintilla of a suggestion of coalition forces being peacekeepers has been blown away; they are now clearly occupiers.

Did I dream that President Bush, some months ago, stood on the deck of US warship Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of all major military operations, beneath a banner claiming, "Mission accomplished"? Bizarrely, whatever the body count, the situation seems continuously to be one of "mission accomplished." On Good Friday, US General Sanchez, the No. 2 US military commander in Iraq, observed that a new dawn is approaching. That is what US military commanders were telling us exactly a year ago.

When it suited the United States and, sadly, the United Kingdom, they ignored the United Nations. Now, apparently, Washington is lobbying countries to commit troops to protect UN personnel in the hope of convincing the UN to return to Baghdad to help organise elections and to finalise the constitution after the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi Government. Not surprisingly, neither Kofi Annan, who withdrew his staff from Iraq last October after an attack on UN headquarters had killed 22 people, including his representative, Sergio de Mello, nor individual member states are now rushing forward to endorse that suggestion. One cannot simply pick and choose when one seeks the help of the UN.

A year after coalition troops entered Baghdad, there are only 12 hours of electricity a day and there is more sewage in the streets. Why have the coalition forces failed to restore the basic necessities of life, such as power and water, for the people of Iraq? After 30 years of disastrous wars and the brutality of Saddam Hussein, the vast majority of Iraqis simply wanted to get back to normal life. All the US and the UK had to do was to get the relatively efficient Iraqi administration up and running again, and they have not done that. Few in Iraq will necessarily have been celebrating the anniversary of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein on 9 April, because what, in reality, have they to celebrate?

The Economist endorsed President Bush in the 2000 election and unequivocally supported the war against Iraq. Yet it was obliged to observe on 1 April that the war was one of choice not necessity. Given that, it was foolish to exaggerate Saddam's weaponry, downright misleading to imply a link between the Iraqi leader and A1 Qaeda and hubristic to do so little to prepare for post war reconstruction … mistakes soon piled up: handing the running of the country to the Pentagon; letting looters rip out the infrastructure; disbanding the Iraqi army and dismissing outside efforts to help.

Iraq was invaded by a coalition of willing countries. However, it was not a coalition of willing countries acting with the authority of the UN. The invasion has always lacked legitimacy, and that lack of legitimacy has been a tragic flaw.

Commenting on the first Gulf war, Douglas Hurd, in his book "The Search for Peace" observes that after the invasion of Kuwait: There was a good deal of argument about the best means of ensuring legitimacy. Article 51 of the UN Charter provides an absolute right of self defence. International lawyers argue convincingly that this right extended to allies trying to rescue Kuwait, as well as to Kuwait itself. Douglas Hurd notes, however, that the American Secretary of State, James Baker, argued, with his strong support, that "this was not enough." In their view they needed specific authorisation of their efforts by the Security Council. As Douglas Hurd observes: There were hazards in this course; there was the danger of Russian or Chinese vetoes, but more subtle was the danger of fudge and obscure wording in a Security Council Resolution which might prevent our Commanders in the field from doing what was necessary. However, he concludes: We managed through firm diplomacy in New York and in capitals to avoid these dangers. The specific approval of the Security Council was a necessary condition of allied success. What a pity that President Bush Jr. did not follow the foreign policy lead of his father.

Later this summer, the inquiry led by Lord Butler of Brockwell will report, following its review of the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that was used by Ministers as a justification for war. At that point, the House will undoubtedly need to revisit the legal case for the war, because it seems clear that Ministers at the very least misunderstood the vocabulary, language and ambiguities of the intelligence that they sought to rely on.

10.30 am
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)

This has been a most impressive and powerful debate. In particular, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley), who opened with a powerful analysis of the reasons why we went to war and cogent arguments against the Government's actions then, and since. With great expertise, the right hon. Gentleman covered a lot of that ground, which does not need repetition from me, and there have been serious contributions from other hon. Members, to which we should pay tribute.

This morning's bombings in Basra set the awful scene for the debate. More innocents—children as well as adults—are dead and British forces have been stoned as they try to assist the wounded. It is a truly grisly and awful situation. The bombings are the latest indication of the worsening security situation in Iraq. There is ever-stronger resistance in the so-called Sunni triangle and rising militancy among the Shi'as. Deaths and injuries to Iraqis are on the rise across the country and hostage taking and deaths among the international community are increasingly prevalent. The casualties to coalition forces are increasing every day. The coalition has been weakened by the withdrawal of troops by Spain and other countries and, sadly, trained Iraqi forces have proved unreliable recently.

