HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc311-54WH

[Relevant documents: Foreign Policy Aspects of the War against Terrorism, Second Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2003–04, HC81, and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6162.]

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

2.30 pm
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

The Foreign Affairs Committee continues to give the highest priority to its work on international terrorism. The war against terrorism and the attacks on the British consulate-general and the HSBC bank in Istanbul remind us, if reminders are necessary, that fighting international terrorism is as essential for British security and interests as it was immediately after 11 September. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to introduce to the Chamber the Committee's fourth report on the subject since 11 September, and its second report of this Session. I hope that it will provide a useful background for this debate on the war against terrorism.

The Committee's previous reports have dealt with a range of issues, some with a regional focus. This time the main focus is on Iraq and the middle east. Our analysis and conclusions were informed by a series of visits to Syria, Jordan, the occupied territories and Israel and, separately, to Iraq—most members of the Committee have now been there—and Iran. Those visits have informed this report. The report was printed in January and the Government responded in March. Much has happened since then.

I shall endeavour to provide an overview of our report and to comment on some subsequent events. First, I shall speak about Iraq, which is covered by paragraphs 1 to 23 of our conclusions and recommendations. On security, we concluded that the decision by some of the Security Council's five permanent members, and other countries with the capacity to assist us, against contributing forces to help to establish security in postwar Iraq …can only have increased the pressures on US and United Kingdom resources, both civilian and military, which in turn, may have exacerbated the difficulties encountered by the Coalition in establishing and maintaining security in Iraq. The Government stated that they do not believe this is a major cause of difficulty in maintaining security. The Coalition and Multinational Forces in Iraq are adequately resourced for the task. In addition to the US/UK forces, there are 16,000 other Multinational troops … from 32 nations. Although 30 other countries may be represented in Iraq, the numbers are small and no Islamic countries have yet committed troops, which is regrettable. How do we encourage greater involvement? Does it require the stimulus of a further Security Council resolution? Clearly, we must do more, not only to reduce the strain on UK and US forces but to internationalise the security presence and, importantly, to make it more palatable to the Iraqis. What the Government told us has been overtaken by events, as we might see in the next few days, with the possible commitment of 3,000 more of our forces to the area vacated by Spain. Whatever our differences over the war, it should be a matter of consensus that we have an interest in providing stability for the new Iraq.

In respect of de-Ba'athification, our conclusion was that the early decision to disband the Iraqi armed forces was entirely understandable in the conditions prevailing at the time, but that the re-establishment of such forces is an essential component of creating a new, safe and sovereign Iraq. The Government's response stated that the training of new Iraqi armed forces was a "high priority". When we saw the Foreign Secretary on 5 May, he robustly defended de-Ba'athification and denied that handing over Falluja to an Iraqi force under a former Iraqi general constituted a change in policy.

That is certainly contrary to the evidence that the Committee heard, and frankly, it seems at odds with the facts. On reflection, it seems a wise change of policy, and if it is, why not say so? As we saw in South Africa, and earlier in Nazi Germany, in a post-conflict situation there is the traditional problem of dealing with members of the old regime. Many Ba'athists naturally saw party membership as a means of getting on, and it is highly relevant that the new Iraq should use its skills and experiences to rebuild the country, so long as those guilty of human rights abuses are excluded. Perhaps the motto should be, "Those who are not against us are for us."

As for the political process in Iraq, handover is due on 30 June. Still at this late stage, however, there is uncertainty about how that will happen, the powers that will be handed over and the members of the Iraqi body that will receive sovereignty. Security poses a particularly difficult problem, especially with the United States' traditional view of being subject to an international force or leadership. The Brahimi report, which is the only one in town, will now be acted upon.

During our visit to the United States, the Committee's impression was that there had been little in the way of planning for the post-conflict situation. We understand from events over the past few days that there is a recognition that there was perhaps too great a reliance on Mr. Chalabi—who was the darling of the Pentagon at the time—and certain other exiles.

In the United States we heard the memorable phrase, "6.30 and wheels up", the interpretation of which is that on 30 June there would be the possibility of departure. There are far more question marks about the significance of 30 June now, and the US, after its earlier reluctance, is being forced to give the United Nations a far stronger role. On 5 May, the Foreign Secretary told the Foreign Affairs Committee: Do not underestimate the symbolic importance of this"— that is, 30 June— Symbols are very important in politics as in life". I hope that the transfer will be more than just symbolism.

The situation has clearly deteriorated. I am thinking not only of Falluja but of the Mandi army and of the violence throughout the country. The aim should be maximum transfer of power to the new Iraqi authority, recognising that the real transfer will find more legitimate authority after the elections in December or January. Perhaps after the revelations of the abuses in the prison, the United States should be more on the defensive and readier to listen to its allies. If there is an exit strategy, the emphasis should be, as I thinkThe Times said, on strategy rather than exit.

The Committee concluded that the United Nations has the potential to play an important role in facilitating political transition in Iraq and in conferring legitimacy on the process. We further concluded that the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad and the subsequent withdrawal of UN staff has had a serious, but it is to be hoped temporary, detrimental effect on the process of transition to a new Iraqi Government. When the Committee had the honour of meeting Kofi Annan again in New York, it was clear that he was not prepared to risk UN forces again without very adequate security. That is understandable.

We also met Lakhdar Brahimi, the current UN envoy to Iraq. His plan for the transitional phase in Iraq is the only plan on the table, so everything appears to rest on him. There remain many uncertainties over whether it will be accepted and how it will be implemented. As we understand it, the possible timetable is that a draft resolution could be tabled within about 10 days, involving, it is said, full sovereignty but rather less than full authority. That is an interesting phrase, but the executive authority must be seen to be in the hands of the Iraqis. The most difficult aspect will be the relationship between the interim government and the multinational force. Marc Grossman was clearly in great difficulty when he recently explained that in evidence to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

UK military and civilian personnel in Iraq are making a vital contribution to the administration and reconstruction of the country, despite having to do so in most difficult and dangerous circumstances. Their performance deserves the highest praise and appropriate recognition. We welcome the appointment of Edward Chaplin as our ambassador in Iraq from 1 July, and we thank those who have played significant roles in the earlier period, notably Sir Jeremy Greenstock, David Richmond and John Sawers.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is rightly listing the people who are entitled to receive the thanks of the House for their stewardship in most difficult circumstances. Would he include in that list Mr. Segar, who has been holding the line with regard to British interests in Baghdad?

Donald Anderson

Of course. The problem when one starts to enumerate is always that one is in danger of omitting some key figures. Mr. Segar looked after those of us who visited Iraq in December extremely well.

I would like to say something about the detainees. That matter has arisen since our report was produced, although at least one member of the Foreign Affairs Committee did raise the subject. Whatever the truth is about the various allegations of mistreatment of detainees, the pictures have been immensely damaging. Abuse by US and UK forces has been on the front pages of newspapers throughout the middle east for several days. That has clearly had a very negative effect on public opinion in the middle east and the wider Islamic world. There may be scrutiny and appropriate punishment, but the damage has been done. Our US allies, and ourselves, face an enormous problem in seeking to repair not only a moral outrage that brings shame on us, but a public relations disaster.

I have a final thought on Iraq and what is at stake there: this is an undertaking that we dare not lose. If we were to lose, we would leave a failed state and a centre for terrorism in the region and beyond. That would be an immense victory for the forces of terrorism. It has been reported in the press today that the al-Zarqawi group has claimed responsibility for the assassination of the chairman of the Iraq governing council. It is of paramount importance that the wreckers in Iraq should not be seen to prevail, and it is in all of our interests to ensure that they do not do so.

I now turn to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The prospects for the implementation of the road map, to which both sides claim to be attached, look increasingly bleak. The prospects for the region as a whole look even bleaker, unless the impasse between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is broken. The Foreign Affairs Committee identified failures on both sides that must be addressed. One of the more depressing aspects of meeting representatives of both sides is that both sides are prepared to give a recital of the sins and misdeeds of the other side, but are wholly unwilling to see any fault on their own side.

The faults and failures of the PA include the fact that although reform of the Palestinian security sector is central to success, there has been a lack of progress on that. We expressed our concern about it, and recommended that the authority redouble its efforts to ensure the success of its reforms. The PA needs to do more to arrest and bring to justice those responsible for the recruiting, training and launching of suicide bombers, and to prevent the honouring and encouraging of suicide bombers and their masters by the Palestinian media. We also recommend that the Government, with their EU partners, apply further pressure on the PA to stop the terrorist attacks.

Failures on the part of Israel include, of course, the new killings in Gaza, the targeted assassinations, the collective punishment—likely to be wholly counter-productive—and the conditions under which many Palestinians now live, which, as we say, contribute to their radicalisation and undermine support for moderate Palestinian leaders. Israeli action in the west bank is making the Palestinian economy unviable. We recommend that the Government continue to urge Israel to help 'create a climate within which moderate Palestinian leaders can prevail.' We visited the security fence—or wall, as we saw it—in Qalqilya. The report says: the case for building a security fence along the Green Line would be strong … but to build it within the West Bank is not justifiable. The fence and the settlements in occupied territories constitute severe impediments to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Those impediments, along with settlement policies, make the eventual establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult. We therefore recommend that the Government and our EU partners put further pressure on Israel to implement the commitments that it made under the road map.

There is clearly an urgent need for a breakthrough; there is little positive to report since the Committee reached its conclusions. The speech of Prime Minister Sharon on 18 December caused deep concern, and if over the next 18 months or so progress towards implementation of the road map is further delayed, the two-state solution will become increasingly difficult to achieve. Early progress towards a negotiated settlement between the two sides is a necessary component in the Government's efforts to promote stability within the wider middle east

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), a distinguished member of the Committee, recommended that the Government state their policy on chapter VII of the United Nations charter, and on imposing a settlement along the lines of Taba, where it is generally agreed that there was apparently relatively little difference between the two sides. The Government have not given a full response to that, and we shall probe further. Have they seriously considered that option, given the failure of a negotiated settlement between both sides? What are their opinions on that, and what are their reservations?

The latest development since our report was Prime Minister Sharon's proposal to leave Gaza. That proposal was repudiated in part by a vote in the Likud party—although, interestingly, it was endorsed by the Quartet in its statement of 4 May. The Quartet recognised—as did the Prime Minister in his press conference with President Bush—that the suggestion is not bad if seen as part of a process, and it would perhaps even reinvigorate the peace process and the road map. The aim is clear: security for Israel and justice for the Palestinians. However, there are massive roadblocks in the way.

Other threats to security in the middle east are covered in conclusions 41 to 51. We considered Iran and Syria, both of which we visited. Both have the potential to be destabilising factors in Iraq, and there is also the issue of their links with terrorist organisations more widely. Although neither has taken as many steps forward as it might—for example, in taking a more constructive approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict—we conclude that the United Kingdom's approach to those two countries has already yielded some positive results, particularly, we think, in Iran. We are thinking of our commendation of the Government's decision to work with our French and German partners on the nuclear problem, but clearly the jury is still out on that, and the International Atomic Energy Agency will address the issue further next month.

We were concerned about the pursuit by Syria of weapons of mass destruction, but recommended that the Government pursue a policy of constructive engagement and further dialogue.

Clearly, there has been good news on Libya, and we commend the Government for their role in bringing about Libya's decision to relinquish its programme of weapons of mass destruction. Interestingly, the world community was not aware of that, and it is remarkable that the negotiations were kept secret for more than nine months without being leaked to the press.

However, we need to monitor Libyan compliance closely, and the Committee expresses its concern about that country's lack of political reform and poor human rights record. Those issues have to be addressed in our policy of engagement. However, so far, so good. During visits to the United States, I have learned how surprised people there have been at the remarkable degree of compliance shown by Libya with its undertakings.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend has said. However, there is a problem. Libya has now taken on the mantle of human rights and positions within the UN, and we see that at its worst in relation to Sudan. The Libyans have simply blocked some of the moves towards a full investigation of the genocide that is going on there. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Libyans come into the big tent, they have to play a role that is above reproach, rather than being somewhat two-faced?

Donald Anderson

Of course. We have expressed concern and dissent elsewhere about the readiness of all African countries collectively to join together and prevent criticism. We have seen that in Zimbabwe, for example, and we have mentioned the role of South Africa in that. Although the Committee has not addressed the issue, I am sure that my colleagues will be very concerned that, on the principle of Buggins' turn, Africa put forward Sudan as a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. That must put an enormous question mark over the credibility of that organisation.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that there are still parts of the old Adam in Libya. We should not expect a change overnight; all we can hope for is substantial progress in the right direction, and we should remind Libya when it fails to live up to what we hope will be its change.

Time does not permit me to go over the whole issue, but the headings we covered on the wider war against terrorism included security strategy. After the Istanbul attacks, we welcomed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office review of security strategy, which was announced in December. The issue needs to be dealt with urgently.

We considered other aspects related to international co-operation: the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee, the inadequate response of NATO in this field, the funding of terrorism, proliferation, and the European Union security strategy and its difference in tone from the security strategy of the United States. We touched also on the reform agenda in the Arab world, although I concede that that was only in passing. We turned to the issue of Guantanamo bay, which is also relevant to Iraq in relation to the treatment of detainees.

We say that this is a struggle for values, and we must maintain our own moral values if we are to be true to ourselves and give the right image and message to others. We have to show a real difference from our ideological adversaries. The detentions at Guantanamo bay, and—more so—the abuse of prisoners in Iraqi jails are shameless, wrong and highly embarrassing.

In conclusion, the Committee recognises, having reported at the start of this year and having received the Government response in March, that this is a moving target. Much of relevance has happened in the two key areas that we covered—Iraq and the middle east—since we reported. The Committee can take some pride in the fact that this is its fourth report on the war against terrorism since 11 September 2001.

We are already engaged on the next chapter—our next report. Last week the Committee visited Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we are hoping to publish our report, which will include our reflections on the position in those two countries, in July. I commend this report to the Chamber, and look forward to the debate.

2.55 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)

I want to cover the middle east, Iraq and Afghanistan, and I am trying to do a quick calculation of the number of hon. Members who are trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall confine my remarks accordingly, and I hope that all hon. Members who are present and wish to contribute to the debate will be able to do so.

On the middle east, the Prime Minister said yesterday during Prime Minister's questions that the road map is the only possibility for the future in both Palestine and Istael."—[0fficial Report, 19 May 2004; Vol. 421, c. 974.] I differ from that view. I do not believe that the road map is the only possibility for the future that is on the table, although it may be the one that we all want. There is another possibility that is much more on the table than the road map—Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan, which is a piece of verbal chicanery more accurately described as a plan to bring about the de facto annexation of what in military terms are the most desirable parts of the west bank, because they have the commanding ground, and access to water.

The Israeli people as a whole are in no doubt that Sharon's so-called disengagement plan is very much in Israel's interests, and gives it a good deal. The opinion polls in Israel make that clear; only the fairly blinkered religious zealots in the Likud party cannot see that for themselves. By virtue of being a good deal for Israel, the plan is a very poor deal for the Palestinians.

Sharon's so-called disengagement plan involves making concessions that give Israel no significant pain at all. Those concessions involve getting out of a token handful of small settlements in the west bank and getting out of Gaza, which, as everybody knows, has been a significant international political embarrassment for the Israeli Government, and is self-evidently a military nightmare for the Israelis. Any situation in which there are just 7,000 Israeli settlers among 1.2 million Palestinians is bound to be a serious security problem.

Prime Minister Sharon has done well for the Israeli Government, in selling his disengagement plan, apparently successfully, to the US Administration. He has done more than simply sell it, he has done so in return for American acquiescence in a great benefit for the Israelis—significant progress towards the de facto annexation of much of the west bank. The American Government have acquiesced in that programme and, most surprisingly, the British Government seem to be acquiescing, too.

It is extraordinary that Mr. Sharon has been able to persuade so many people that getting out of Gaza is the first stage in the implementation of the road map. I do not see any evidence whatever of that. As I see it, the process of the disengagement plan is not implementation of the road map, but a further step towards its destruction. The reality is what is taking place on the ground in the west bank. It is happening day by day, week by week, and month by month, as the security wall and fence extend through the occupied territories illegally, and make the prospect of an economically viable Palestinian state ever more remote.

The road map is being destroyed by the existing permanent settlements being made ever more permanent, and by the considerable number of outposts on the hilltops in the occupied west bank, which some Committee members have seen. At present they are temporary structures, but water, electricity and telephone connections are being made surreptitiously, so that they can become the next generation of permanent settlements. That is the reality. That is what is happening on the ground in the west bank.

Although everybody likes to talk as if the road map was the central imperative of middle east policy, I do not believe that that is the case. The central imperative for policy is how to stop the so-called disengagement policy—the unilateral annexation of substantial parts of the west bank—from being pursued any further. I understand why Ministers, their counterparts in the United States, the Quartet and others wish to keep talking about the road map. It is the comfort zone in the discussion of a very difficult situation, it is fair and reasonable, and everyone wants to see it implemented. However, it does not reflect the reality of what is happening on the ground.

The central and most imperative issue in middle east policy is how to stop the de facto annexation of the west bank. That was specifically referred to in the Foreign Affairs Committee report that we are discussing, and was made the subject of a recommendation. With reference to the Sharon disengagement plan, in paragraph 175, we said: We recommend that the Government, in its response to this Report, set out what steps it is taking to dissuade the Israeli Government from taking such unilateral action. We studied the Government's response, but I must say to the Minister that on that point, it is absolutely silent. There has been no response from the Government as to the precise steps that they are taking, not merely on their own, but in conjunction with others, to try to stop the unilateral de facto annexation of large parts of the west bank. That appears to be an extraordinary lacuna in their middle east policy, and perhaps in his response, the Minster might be able to start up to fill that significant gap.

I will now discuss Iraq. Sadly, the situation there is going from bad to worse. In the past 24 hours, we have seen the appalling carnage that was caused by the apparent shoot-out involving an Iraqi wedding party, which included the deaths of considerable numbers of women and children. This morning, we were all appalled to see on television the latest images of an American serviceman and servicewoman grinning, with thumbs up, over the body of an Iraqi detainee. Those are shocking events, which are doing damage beyond any quantification to our interests as democratic societies in that part of the world.

None of us, myself included, know what the outcome will be in Iraq, but when the history books are finally written, I would not be surprised if the decision is seen as the worst foreign policy misjudgement by the British Government since the days of appeasement. However, we shall see. We certainly know now that before the war we disastrously misjudged the extent of the threat that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction posed. Since the war ended, we have also discovered that we have seriously misjudged the extent to which British and American forces would be welcomed inside Iraq.

I acknowledge fully that there are no easy solutions to the difficult position that we are in, and I accept totally that there is no way in which we can responsibly cut and run from the present situation. We are there: we took the decision to invade, and we must now discharge our responsibilities to the Iraqi people, as long as the forthcoming Iraqi Government wish us to be in that country.