The deteriorating security conditions make an already difficult political situation much worse. Ten weeks from today, power is due to be transferred to the interim Iraqi Government. At this late stage, it remains unclear how those new arrangements will work. The interim constitution has not found favour with the Shi'a community in particular and the detailed planning remains obscure.

Liberal Democrats firmly opposed the war in Iraq and believe that many of the current difficulties arise from the way in which it was prosecuted and the developments since. We believe equally firmly that we have a duty to continue to play a major role in the transition of Iraq to a new democracy, but there are serious hurdles to overcome in achieving that goal.

We are increasingly concerned about the way in which the US military is handling the response to insurgency. The events of Fallujah suggest that any concept of proportionate response is in danger of being junked by the Americans. We condemn the attacks on US civilians and soldiers, as we do those against the nationals of any other country, but the scale of the civilian casualties has shocked everybody and it looks more and more as if the coalition is returning to a full-scale war footing. That is not the way to win hearts and minds or to prepare for the first meaningful steps towards a sovereign, democratic Iraq. In all dealings with the United States, the British must urge restraint.

The coalition faces both opportunity and necessity to open up the process in Iraq to broader international support. We have argued since the declaration of the end of the war that the United Nations should have a leading role in the transition process. Mr. Brahimi's efforts to find a way through to a sustainable political situation in Iraq need all the support they can get. He urgently needs a security resolution that will promote the timetable of the constitutional process, underpin the legitimacy of the current proposals and provide ways to monitor the implementation of the timetable.

The transition must be credible in Iraq and internationally if there is to be any prospect of a successful conclusion. That means that, in Iraq, they must believe that there will be a transfer of power to the Iraqi people, and not just a regime providing cover for a continued occupation. It also means that other countries will be able to see the prospect of real change legitimised by the international community and will increase the prospect of sharing the security burdens with many more countries.

Clearly, there will be a requirement for a substantial military presence in Iraq for some time to come. We expect that the existing coalition partners will continue to have the largest role in the security set-up. However, there must be a clear status of forces agreement with the new transitional authority and clear aims for the military operations. It must be stated that the forces are there to promote the rule of law and facilitate the construction and development of democratic institutions. It must be made clear how the UK will discharge its obligations after 30 June. Currently, we are being asked to take the situation on trust. That is no longer enough.

We have a huge responsibility in that country and to its people. We have a massive responsibility to our armed forces. However, we appear to be back at the edge of a precipice. Unless a credible, sustainable plan is endorsed by the United Nations with some urgency, the increasingly dire security situation will deteriorate further. What is that plan?

10.36 am
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con)

I begin by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley), who made such a powerful speech with such expertise and set out the background to our reasons for going to war. I shall touch on that in a moment and then deal with some of the political and security issues on the ground.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), made an admirably brief contribution. I will do the same, because the Minister has been asked a lot of questions and I want to give him plenty of time to deal with them, particularly as powerful speeches have been made by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry), which, together with the opening speech, covered much of the ground that needs to be covered.

I want to make five points, and I hope to make them in five minutes flat. The reasons why we went to war must not be allowed to drift away. It is not just Labour Members who have the right to have a grievance about how we were taken into this battle. I voted for the war; therefore, I voted to send many of my constituents, including Royal Marines and Navy personnel, to war. I voted to send my son-in-law to war three months after he married my daughter. I did so for one primary reason: I believed the Prime Minister. I say to the House today that I will not make that mistake again.

First, it is not just a question of what I believed at the time. As the Archbishop of Canterbury warned in his speech yesterday, there is now an issue of trust and confidence. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said, this will happen again. We need to deal with this matter. It will not drift away. There will come a time when either this Prime Minister, or a successor to him, will ask the British people and the House to vote to send our troops to war. We need to deal with the issues arising out of the reasons for doing so in this instance. We hope that the Butler inquiry will get to the bottom of this, although we are not that confident that it will. The Minister must understand the strength of feeling about this issue.

Secondly, the Conservative party supported this military action. We still do. I part company from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—although we all respect him as Father of the House—in saying that it would be madness to withdraw. We have to see this though; there is no plan B. We must help Iraq to attain a pluralistic, peaceful and prosperous democracy. The Conservative party remains committed to that enterprise.

Mr. Dalyell

Might it not also be madness to stay?

Mr. Streeter

There is no question but that it is difficult to stay. However, I believe that to withdraw would create chaos and carnage. We cannot seriously contemplate that. We must see it through.

Thirdly, it is one thing for the US Administration to be lashed by the usual suspects and its perpetual critics. However, this Government need to know—as does the Minister—and the US Administration must recognise that there are growing concerns, even from its friends, about US tactics on the ground in Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing mentioned the tactics in the early days in Fallujah and Najaf coupled with the sense that there is a disproportionate use of force and cultural insensitivity. There is a sense that these things are not helping. We need to know from the Minister the extent to which the British Government are being candid friends to the Bush Administration. Are we saying those things to them loud and clear?

I was interested to hear Sir Michael Jackson's comments yesterday to the Defence Committee. He went as far as he could in suggesting that there was a real difference of approach on the ground in Iraq between US and British troops. We need to know that the Government are being a candid friend and raising those issues with the US Administration. I speak as a pro-American friend of America. If we are not careful, we will store up a huge problem for the future.

Fourthly, as many have said, we are now 10 weeks away from the handover arrangements. We need to know much more about them. Can the Minister give an update on the Brahimi report? Can we build on the outline that we have been given? We need to know that proposals for the selection of the new Government are well in hand, and that there will be adequate consultation. I would like to know whether the Government will be consulted about the Brahimi plan before it is implemented. We need the handover to succeed.

In the hope that we can get through the current security problems and get beyond the handover to put in place an administration that can lead Iraq towards a proper election in late 2005, we need institutions and buildings to start to take shape in Iraq. What role does Britain intend to play, either through the global opportunities fund or the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in building long-term capacity in Iraq to ensure a move towards democracy, a strong, civil society, and institutions that can support Iraq?

That takes us back to the most serious charge of all, which many have rightly made; that there was a complete absence of a proper, post-conflict reconstruction plan for Iraq. That is now freely admitted by the outgoing Secretary of State for International Development. Is it not clear that, in the past 12 months, the US-UK coalition has made it up as it went along? Does not that amount to a serious failure by the Government in respect of British foreign policy, and should not they rightly be held to account?

10.42 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell)

First, I thank my opposite numbers on the Front Bench for being sufficiently brief to enable me to answer the many points made in this wide-ranging debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) on raising what remain exceedingly important issues, which should concern all of us.

I am not convinced that any of us who came to this debate will change our views by the time we leave it; that is the nature of this historic conflict, and I think that that will continue to be the case. Nevertheless, it is important that we discuss the issues, and it is right that the actions of the Government and the coalition be properly scrutinised.

However, I start by expressing my deep condolences to those affected by the appalling attack in Basra yesterday; an estimated 50 Iraqi civilians died. Those attacks were clearly undertaken by people opposed to democracy. I hope that there is no division of view on that issue. It is the first time that an attack on that scale has taken place in Basra. I am confident that the vast majority of Iraqis in Basra do not support those actions, and there is evidence for that in what happened after a suicide bombing attack last month. A crowd that witnessed the incident went mad—for want of a better phrase—and took the law into its own hands against the perpetrator. Both that and the opinion poll evidence, which I will come to later, fundamentally demonstrate that, whatever the actions and views of a minority in Iraq, the overwhelming majority support the moves towards democracy, stability and reconstruction.

It is a reality that, despite continuing terrorist attacks, and notwithstanding the difficult security situation in parts of Iraq, we have made significant progress. The political process of transition remains on course. As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing acknowledges and supports, the coalition is committed to the handover of power to an Iraqi interim Government on 30 June. Elections will be held by January 2005. The terrorists will continue to do what they do, but I do not believe that they will succeed.

The increased role being taken by the United Nations will help significantly and we support the Iraqi governing council's request for the UN to help to build consensus in Iraq during the transitional period and to provide technical assistance. As was made clear in America last week by President Bush and the Prime Minister, we are open to the idea of a new UN Security Council resolution supporting the new authority. Key elements of that resolution would be to welcome the new political arrangements, clarify and support the UN's role and modify the mandate of the multinational force.