I should like to put two points to the Minister. First, I hope that the Government will stay focused on the top priority for Iraqi people—and much as we might wish it were otherwise, the top priority for Iraqi people is not the establishment of a multi-party democracy. I am in no doubt from the visit that I made to Iraq with other members of the Committee, from discussions and reports by journalists and the other media in Iraq, and from Iraqis who have visited us in this country, that the top priority for Iraqi people is security. That is what they seek and expect from the coalition, above all else. They feel exposed to the worst possible type of criminality—robbery with violence, kidnapping, rape and murder. The Iraqi people, like people in any part of the world, look to their Government, or those who are temporarily in control of them, to discharge that security responsibility to them. That is their overwhelming priority.

I read a report the other day of the kidnapping of the daughter of a Baghdad businessman, for a ransom of $100,000. The Baghdad businessman sent his son to negotiate with the kidnappers, and the son ill-advisedly ended up killing up one of the kidnappers. The daughter was returned —or rather, her head was returned, in a sack. I am afraid that such events are not unknown, unusual or even infrequent in Iraq today. It is a truly violent place, where many people are deeply concerned about their security. Until the coalition can convince the people of Iraq that we can provide for their security, we will have neither their confidence nor credibility with them.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)

I share the right hon. Gentleman's views about the need to deal with the security situation in Iraq. However, does he recognise that such barbarity existed in that country prior to the intervention of the coalition forces?

Sir John Stanley

I agree that Saddam Hussein's regime was utterly vile. Appalling barbarities were committed by that regime and in the name of that regime. However, I also believe that when the people of Iraq overwhelmingly welcomed our removal of the Saddam Hussein regime, they did not expect in turn to be exposed to the degree of insecurity and personal risk that they face today.

My second point to the Minister about Iraq is that the men and women of the British armed forces, who are in a deteriorating security position now, expect the Government to discharge a real responsibility to them. They want the Government to ensure that they have sufficient forces in Iraq to provide for their self-protection.

I do not believe that Members of Parliament of any party, or the British public at large, will easily forgive the British Government in a situation of deteriorating security if they allow our forces in Iraq to be spread too thinly for their own protection, or do not agree to meet in full requests by the chiefs of staff for reinforcements in Iraq that will provide security, as far as possible, for our forces there. I hope that the Minister will give us an unequivocal assurance that the Government will not agree to any overstretching or over-thinning that would mean high risk, in military terms, in our area of operations in Iraq, and that such reinforcement requests that the chiefs of staff consider necessary to discharge our responsibilities in Iraq will be met in full.

I fear that we are currently going backwards in the middle east and Iraq. This time last week, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were in Afghanistan, where things are absolutely in the balance. The next few weeks will be critical. The situation in Afghanistan is unstable. Terrorism continues, although mercifully at a relatively low level. It is worrying that the all-important so-called DDR programme—disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration—is currently stalled. Undoubtedly, the warlords with their militias are in a thoroughly independent position in both security and political terms in that country. As we were fully briefed in Afghanistan, the warlords have staggering sums coming to them both from the drugs traffic and from ordinary customs dues. In those circumstances, there is a critical requirement to ensure that two things happen: first, the promised NATO expansion must take place, and secondly, the September elections must also take place.

As we were told in no uncertain terms by the top NATO general in Iraq—a Canadian, and an excellent man—the state of the delivery of the NATO expansion is currently very disturbing. The United Kingdom is the only country that has made its contribution to the enhancement of phase 1. No other country has. As for phases 2, 3 and 4 of the NATO expansion, no progress has been made in making commitments to provide the necessary forces. NATO has made a commitment to bring about a substantial expansion in Afghanistan, but currently we have virtual non-delivery. Action is crucial to NATO's credibility in the United States. As hon. Members know, the European members of NATO are meant to be providing for the relevant NATO expansion. I cannot say too clearly to the Minister that I hope that when the Prime Minister visits Istanbul for the NATO summit, he will be beating the drum loudly and clearly, and saying that NATO member states must deliver on their commitments to Afghanistan.

Finally, there is the critical issue of the elections this September. It is vital that they take place. The credibility of the Karzai Government rests on that, and it will be a profoundly significant step for Afghanistan to experience a democratic election for the first time in its history.

In Afghanistan, we were deeply concerned to hear from those with direct responsibility for the election that, although donors have promised the funding for the election in September, the UN has not made the cash payments. Is the Minister aware of that? If he is not, I urge him to speak to the Foreign Secretary and to make certain that the UN donors deliver their cash payments within the next few weeks, to ensure that the September elections can take place.

I hope that the House found our report, which was published at the beginning of February, of interest. As our Chairman, the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) said, this is crucial, ongoing work for the Foreign Affairs Committee, and we look forward to presenting a further report to the House before the summer recess.

3.16 pm
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan) (Lab)

Allow me to congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee on its hard work in producing this comprehensive and useful report. However, the notion of a war on terror is meaningless. Such a war cannot be won; it has no obvious enemy, and risks alienating even more people around the world. It is simplistic to talk, as President Bush does, about the forces of freedom and civilisation—meaning the United States and Britain—battling the forces of darkness, barbarism and irrationality, which often seems to mean Islam, or Islamic countries that disagree with biased US foreign policy.

After the attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001, President Bush, invoking the language of the cold war, asked every nation in every region to decide "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". That is dangerous rhetoric, and completely ignored the struggles of poor and oppressed people around the world. According to Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Iqbal Sacranie, British Muslims are much more frustrated than the general population with US foreign policy.

The Muslim population throughout the world is on the receiving end of trouble and bias in terms of US foreign policy. In a recent report, the charity Christian Aid revealed that Some of the world's poorest people are already paying for the War on Terror, as the giving of aid by the world's richest countries becomes ruled by the rhetoric of 'with us or against us'. Already, it says, programmes designed to help the poorest people have been cut, budgets have been reallocated and hopes dashed as donor priorities have switched to addressing the needs of global security.

The Christian Aid report criticises the British Government for diverting to Iraq aid intended for poor communities in middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, despite assurances that that would not happen. In Uganda, it says, the government's manipulation of the War on Terror has led to an intensification of the conflict in the north of the country and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Christian Aid concludes that it is not too late to rekindle the noble, humanitarian aim of aid—to eradicate world poverty. It also warns that if the rich world fails in this endeavour, then our future security will also be undermined. That is from "The Politics of Poverty: Aid in the New Cold War", dated 10 May 2004.

Much of the Committee's report is devoted to the Government's role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is clear that the premise given for war in Iraq was misleading. No weapons of mass destruction have been found. No link has ever been established to al-Qaeda or global terrorism in Iraq. Few regret the overthrow of Saddam Hussein; I think that everyone in this House agrees that he was a brutal dictator who killed, and used chemical weapons against, his own people, and who waged a war against Iran in which millions lost their lives. However, when he was committing those crimes he was, I regret to say, supported by our Government and that of the United States of America.

It has been suggested that the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison was the direct response of a few ignorant American soldiers who believed that they were punishing the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on their country. We pride ourselves on our defence of human rights and other values, and I believe that the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison has brought shame on us all. However, I appreciate the good work that all the other soldiers are doing, and in difficult circumstances, too—we should not ignore that. We should accept that our troops are engaged in a battle there on our instructions. The behaviour of a few soldiers should not undermine the hard work that our brave soldiers are doing. I want to put that on record. Nevertheless, the general public, in both the US and Britain, deserve to know that the war on terror never had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq; that was a separate issue.

When our Prime Minister undertook to involve Britain in the American-led invasion of Iraq, he rightly linked military action in Iraq to renewed efforts to solve the ongoing and increasingly violent Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, the MPs and members of the public who voted for the war thinking that after the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein there would be serious efforts to deal with the problem of Palestine are disappointed, because nothing has changed.

As hon. Members are only too aware, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories is now graver and potentially more destabilising to global security than ever before in the history of this tragic dispute. People in Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza strip are attacked and terrorised daily. As we heard, only yesterday the Israeli army opened fire on an unarmed civilian demonstration, killing 10 people and injuring more than 60, many of them children. Surely, if anyone is guilty of terrorism in this situation, it is the Israeli Government, which seems to have adopted a policy of terrifying the Palestinian population into leaving its land—yet the international community is silent.

I accept the state of Israel's right to exist, and I think that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority do, too. The Palestinians want back their land that was occupied during the 1967 war. All they want is those pre-1967 borders, but unfortunately, the international community remains silent.

Israel has established more than 120 checkpoints along the west bank. It is continuing to build its apartheid concrete barrier through villages and agricultural land, in defiance of international law. Everybody knows that this so-called security wall is causing hardship, poverty and economic ruin to tens of thousands of Palestinians. Is that not terrorism? Extremist policy on the part of both Administrations has encouraged Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to believe that he can dictate the outcome of this conflict. He has made the realisation of basic Palestinian rights dependent on good behaviour, but that will not work. It is obvious that there will be no peace, prosperity or stability in the middle east until Israel fully implements United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories.

I shall now move on to talk about the shame of Guantanamo bay. The case of prisoners held without charge or trial at Guantanamo bay continues to be an international scandal and a shame to so-called civilised nations. Approximately 650 men continue to be detained without charge or access to legal representation. It is imperative for the European Union, including Britain, to put pressure on the Untied States to end this appalling abuse of human rights. How does the US expect to gain sympathy for its war on terror if it shows such scant regard for the norms of international law and proper conduct? Once again, I congratulate the Foreign Affairs Committee on its report.

3.27 pm
Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh) (LD)

The Chamber will recall that in earlier contributions, right hon. Members, who are colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke of their experiences when they visited Iraq. I cannot do that. In recognition of the situation there, we planned to send the Committee to Iraq in three separate teams. I was supposed to go in March, a year after the war, but could not because the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that our safety could not be assured, let alone guaranteed.

Instead, I draw hon. Members' attention to the recommendations of the Select Committee report. We concluded that, since the removal of the Iraqi regime, a dangerous alliance of foreign fighters with terrorist allegiances and elements of the former Iraqi regime has been forming. That was noted back in February, and events have proved us to be correct.

In response to our report, the Government took the view that the capture of Saddam Hussein would have a demoralising effect on former regime elements. It is a matter of record that in the weeks and months following Hussein's capture, attacks by terrorists, battles with the former Iraqi regime elements and the extreme violent criminality escalated beyond any extent that we could have imagined. The key primary objective of restoring security in Iraq as a foundation necessary to install democracy, kick-start lasting sustainable economic development and administer Iraq under the rule of law is as far away as ever.

Three issues are determining progress. One is the reaction throughout Iraq and the rest of the region to the sad event of the maltreatment of Iraqi detainees. The second is the competence and capability of the Iraqi police and armed forces. The third is the continuing role and responsibilities of coalition forces.

The maltreatment of Iraqi prisoner has been mentioned. Records of maltreatment have completely undermined any semblance of a moral case for us launching the war against Iraq in the first place. Sadly, it has sullied the reputation of coalition forces as being well disciplined and highly trained and as respecters of human rights. It has delivered the most powerful recruiting package imaginable to terrorist organisations.

What progress has been made on the investigations into allegations of mistreatment and deaths in custody against some—a minority, no doubt—of members of the United Kingdom armed forces? Why have those investigations been allowed to drag on for so many months when rapid action could well have prevented handing a propaganda coup to our enemies, which has been exploited, so greatly endangering our forces' well-being? What changes have there been in the detention practices set out in armed forces rules and regulations? What has been done to prevent any repeat of the sort of abuses that took place?

On the competence and capabilities of the Iraqi police and armed forces, the disbanding of the Iraqi forces immediately after the invasion had a negative effect. Everyone accepts that. They were sent home with their weapons. Initially, they were unpaid, so they were unable to support themselves, let alone their families. Disbanding them left a vacuum in security and stability and in the rule of law. The situation was not helped by what was Saddam Hussein's almost last act, which was to empty the prisons, so releasing thousands of genuine criminals into communities throughout Iraq.

The Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that assistance in establishing the new Iraqi police force should be intensified before the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June. In reply, the Government stated that just under 100 UK police officers were engaged in training in Jordan and near Basra. The Government expected that, by the end of March, 2,000 new recruits and 300 existing police officers would be retrained every three weeks. Have those targets been met and maintained? What assessment has been made of the size that the new Iraqi police force should be? What is the rate of retention of newly trained and recruited officers and armed forces personnel since the training period started? What progress has been made on introducing training in modern investigative crime detection and resolution, so that that can be employed instead of continuing Saddam Hussein's regime's practice of torturing confessions out of suspects?

As for the continuing role of the coalition armed forces in Iraq, I do not think that any hon. Member of any political persuasion will disagree that there is no alternative to the occupation in Iraq at the moment. It is a consequence of the military action, which I opposed. I was against sending troops to Iraq in the first place, but to withdraw them now would be extremely destabilising. It would not make ordinary Iraqis more secure and the result would be chaos. Basra would not be made safer for its citizens. Electricity and water supplies would not be maintained. Aid agencies' operations would be impeded. Most importantly, UN efforts under Lakhdar Brahimi to achieve a smooth transition to Iraqi rule would have little chance of success.

The withdrawal of the troops would create a vacuum in which all opposed to creating a free and stable state would flourish. The coalition needs to be able to hand over authority to another entity. The best way to bring the occupation to a close is through democratic elections. We owe it to the Iraqi people to bring them about as soon as possible.

One does not have to have been a supporter of the invasion to recognise that we have a moral responsibility to try to bring stability and security to Iraq and to hand over to another authority. We cannot leave a power vacuum in Iraq. I have a few key questions about the transitional Administration. Can such an Administration have legitimacy? Yes, but it will be a bit tricky. The wider participation of Iraqi representatives, with the full co-operation and authority of the United Nations, is the best way to ensure that the transitional Administration is legitimate. I am sorry to say that if the representatives appear to have been hand-picked by the United States, the Administration will not be accepted and the violence will continue.

Should we send more troops? It is not clear that more troops would help. However, if commanders on the ground think it necessary, they should go. If asked by the US to take over certain areas, the United Kingdom should insist on political as well as military control of those areas in which UK forces are deployed.

The Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that the coalition armed forces be scaled down only as Iraqi forces demonstrate the capacity to establish and maintain security, and subject to the wishes of the new Iraqi Government. In their reply, the Government agreed, but since then the Prime Minister has said that our troops will pull out immediately should Iraq ask them to. Will the Minister explain what is planned? When is the new Iraqi army expected to be up to strength? What is that strength? When will it be fully trained and equipped? What will be the command and control structure for the new multinational force that is to replace the coalition force after 30 June?

Andrew Mackinlay

What would be the status of the coalition force, especially the British armed forces, after 1 July? The Minister must tell us what the rules of engagement will be and whether our commanders will have a free hand. He must also tell us about those employed by private military and security companies. They are paid for by the British taxpayers and commissioned by the Government. Will they be subject to military law or United Kingdom law? If any of them commit ordinary criminal offences—heaven forbid!—to which law will they be subject? I do not mean it facetiously, but the Government have dodged the issue and should address it this afternoon.

Mr. Chidgey

I am grateful for that intervention, and I am more than happy to pass that question on to the Minister. We, too, want clarification on the laws under which private military companies operate in Iraq.

The Committee recently visited the Afghanistan, and it was quite illuminating. In our report, we call for greater international co-operation on the United Nations mandated measures against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We recommend that the Government set out their plans to improve security in Afghanistan by extending the provincial reconstruction teams. They responded in some detail, for which we are grateful.

We can confirm from recent inquiries that the work of the UK armed forces is held in the highest regard. We were incredibly impressed, not only by their work but by the way in which it was received and recognised, not just by Afghanis and the other nations comprising the coalition forces, but by Pakistanis over the border. That should be recognized. Indeed, when we met President Karzai, he said that he wanted his gratitude for the work of the UK agencies to be recognised. I am glad to pass that on. However, to echo earlier comments about the Iraqi people, he said that in his travels around his country, his people said that their highest propriety was to have an Afghanistan without guns. They wanted a secure and safe country, despite the fact that it has a long tradition of being armed.

The British provincial reconstruction teams in the north of the country are operating in a peace-supporting role. It is important to understand the difference between that and peacemaking and peacekeeping. The force is not that strong. It has only five patrols, each with six personnel, covering an area the size of Scotland. That is a pretty formidable task.

As was picked up in an earlier point, the NATO-led efforts to roll out the programme over the rest of the country are being thwarted by a total lack of delivery of promised resources. That is NATO's first out-of-area operation and it is a great opportunity to show that it has a post-cold war role to fill. Yet NATO members have failed to honour commitments that were freely made and, as a result, the operation is on the point of failure. In Brussels only this week, a senior military official commented: Failure will completely damage NATO's credibility in finding a role in the post cold war era. The general we met in Afghanistan made the matter very clear. He said: We are asking for less than 10 helicopters and NATO has over 1,000. We had a similar conversation in Kabul, where we were told: NATO has over 1 million armed forces personnel. I cannot check that figure, but I think that it is probably right. All he wanted was a few thousand to do the job and nothing was forthcoming. Frankly, it is a disgrace.

Finally, the inherent dangers in allowing the Afghanistan operation to remain a forgotten theatre mean that the warlords, funded by their drugs profits, will continue to flourish. They will operate freely across the borders of the north-west frontier. Al-Qaeda will be following a similar pattern, often with the tacit support of the hill tribes. Attempts by Pakistan to win the hearts and minds of the villagers will continue to be undermined through the lack of international support or co-operation.

The United Kingdom has a distinguished record in addressing such problems. We now need a commitment from our allies in the international community to join us in securing success in an overarching campaign to eliminate that international terrorism at its source. We could do it if we had the will and the co-operation. I trust that the Government are pressing that matter whenever they get the opportunity.

3.42 pm
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)

It is more than four months since the Foreign Affairs Committee produced its report. However, far from the passage of time leading to a loss in topicality, the unfolding of events since publication serves only to underline many of the conclusions in the comprehensive report.

That continuing validity is particularly true of conclusion 23, which is one of the report's most significant. It states that the war in Iraq has possibly made terrorist attacks against British nationals and British interests more likely in the short term. Like other hon. Members, I do not want to engage in another debate about the decision to go to war in Iraq in the first place. However, hon. Members on both sides know that one factor that motivated those who, like myself, voted against the war was the view that there was a strong possibility that the outcome of military action might undermine the world community's unity in its efforts to combat terrorism. As a result, the risk of terrorism would be increased, rather than reduced.

The events of the past few months in particular seem to be a powerful argument in support of that conclusion, for a number of reasons. That is not just because the obvious instability in Iraq, combined with the insensitive and, at times, brutal way in which the USA has implemented its occupation, has resulted in terrorist acts and the presence of terrorist groups in Iraq that had not previously existed or been able to operate there. It is also because the obvious difficulties, and the weakening of the position of the coalition occupation in Iraq, have made it less likely that in the future—certainly in the near future—the world community will act in a unified fashion in response to the threat of terrorism.