One hon. Member—I forget which—said that they hoped that in summing up I would not read from a Foreign Office brief but would answer the questions; that is what I will attempt to do. I shall start with the comments made by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing. He started by saying that this conflict with Iraq was unique because no event on the ground constituted an invasion and that there was nothing like the invasion that took place in advance of the first Gulf war. By implication, that comment omits the fact that the UN resolutions adopted unanimously by the Security Council at the end of the first Gulf war involved commitments that Iraq had to undertake to conclude that war. For 12 years, Iraq transparently defied the will of the UN and the international community by failing to respond to those resolutions.

I shall come on to the question of our intelligence material, but rather than looking at what this Government or the American Government said, we should look at Hans Blix's 173-page dossier, which was presented to the Security Council in March 2003. Saddam and his regime wilfully failed to respond to those 173 pages of unanswered questions, and that was the reason, after the unanimous adoption of resolution 1441, for deciding to go to war. The resolutions were there and the Iraqi authorities wilfully failed to make the necessary commitments; that was why we went to war.

The right hon. Gentleman made much of the 45-minute claim in the September 2002 dossier and there is no single issue in recent times on which there has been more rewriting of history subsequent to the events. To listen to the right hon. Gentleman and to other commentators, one would believe that the 45-minute claim was the central and most compelling reason for deciding to go to war. Let us look at the facts. That piece of intelligence was mentioned by the Prime Minister once in his statement to the House on 28 September and was not mentioned by him again in any statement or debate in the House. It was mentioned by no one in the crucial debate on the decision to go to war on 18 March 2003. Between 24 September and 29 May 2003, it was raised only twice in almost 40,000 written questions in the House of Commons and not once in almost 5,000 oral questions.

Sir John Stanley

I find this line of argument ridiculous. Surely, the reason why nobody mentioned this matter is that people believed the 45-minute claim because it came from the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister makes such a claim, who are we on the Back Benches to dispute it?

Mr. Rammell

With the greatest respect, and for want of a better phrase, do me a favour. If that claim was such a compelling argument and the key reason for going to war, and given that there was so much opposition from all parties, do hon. Members not think that there would have been repeated questions about it? There was no such questioning because that claim was not the compelling reason for going to war. The reason for that decision was the unanimously adopted UN resolution 1441, which gave Saddam a last chance to comply. He and his regime failed to do so.

I also listened carefully to what the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said about our motivation for taking the decision to go to war, and he stopped just short of questioning our integrity. All I will say to hon. Members who take that view is that three separate, independent inquiries have looked at the issues, the evidence and the key allegation that either dishonestly or in some other way we misled people about the nature of the intelligence information. Those three separate inquiries. held by the all-party Foreign Affairs and Intelligence and Security Committees and by Lord Hutton, concluded that we took reasonable decisions based on the evidence in front of us.

Nevertheless, there are questions about the intelligence that need to be addressed. As the Prime Minister made clear, there is a genuine debate to be had about weapons of mass destruction and the intelligence. That is why we agreed to establish the Butler inquiry to review and consider the intelligence information that we received. I believe that that was the right decision and we should await the outcome of those deliberations.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malting raised several matters relating to the situation on the ground in Iraq. He started by saying that there was a huge political misjudgement by the coalition authority in arresting one of Mr. al-Sadr's aides. However, the facts and the evidence of what has happened in recent weeks show that the right hon. Gentleman has made a fundamental misjudgement. Iraqi prosecutors pursuing the case of the murder of Ayatollah Abdul Majid alKhoei, the moderate Shi'a cleric, in April 2003, have rightly pushed for the arrest of a number of suspects, including al-Sadr himself.

Mustafa al-Yaqoubi, one of al-Sadr's deputies, was picked up by members of the multinational force on 3 April. That act was one of the excuses that al-Sadr used to spark off widespread violence and illegal acts across Iraq. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, what was the coalition provisional authority to do in such circumstances? Ignore the evidence before it? Ignore the fact that the Iraqi authorities, on behalf of Iraqi people, were seeking a prosecution? It would have been completely untenable to act in that way and the coalition provisional authority was right to undertake those actions in the circumstances.

Al-Sadr has been edging towards confrontation for some time; his supporters, especially his illegal militia, the Mehdi army, have been intimidating the local population of several cities—illegally occupying public buildings, abusing women at universities and attacking shopkeepers—but I am not aware that such issues have been referred to in debates or reported in the media coverage of the events in recent weeks. Although we face a difficult situation, al-Sadr's support, while vocal and violent, is limited and the vast majority of the Shi'a population oppose his actions and consider him an insignificant, low-ranking religious rabble-rouser.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op)

If that gentleman is insignificant and has so little support, why has he not been arrested?