The way in which events have developed in Iraq will surely mean that most states, including those that were or are involved in the coalition occupation, will be much less likely to take part in any future collective action designed to combat a terrorist threat, even if it is based on a stronger case and has the UN endorsement that the intervention in Iraq did not possess. Even one of the fall-back positions, as they might be described, that were enunciated by those who originally backed the war in Iraq—that at least it has encouraged other states to reject terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction—has begun to lose much of its strength. I am prepared to accept that one of reasons why Libya decided to return to the international fold and reject weapons of mass destruction was a fear that its leadership might go the way of Saddam Hussein. However, given that presumably even Donald Rumsfeld, or at least George Bush, would now have second thoughts about too hastily taking military action in Iraq and elsewhere, even that argument must have lost some validity.

The greatest negative consequence of how the Iraq intervention has developed is that it has severely undermined the ability of the Governments of the countries that went to war in Iraq, including the UK, to obtain the consent of their peoples for future action against international and domestic terrorism. Similarly, their ability to gain the consent of their peoples for activities designed to help with the reconstruction of places such as Iraq has been undermined.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)

Before my hon. Friend moves from discussing Libya, does he have a view about whether Pakistan would have been open about accepting its responsibility on nuclear proliferation if it had not been for the action in Iraq?

Mr. Lazarowicz

Possibly not—probably not. However, the situation has moved on. That might have influenced the decisions of those Governments some months ago. However, the logical conclusion of any Government who, seeing the obvious difficulties in Iraq, were minded to get into the game of weapons of mass destruction would be that it is a lot less likely, because of the difficulties that the coalition is facing in Iraq, that even the current US Administration would do to them what they did to Iraq. The situation has developed in the past few months because of those difficulties.

If the war on terror has been undermined by the Iraq invasion, we should not be surprised if, in future, people in our country are sceptical, not just about some of our country's policies on international security, but when we attempt to deal with the threat of terrorism here. That is a real threat. Recent events not so far away have illustrated the vulnerability of our society and political system to such threats. All that underlines the continuing validity of the Select Committee's second conclusion in the paragraph to which I referred earlier, which states: A successful transfer of power to an internationally-recognised Iraqi government, which has the support of the Iraqi people and which is recognised by Arab and muslim states generally, offers an important opportunity to reduce that threat and to assist the process of reform and stabilisation in the region. For the purposes of today's debate, I emphasise the point made that it also reduces the threat of terrorist attack against British nationals and British interests.

Since the Select Committee reached that conclusion, events have served only to strengthen the arguments in its favour. Such a transfer of power is no longer an important opportunity: it is clearly the only way out. Our Government must make it clear to the US that we want a genuine transfer of sovereignty and authority with no qualifications, not occupation in another guise, with the political and security process under the overall supervision of the United Nations.

I hope that I do not disagree with any hon. Member present, no matter what their views on the war in Iraq, when I say that there was certainly never overwhelming public support for the military action and that the war and its aftermath are now extremely unpopular with large sections—almost certainly a clear majority—of the British public. I am sure, too, however, that hon. Members who have told us today that Britain should not draw back from the responsibilities that it has acquired in Iraq by intervening are speaking for the majority of British public opinion. That opinion recognises, as do Members of the House, that having gone into Iraq, we have responsibilities that we cannot shirk. However, I believe that British public opinion would not be happy with more troops being sent to Iraq—certainly not if that was done in support of new responsibilities or moves into new areas, rather than to support a transfer of power, responsibility and authority along the lines that I have described.

We need a fundamental change of policy, particularly by the US Administration, not just in Iraq but elsewhere in the middle east. As hon. Members have said, that is needed above all in Israel and Palestine. This debate is taking place the day after atrocities in Rafah—yet another criminal act by the Sharon Government. Before it, I checked the news to see whether the international condemnation of the Israeli Government had perhaps resulted in a drawing back of their forces from the actions that they have been taking in the past few days in the Gaza strip. However, far from withdrawing, it appears that the Government were intensifying their actions there earlier today.

It has been said hundreds of times in this Chamber, and I reiterate it, that the continuing Israeli occupation of the west bank and Gaza and the failure to move towards a long-term peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the most significant factors in creating fertile ground in which terrorism can flourish, and from which terrorist groups can recruit not only in Palestine and the middle east but many other parts of the world.

I welcome the fact that the United States Government have made some strong criticisms of Israeli actions in Gaza in the past few days. However, the occasional rebuke from Colin Powell is not good enough. Without concentrated and continued pressure on Israel from the USA, there is no real prospect of a peace settlement in the area. That concentrated pressure from the US Government has not been forthcoming. Everyone in the Chamber knows that.

Despite the UK Government's genuine commitment to the middle east peace process, any objective analysis must conclude that we are going backward on the road to a settlement, not forward. Is it not time to conclude that, far from maintaining a policy of close co-operation with the US Administration, we could do no worse if we were more critical and more independent of their policies? I do not mean that we should be hostile or try to set ourselves up in opposition. We cannot do that, and it would be dangerous if we could. However, if we were more critical and independent of the Administration's policies, might we not also more successfully influence that Administration?

3.54 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)

I express my appreciation for the work of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and his team, who have produced an illuminating report of great benefit to the work of the House.

I want to make six points. First, the Select Committee is entirely right to stress, in paragraph 5, its regret that some members of the Security Council Permanent Five and other countries with the capacity to assist have decided against contributing forces to help establish security in post-war Iraq. We conclude that this failure to share the burden can only have increased the pressures on US and United Kingdom resources, both civilian and military, which in turn may have exacerbated the difficulties encountered by the Coalition in establishing and maintaining security in Iraq. I would go further. Our NATO alliance must, at a time of crisis, show complete solidarity. The fatal effect of the clear division among NATO members in Security Council debates and in the councils of international debate was to demonstrate to Saddam Hussein that he could perhaps get away with it for longer than was prudent, that the invasion would be controversial and that there would be sniping from sides from those who should be our political allies. Schadenfreude has, to some extent, manifested itself since. Such dissent is profoundly dangerous when we are dealing with dictators and terrorism.

As for the aftermath of the invasion and the horrendous acts in Madrid, the reaction of Spain set a deplorable example, which can only have given encouragement to those who believe that pursuing their objectives with political violence and terrorism will achieve dramatic political results.

Secondly, we must distinguish between the capabilities necessary for war fighting and those needed for post-war pacification and reconstruction. Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld went into the war believing that a lean, mean fighting machine could, by mobility and firepower, and the deployment of precision munitions and modern intelligence and communications systems, achieve rapid and effective military results. That was of course absolutely true, but he overlooked the fact that reconstructing and pacifying the country needed different skills and a different force balance. That was a mistake; it is easy to say that from the sidelines, but it is worth bearing in mind for the future.

Thirdly, it is important in counter-terrorism to have a single authority. It would have been better if our American friends had had someone of a MacArthur-like stature, who had military experience and political clout. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) was correct when he said that the supreme criterion in such situations is ensuring security. If the security situation can be got right, political development and social reconstruction are more likely to ensue. Therefore, the necessary qualities are, above all, military. We need military people with highly toned political sensitivities and the antennae and experience that come from working with a civil power, but who nevertheless have the discipline and force of character that come from a military background. That is something to be borne in mind for the future. If we consider the British experience, we think of people of the calibre of Field Marshal Templer in Malaya, who was instrumental in overcoming the communist insurgency there, and of Field Marshal Harding in Cyprus, in the campaign against EOKA.

Fourthly, it is fatal to allow political disputes to fester. By that I mean profound, deep political disputes. The issue of Kashmir is a case in point. Since 1948, it has always been put to one side and left for the neighbouring countries to resolve among themselves. The international community has never exerted itself to ensure that the UN resolutions were implemented. The same goes for Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, with regard to the near east and the Israel-Palestine problem. It would have been much better if the UN resolutions on Iraq had been implemented soon after the first Gulf war rather than as late as they were.

Coming closer to home, we may consider the Northern Ireland question. That, too, has demonstrated the necessity of addressing a deep-seated political divide, and doing so in a way that allows a minority to express its rightful political ambitions, but nevertheless allows majority democratic opinion to be heeded.

Then there is Kosovo: it does not represent a terrorist problem now, but has the potential to blow in the future. There was an outbreak of violence on 17 and 18 March; the region's status is still unresolved, and the majority clearly wish for independence. That is awkward, because we do not like to change the status quo of the Balkans, for understandable reasons. However, the longer that matter is left politically unaddressed, the worse things will be.

My fifth point concerns the need to address poverty and the serious imbalance of wealth and economic expectation. That is an underlying phenomenon, which goes hand in hand with terrorism, although it is not its necessary concomitant. As we know, much terrorism is based purely on ideology or religion. However, the Palestine problem is exacerbated by deep-seated poverty among the Palestinians, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling knows, there is hideous poverty in Nepal.

In Colombia, the FARC and the ELN have their own reasons for maintaining their struggle—control of the drugs trade and so on—but inequalities of wealth distribution were initially fundamental to those organisations. Such inequalities were also fundamental to the Sendero Luminoso in Peru, and, during the cold war period, to the insurgencies in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

We need a trade and aid policy that addresses such fundamental inequalities. It makes me profoundly sad that Her Majesty's Government should be closing embassies in central America today, and that Department for International Development activity in the Andean region is diminishing. Only two days ago, I learned that DFID is to withdraw from Peru. Next door, in Bolivia, social unrest has led to the removal of an elected president. There are dangers that can be foreseen and that need to be addressed, certainly by the European Union, which does great harm through the maintenance of a highly protectionist common agricultural policy.

Last but not least, we have to address the transition from having a military presence to introducing a self-sustainable Government in situ. The west has to provide security guarantees to the new Government in Iraq when they are elected. That will be a continuing responsibility, but it need not be so much on the ground; there are dangers in maintaining a presence on the ground for too long.

I looked at the precedent of air control, which was brought into being by Air Marshall Trenchard when we had the mandate in Mesopotamia, and which we exercised through the no-go, no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power. If Saddam was too horrendously brutal towards the Kurds in the north or the Marsh Arabs in the south, we were prepared to intervene with air power. Likewise, if there are reversions under the new democratic Government to the sorts of practices perpetrated under the Saddam Hussein regime, we could intervene to restore a more equitable situation.

We cannot walk away; we must face the issue for the long haul. However, the war against terrorism involves a multi-faceted strategy and the Select Committee report bears that out very well.

4.4 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab)

I have been prompted to speak by some of the contributions of colleagues and by the fact that, with no disrespect to the Minister, I find that time and again Ministers work from their briefs and ignore the contributions made. I want to test that this afternoon, to establish whether there has been any change and whether the Minister will show innovative thinking and answer some specific questions. I note from the Minister's body language that he seems a little hurt by that comment. If I have done him an injustice, I beat my breast—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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

I have taken copious notes so that I can respond properly to this debate and do not read from a brief.

Andrew Mackinlay

Will the Minister expand on the point on which I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey)? From 1 July, we need an armed forces service agreement and military services agreement. What stage have discussions reached on that? At midnight on the vesting day of sovereignty, something has to be in place. Otherwise our military personnel—the commanders and, one might say, the politicians as well—will be vulnerable. They need mandates buttressed by international law, but they also need to know what freedom of movement they have and whether they must defer to Iraqi commanders on action.

We also need to know whether the agreement—if it is achieved—will be between the Iraqi Government and the coalition or whether there will be bilateral agreements between the Iraqi Government and United Kingdom forces? I understand that the coalition is not a legal entity, but if I am wrong, may we have some clarification? I do not want to labour the point but a plethora of private security and military companies have been commissioned and paid for—directly or indirectly—by the United Kingdom Government. We need to know precisely what status they will have after 1 July.

I do not assume that we will need to know the answer to the following questions in many cases, but when large numbers of people are involved in things, some inevitably let the side down. Would an ordinary criminal act—or a severe criminal act—be subject to Iraqi law or British law? If a military offence or excess were alleged, who would conduct any trial? Would it be a United Kingdom court, a United Kingdom military court or something else?

We need to know that such a measure will be in place, triggered at midnight on sovereignty day. I raise the point, because when my hon. Friends accompanied me to Iraq, we discussed the matter with the coalition people. I thought that they were dismissive and felt that we could not begin to discuss the point until we had an Iraqi Government, in which case there will be a hiatus. I do not find that position satisfactory.

My second point is about the Iraqi survey group. I have been told in a reply to a parliamentary question that just under 50 British personnel are members of the Iraqi survey group. Which Vote are they paid from? Is it the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence, or is it some source that we are not supposed to know about—some cocoa tin that holds the slush fund for our special forces? Who pays them and, more importantly, to whom are they answerable?

When my hon. Friends and I went to Iraq, we probed no lesser people than Ambassador Bremer, General Sanchez and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and we asked about the Iraqi survey group. From what they said—and I think that they were quite candid—I gather that they have absolutely no intercourse with the Iraqi survey group. When I pressed the Foreign Secretary in the plenary session of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he took a deep breath, swallowed and said, "CIA." He did not elaborate on that, and there is nothing wrong with the CIA. They are delightful people. We see more of the CIA than we see of the British secret services. However, the Iraqi survey group is apparently answerable to the CIA. Is that so for the British personnel? Are we paying them? What is their mandate? I may put these questions in terms of apparent levity, but I stress that I take the matter most seriously. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction; we are entitled to know when and to whom the people we rely on to find out what has happened are answerable.

That is a raw point, because the Congress of the United States has at least had some written communication from the Iraqi survey group. As far as I can make out, the dear old House of Commons has been furnished with nothing whatever. It is time that the Government provided at least an interim statement on the group's work, given that the United States Congress has been told that the Iraq survey group found, among other things, that there were serious breaches of the United Nations sanctions before the war and that they happened with the "collusion" of Governments. The House is entitled to know who was involved and to what extent. Was it Russia? Was it France? Was it the Ukraine? Was it somewhere closer to us? We are entitled to know; this cover-up will not do. The Minister looks a bit bewildered, and I will be pleased to give way if he wants to explain what the problem is.

Mr. Rammell

Will my hon. Friend repeat his point, because I do not quite follow? Collusion with foreign Governments to what end?

Andrew Mackinlay

A United States Congress document exists in which it is said that there were breaches of the United Nations sanctions just before the war. The Iraq survey group found evidence that serious breaches happened in respect of armaments with the "collusion" of Governments. I raised the issue with the Foreign Secretary, who took a gulp and said something like, "I'll tell you in camera some time." The House of Commons should have at least some clarification on some issues and be given—in public—at least the same limited information as the United States Congress. That is all that I ask—I am not asking for anything that would put our folk in jeopardy. I would welcome far more opportunities for candid discussions in camera on some issues, but all I that ask for now is a degree of candour comparable with that in the United States. I have not embroidered what I have told hon. Members this afternoon; I have said precisely what the position is and what words have been used.

Come the summer, there will no doubt be seven days of great interest in the Butler inquiry, followed by the usual headlines—one could write them now—about a whitewash and about people's disappointment. Then, we will go into the summer recess, and things will move on. Beyond the Butler inquiry, there should, however, be some explanation of how the pyramid of information worked. That information suggested that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war, but the pyramid of information has never been explained, and we do not need a Butler inquiry sitting in secret for that. A person or handful of persons must have acted as the main conduit of the view, which then went through Whitehall, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but no light has been shed on the matter. I do not think that the issue will go away.

Finally—I have probably bored my colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee about this, but they can survive another 15 seconds—I find it outrageous that we do not have an ambassador in Kyrgyzstan, which is in a very sensitive region. Kyrgyzstan is small beacon of democracy among the "stans". To the extent that one can talk of democracy there, Kyrgyzstan is quite entitled to make that claim. Nevertheless, Sir Michael Jay and, therefore, Ministers do not see the issue as a priority.

Mr. Wilkinson

May I support the hon. Gentleman? Has he ever asked how many diplomats are assigned to the European Union and to EU capitals, because few are assigned to the "stans" and other such places?

Andrew Mackinlay

I take the point, but I will resist the temptation to debate the issue, as the hon. Gentleman invites me to, because he and I take a different view of the European Union. Nevertheless, his point, which he consistently puts, is valid.

I know that the relevance of this issue to our debate will exercise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it does relate to the war on terrorism. Clearly, one of the great areas for potential terrorist activity and planning is in the region to which I refer, where there is an appalling problem with human rights abuses, which is relevant to the debate. Yet, we do not give the small independent republic of Kyrgyzstan the dignity of a UK ambassador, and cultural diplomacy is non-existent because the British Council is not there. That is foolhardy in the extreme, and it is wrong and unfair. I hope that the Minister will take those comments to Sir Michael Jay and the Secretary of State.

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

I recently visited Kyrgyzstan, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Although it is the smallest of many of the central Asian countries and has no gas or oil, it is none the less strategic in other ways, and a strong British presence would be welcome.

Andrew Mackinlay

I am grateful for that intervention. It has made coming along this afternoon worth while. In the absence of anyone disagreeing with those sentiments, I hope that the Minister will take them to be the mood of the House.

4.16 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) will forgive me if I do not follow him down that road.

I want to pick up on a theme that was developed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley), and which was mentioned by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) and for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz)—that of the middle east peace process. We spent some time on that subject in our report.

I think we all acknowledge that the peace process is tremendously important to the attempts to achieve stability in that region because, rightly or wrongly, Arab nations use it as an excuse for all the things that they cannot sort out for themselves. If we could remove that crutch, they would have to face up to some of their problems. However, there is genuine and terrible injustice in the region, and a problem with continuing violence. I suggest that we approach the problem in a different way. Too many people come to it with advocates of one side or another, and there is then a quarrel between A and B.

We all know that there is terrible violence on both sides. Hon. Members have gone into some detail over what happened in Rafah this week, but last week Palestinian terrorists murdered an Israeli woman and her two children in cold blood. The most awful suicide bombings are going on in Israeli cafés and pizza bars in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in which innocent people are killed. The violence is happening on both sides, and neither side has the claim to all the moral high ground. One must try to escape the trap of being an advocate for one party and suggest a way in which both parties might move forward.

The road map is dead. I do not see how the British Government or the American Administration can claim that it is even on life support. President Bush stood next to the Prime Minister of Israel and endorsed the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which I think will help to achieve a settlement in the region, and went on to say, "The road map is the only way we are going to achieve peace, and if anybody comes up with an idea other than the road map, we, the United States, are going to squash it very firmly."

That was not part of the road map. The road map has been around for about two years. Its first step was that by March 2002—I think that that year is right—Palestinian terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Israel should cease and Israeli settlements created after March 2001, when Sharon became Prime Minister, should be demolished. Neither of those things has happened. There are more settlements, and even more are being built, and the terrorist and suicide bomb attacks are worse.

Neither side has taken those first steps, and, of course, each blames the other. The Palestinians say to the Israelis, "The reason we have not stopped the terrorist attacks is because you have not dismantled any settlements," and the Israelis say, "Well, the reason why are not moving down the road on the road map is because you are continuing the suicide bombings."