Mr. Rammell

Because we are trying to act responsibly in the circumstances and to ensure that the situation is not inflamed. We recognise that military action alone is not a solution and we are sensitive to the risks of a backlash against military action. We therefore need a twin-track approach, which is what the coalition authorities are rightly pursuing, but political negotiations, backed up with reconstruction efforts, will succeed only if all parties are committed to a peaceful solution. That is what we are trying to pursue.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing said that the CPA is at best tolerated and at worst hated by Iraqis. I fundamentally reject that allegation. Do not listen to Ministers who have been to Iraq and had direct contact with Iraqis; look at the evidence of a series of opinion polls, which verify the views of ordinary Iraqis. In the most recent poll, more than 50 per cent. said that their lives have improved since a year ago and almost 70 per cent. said that they expect their lives to get better. Other opinion polls show majority support for the CPA's actions in liberating Iraq and a clear majority who want the CPA to remain while the security situation is resolved.

That independent, verifiable evidence of the views of ordinary Iraqis is completely inconsistent with the right hon. Gentleman's accusation that the CPA is at best tolerated and at worst hated. I am sure that the CPA is hated by a small minority who do not want Iraq to move towards democracy, but that is not the view of the majority of Iraqis. Nevertheless, I accept that we have to do everything in our power to convince all Iraqis of the integrity of our actions. That is something that we are very much determined to do.

I respect the integrity, passion and commitment shown by the Father of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), on this and other issues, but I sometimes disagree with his judgment. When he calls for a withdrawal of CPA forces at this stage I fundamentally disagree with him, as that would allow an extreme minority in Iraq to prevail. Such action would be unethical, irresponsible and lacking in credibility, and it would give a boost to extremists and violently aggressive regimes around the world.

Let me deal with the comments made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) on the interim administration and what will happen post-30 June. The Iraqi governing council wrote to the UN inviting it to advise on the form of the interim caretaker Government and on preparations for elections. There are two UN teams on the ground in Iraq. Mr. Brahimi is leading on the political process, and Ms Perelli on elections. In many senses, the key event is not 30 June for the caretaker Government, but the January elections. We need to remember that the caretaker Government are only temporary for seven months. All that was set out in Mr. Brahimi's report and statement of 14 April. The IGC will confirm the shape of the caretaker Government in an annexe to the transitional administrative law following the UN's advice.

On who will vet and approve the process, it will be up to Iraqis and the UN to determine the individuals. It is clear that the Iraqis want a technocratic council of ministers, and the IGC as a body will dissolve on 30 June, although some members may serve in a different function in the caretaker Government. We will put our views forward. We will urge a more representative structure, administrative certainty and a clear change from 30 June. Mr. Brahimi is in New York briefing the Secretary-General. There will be a further report in May, which I am confident will be in full time to enable the change to take place on 30 June.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey) welcomed what he called our belated conversion to the UN. Whatever view hon. Members take of this Government and our Prime Minister, we have gone out of our way from the beginning of the conflict to try to involve the UN at every turn, both in the run-up to conflict and in subsequent actions. The hon. Gentleman also referred to sharia law. Islam will be the official state religion and it is to be considered a source of legislation, but not the sole one. Significantly, the IGC recently specifically reversed IGC order 137, which had given a much more important and supreme role to sharia law. He should take some comfort from that.

Finally, the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) castigated the Government for our actions in taking this country to war. It may or may not be the case that we were justified in taking the action that we did, but I happen to believe fundamentally that we were justified. He offered his critique, but will he ponder on the role and responsibility of the official Opposition in these circumstances? If he reads in Hansard all the debates that took place in the run-up to the conflict, he will see that in no sense did the official Opposition act as a brake on or scrutinise the Government's actions. In fact, they urged the Government to move sooner, further and faster on the decision to go to war.

Tony Baldry

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Rammell

No, I do not have time. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues bear some responsibility for that decision to go to war.

Tony Baldry

The person who led us in no longer leads us.

Mr. Rammell

That is a convenient view, but that person's statements and actions were supported by the vast majority of Conservative MPs. Progress is being made. We need to remain committed and ensure that we achieve an Iraq that is free, democratic and fair for the vast majority of Iraqis.

Back to
Forward to