We have to get away from that and see whether there is another approach to the situation. We have been attempting to make the peace process work by trying to get both sides to negotiate, certainly since 1967, and probably since 1948. My knowledge of the history of the region is not good enough to know the exact dates, but it has been a long time—at least 35 years. There have been various notable occasions, including: when they all came together in Madrid; the Norway, Camp David and Taba processes; the talks at Sharm el Sheikh; and the Wye river accords.

The relevant parties have got together on endless occasions, along with their representatives and proxies. Each time, we think that there will be some progress, but there is not. The most hopeful such occasion was that of the Oslo accords. For a while, it looked as though there would be some progress, but then Rabin was assassinated and the Peres Government gave way to Netanyahu's Government, and that all died.

We must ask ourselves a big question. Even if we could lock the parties in a room with the most intelligent interlocutor in the world, do we honestly believe that they would reach an agreement? That nearly happened in the Camp David and Taba process. No one could say that President Clinton did not put everything he had into trying to find a solution, but he said that he found Arafat to be an unsatisfactory negotiating partner.

This morning, the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and I met a delegation of Palestinian legislators who agreed that a solution had nearly been reached at Taba, but that it was right at the end of Barak's time as Prime Minister and that he had perhaps foolishly left such matters until then and tried to deal with Syria first. Nevertheless, an agreement was nearly reached. We all know the agreement will be a two-state solution with a limited right of return, with compensation probably on both sides for displaced refugees, a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem and a return approximately to the 1967 borders with some adjustments here and there, but not a net transfer of territory to Israel, which would perhaps keep settlements close to the border. It would give up territory elsewhere.

If a solution is found, the Palestinian Authority know what it will be as do the Israeli Government. The problem is not negotiating the fine print of the solution, but the lack of willingness to do it. There are extremists on both sides who consider that they should have the whole of Palestine to themselves, but the majority of ordinary Palestinians and ordinary Israelis just want to get on with their lives—if I can use those descriptions; I do not mean to be patronising—and would make that deal tomorrow. Most Israelis desperately want peace. I know that from Israeli and Jewish friends who live in London, and it is obvious that most Palestinians in the occupied territories want that, too. They want to get on with running their farms, bringing up their children and having something approaching a normal life without the dreadful presence of violence.

The Quartet group, far from trying to pretend that the road map is still a going concern, should make a decision and Britain could take a lead in such matters. We have some credibility in the north Atlantic alliance now, and rather more than the United States. Most of the mistakes that have been made in Iraq were made by that country, not Britain. Most of the really bad maltreatment of the detainees has been by America, and the mistakes that were made at the beginning of setting up the coalition provisional authority were made mainly by America. We should have said that earlier and tried to arrange matters better. As a result, we have a right to say to the United States, "You are getting the middle east peace process wrong. We have to approach it from a different direction."

I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members who have heard what I am about to say before. I have said it many times, but if I persuade one more person to think about it as a possible solution, it is worth my saying it again. The Quartet group should take what was agreed at Taba and talk to both sides—not try to get them together—about the fairest deal that could be reached on outstanding issues, such as the right of return, the territory transfer, Jerusalem and the settlements. All such matters must be resolved. I want it to iron out the differences and produce a solution. I put that to the Foreign Secretary who said that resolutions cannot be achieved if there are vetoes. I agree that such matters depend on the United States. There will be no solution to the problem without that country. We need it to become focused on such matters in a practical and constructive way.

The Quartet should take its resolution to the UN Security Council and ask it to implement it. If it passes it as a resolution under chapter 7, it will become international law.[Interruption.] I am sorry that I have lost the Minister's attention because I want his response to that point. The Quartet's solution should be embodied in the UN Security Council's resolution. There will not have to be more negotiation between the parties about whether 4,000 or 5,000 refugees can return or whether the border is 1 or 2 km to the east or west. The decision will then have to be made to implement the resolution. It should insist that separate referendums are held in the occupied territories of the west bank and Gaza and Israel to see whether the populations of those countries endorse the decision. The matter would then become a domestic, political issue for the Governments of the two countries.

I suspect that those who are standing in the way of peace are some political leaders from both sides. Such a solution would bypass them. We should then say, "We are not going to enforce the solution or put troops in to do so, but if you decide that you want to adopt the solution, we shall do everything that we can with our power, money, goodwill and good offices to make it work for you. We shall provide peacekeeping forces and development money."

We need to grasp that the majority of the Arab world would accept that as a solution. The Beirut summit—I think that it was the one in 2003—endorsed as a solution a deal that would offer Israel a Palestinian state in exchange for the recognition of Israel and a normalisation of relations. I think that that would have been endorsed again had the Arab League summit not collapsed over what was happening in Iraq. It is an acceptable deal—the key countries to which it has to be acceptable are Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The idea came from the Saudi Foreign Minister, so I think that it would be acceptable to his country if Egypt and the United States could be brought on side. Then we would have the bare bones of a solution.Shimon Peres spoke at an open meeting in Portcullis House soon after the road map was announced and said that it is all very well having a road map, but if one does not have a vehicle it is pretty pointless. It has been clear that there has been no vehicle. If we kid ourselves that the road map is a going concern, that we are going to get the parties together somehow and that they are going to negotiate all those things and agree them, then the violence will continue and we will not find a solution. However, if we are brave enough to take a lead in the Quartet group and with the United States—with which we are in credit over foreign policy, now that it looks as though it is in the process of messing up significantly—and to say, "Listen to us, you are not getting it right, try it this way," perhaps it will work. It certainly will not work if we pretend that the two parties will negotiate a solution, which is the view to which the British and American Governments keep returning. They will not negotiate a solution, but it might be possible to impose one on them.

4.27 pm
Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD)

This has been a very important debate. I, too, as another non-Committee member, congratulate the Committee members on the excellent report and on the consistency of purpose that they have shown in following the issue through several Sessions of Parliament since the terrible events of September 2001. It is a reflection of the complexity of the issues encapsulated in the war against terrorism that the report takes a broad sweep touching on many global problems. The debate has underlined the importance of the document.

The Minister will have a list of questions to answer, and it is invidious to pick out those on which I am particularly interested to hear his reply. However, the questions from the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about the Iraqi survey group are important, and I hope that he will be able to shed some light on them.

There are a few dissenters regarding the need for the international community to combat international terrorism and many of the other problems that the world faces. While some have taken issue with the idea of a war on terror, few would disagree that in recent years we have faced a new global situation—one that is completely different from that which predated 2001. It is linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the growing problem of rogue or failed states across the globe. Increasingly, and sadly, all that has come together in Iraq in recent months. As others have said, the latest pictures on international television screens underline the seriousness of the situation regarding the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. The reports of carnage at a wedding—I understand the Americans have denied it was a wedding party—have further emphasised the difficulties for coalition forces, and for the outside world in forming a perception of what is going on. If the Minister has any further information on that issue, we would all be glad to have it.

Many right hon. and hon. Members have properly focused on the difficulties that appear as we approach the handover on 30 June. The key issue, surely, is that a real transfer of sovereignty is needed. That is important both for the credibility of the transitional arrangements in Iraq and for Iraq's neighbours and the wider Muslim world. Much now rests on the shoulders of Lakhdar Brahimi—particularly with respect to what he may propose as an interim solution in Iraq. There remain difficult negotiations to take place, particularly against the backdrop of the murder this week of the chairman of the Iraqi governing council, and further bombings and deaths across the country.

We believe that the role of the United Nations is critical and fundamental to prospects of success. We believe that any resolution—and one is required —should be as broad as possible in its scope, so that it will underpin the reality of the proposed transfer of sovereignty, to its full extent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) said yesterday at Prime Minister's questions, the resolution must cover the control of revenues from the oil supplies in Iraq, and judicial matters—most importantly, the control of prisons. We welcomed the Prime Minister's positive response to that question yesterday and hope that the Minister can echo that today.

A fundamental aspect of any resolution will be the manner in which it covers the security situation in Iraq. We have argued that a resolution along the lines of the model used in the first Gulf war offers the best prospects for the right solution, recognising that the Security Council will give the security forces their remit, and that those forces will, at least to begin with, reflect the existing coalition forces in the region, but that they will be required specifically to carry out their responsibilities and report to the whole Security Council about their progress, at agreed times.

We recognise that there will be a continuing and heavy burden on existing coalition forces, and we need to plan for that. We certainly do not advocate any blue beret arrangements at this stage. The security situation is clearly unsuitable and the transition cannot possibly be far enough advanced for that to be practicable or sustainable. However, as others have pointed out, it is crucial for us to understand what the terms of engagement will be, for United kingdom forces in particular, once the 30 June deadline has passed; we also need to understand what the status of forces agreement will say about their legal status and how they will relate to the Iraqi authorities as well as to the United Kingdom.

Real sovereignty will surely be properly enjoyed in Iraq only when security is back in the hands of the Iraqis themselves. They must believe that there is a prospect of that, however distant it might seem to be. We therefore think that it is important to be prepared to discuss and carry out a phased withdrawal of United Kingdom troops after the proposed elections. That must depend on a more stable security situation. It will also need a broadening of the international forces in Iraq and, clearly, growing capability among indigenous Iraqi forces.

Like the Government, we do not want a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq. That could not only be disastrous for our armed forces but destabilise the existing precarious security situation in Iraq. The key to making progress has to be the basic matter of ensuring practical sovereignty and the end of occupation by the coalition forces in Iraq.

There is also the hovering question of whether additional troops will be deployed to Iraq in the near future, perhaps as a first stage before we get to those hoped-for democratic elections. We need to see the details of what has been widely commented on in the media; I hope that we will get a statement on that before the House goes into recess. If there are to be further deployments of United Kingdom forces, it must surely be in response to requests from United Kingdom commanders in the field, and it is they who must drive the process.

It would of course be entirely appropriate, for force protection purposes, to protect the supply and communication lines in Iraq, and to fulfil obligations under United Nations resolutions, including any that may be passed in the next few weeks. If troops are to go under those conditions, they must also be under the operational command of British officers, and should remain within an area currently under United Kingdom control.

Others have commented on the situation in the middle east; the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) has proposed a bold initiative, and it will be interesting to hear the Minister's response to it. We debated the vexed question of the middle east in this Chamber not that long ago, in the context of the tragedy of the murder of an Israeli mother and her four daughters. Since then, the already confused picture in Gaza has become even bloodier. Operation Rainbow by Israeli defence forces has led to many further deaths on both sides, although predominantly among Palestinians. Yesterday's killings in the Rafah refugee camp have been condemned by people across the world, and we certainly welcome the swift passing of a United Nations resolution condemning it. It is of course notable and welcome that the United States did not on this occasion veto it.

The Israelis have apologised for killing innocent people in Gaza, but given the current situation, many there and around the world will find that hard to accept. We understand that Prime Minister Sharon will submit a revised disengagement plan for Gaza soon. I hope that the Government will in the meantime continue to press Israel and Palestine to recognise that the only sustainable plan for the region will be based on the road map or some variation on it.

We all want a two-state solution that allows Israel to exist within secure borders and Palestinians to enjoy a secure, viable state, but the Committee is right to warn that the time in which to create a viable Palestinian state and continue with a two-state solution may run out if things do not change quickly. We still seem a million miles from the end point, and the continued incursions into Gaza seem to fly in the face of the Israelis' stated intention of withdrawing from the Gaza strip as part of the disengagement plan.

Earlier this year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) suggested that the EU should respond to the illegal construction of the security wall within acknowledged Palestinian areas by suspending the trade association agreement with Israel. We now have the breaches of the Geneva convention, highlighted by the United Nations resolution yesterday, to add to the illegality of the wall and the continuation of the creation of settlements. Now is the time that the European Union should take action.

It is encouraging that we have seen progress in Libya in the past few months that was unimaginable even a year ago. I repeat the congratulations that I have offered in the past to the Government on that substantial step forward. We must never lose sight of the tragic death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher or the horrors of the Lockerbie bombing, but if, while gritting our teeth, we have made progress in Libya, and perhaps in other parts of the world, we can be more optimistic.

In Iran, we have seen collective action by European Union Ministers, which is highly commendable. Iran still has heavy responsibilities to satisfy the international community that its intentions for its nuclear programme are peaceful, but the British Government should be encouraged in their work.

On a slightly more worrying note, there remain big differences on Syria between what the United States thinks is the correct course of action and what the United Kingdom and others have proposed. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. We should not put Syria in a box in which it feels its back is to the wall and the international community is seriously against it.

The report is impressive. It has examined in some breadth and depth many of the key issues facing the world. I endorse the sentiments of others who have said that they hope that the Committee finds time to continue its important work and keep us so well served and informed.

4.42 pm
Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con)

I commend the Committee for this excellent report, which builds on earlier reports on the important issue of terrorism. I also commend the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) for his chairmanship. Like him, I have read the report recently and have been struck by the changes that have happened since it was filed, and even since the Government responded to it in March, just two months ago.

We have seen several significant developments, such as the full ramifications of the Madrid bombing, including the change of Government that it seemed to inspire and the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq. Sadly, we have seen an escalation of violence in Iraq, including the stand-offs in Fallujah and Najaf. We have suffered the shocking revelations of the unacceptable abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees by coalition forces—several hon. Members have commented on that. In the middle east, we have witnessed the unfolding of the detail of the Sharon plan, and the surprising welcome it has been given by the US President, our own Prime Minister and others. That was followed by the plan's rejection by Likud, presumably with the next instalment to follow shortly. Sadly, as we have all said, violence in the middle east has continued unabated in the meantime.

All of that is a reminder that in the war against terror our enemies are real, events continue to unfold at an alarming pace, and we must be ever vigilant. Many right hon. and hon. Members have demonstrated their expertise and knowledge in speeches and contributions on these extremely complex issues. We have had a high-quality debate. Many questions have been asked of the Minister, and to give him his due—to shield him from the slightly unfair attack of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)—this Minister, with whom I have debated several times in the past few weeks, does try to answer the questions put to him. We will give him plenty of time to do so today, so he will have no excuse not to.

It is more than two years since 9/11, and the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation are still at large, believed to be based somewhere in the rugged mountains of north-west Pakistan. Al-Qaeda has correctly perceived Iraq to be the focal point in the US-led war on terrorism. By pursuing a war of attrition, fought using terrorist means, these terrorists aim to provoke the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, making the country ungovernable. In a recent message, purportedly from bin Laden, 10 kg of gold was promised to anyone who killed administrator Paul Bremer, as well as UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The insurgents bomb soft targets such as markets, and kill prominent officials who are essential to the rebuilding of Iraq. A chilling example of that was the killing on Monday of Mr. Salim, the head of the Iraq governing council. The insurgents are attempting to weaken the resolve of coalition forces to rebuild Iraq and to improve the lives of its citizens. If the insurgents win, Iraq will sink into further chaos and become a den of terrorist iniquity for men such as al-Sadr, the rebel Shi'a cleric, and al-Zarqawi, reputedly responsible for the gruesome beheading of Nick Berg.

There are some—no one in this debate, I have to say—who call for coalition forces to withdraw immediately. I understand that call, but I reject it because I think that it is wrong. If we were to withdraw now, the country would descend into civil war and chaos, the terrorists would win, and the standing and credibility of the west, which are already under pressure, would be in tatters. The terrorists must not be allowed to win. We have to stay the course and see this through.

The handover on 30 June must go ahead, and momentum towards wider elections next year and reconstruction must not be lost. I echo the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who said in the House on Monday that we need to return Iraq to the Iraqis under a representative and democratic Government. As others have said, it is essential that the transfer of power on 30 June be real and not cosmetic. If the Minister answers only one question—although I know he will do a lot better than that—will he give us as much up-to-date detail as possible on the Brahimi handover plan and answer some of the specific points that have been put to him about that? There are five weeks to go, and this whole operation is still clouded in mystery and uncertainty. We do not even know to whom power will be handed over in five weeks.

The Conservative party will continue to support the Government in seeing this process through. However, there are two points that the Government cannot avoid in the longer term. First, there must be an acceptance that, despite their assurances to the contrary, there was an absence of a coherent plan for post-conflict Iraq. The report's conclusions and recommendations recognises that in paragraph 11, where it refers to insufficient anticipation by the British and American governments". That is well phrased. In their response in March, the Government seemed to brush that crucial conclusion under the carpet. Many of the post-conflict issues were foreseeable and foreseen. I ask the minister again, why was not a more comprehensive plan in place?

Secondly, the Government cannot for ever also sweep under the carpet the basis on which we went to war. In the run-up to war, we were told that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. To eliminate those weapons was a primary purpose of the war, and it is increasingly clear that there are none. Whether they do it in their response to the Butler inquiry or at some other time, the Government must deal with that important issue and give a full explanation. There is one crucial reason why: if our electorate are to be expected ever to trust their political leadership again when their support is requested for future military action, this matter must be resolved.

Since the production of the report, pictures of abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US forces have been published. That was a massive setback in winning over the hearts and minds not only of Iraqis but of Muslims worldwide. The Committee showed great foresight in paragraph 15 of the report, because even then it was rightly concerned about the handling and treatment of detainees. The first step on the slippery slope was perhaps the mistreatment of suspects held at Camp X-Ray. The assertion that the detainees were not prisoners of war in the conventional sense and therefore did not fall under the remit of the Geneva convention was never acceptable to the international community. It is clearly wrong to hold people for a long time without access to due process of law.

Although sometimes inconvenient, it is vital that coalition forces respect international law and human rights at all times. The pictures emanating from Abu Ghraib poured oil on a fire that was already simmering. It is vital that those responsible are dealt with swiftly and openly. Sentencing Jeremy Sivits to one year's imprisonment was an encouraging sign that the process of investigating allegations of prisoner abuse will not be a whitewash. Justice must be done— and, particularly in Iraq, it must be seen to be done.

Much positive work has been achieved during the past 12 months in Iraq, but it is rarely apparent from media coverage. Many parts of the country have a more positive tale to tell. We can take comfort from a demonstration last week in Najaf, where 1,000 Shi'ites peacefully protested against al Sadr and his violent methods. It proves that many moderate Iraqis are galvanised in their opposition to terrorism and violence. They want to get on with their lives. Winning the hearts and minds of those people will be the most effective bulwark against Iraq descending into chaos.

Once again, I pay a warm tribute, as others have done today, to the skill, courage and professionalism of British troops in and around Basra, who acquit themselves with such distinction.

The report rightly points out that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a source of immense anger for millions of Muslims worldwide. It is a catalyst for terrorism. It follows that a lasting solution in Israel is a prerequisite for victory in the war against terrorism. The clearly identified answer, which many have touched on today, which is supported by the international community and based on the proposals outlined in the road map, is the two-state solution, with a secure Israel living alongside a viable Palestinian state.

I am taken with the suggestion and comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). He was right to say that it is easy for us to hide behind the road map and simply to call for the road map to be put back on track—as I am doing now. We need to be more practical and come up with a solution that has a chance of success. I would like to hear more about his interesting suggestion.

We all know that progress on the road map has been stalled in favour of the unilateral disengagement measures proposed by Ariel Sharon, including the disbandment of Israeli settlements on the Gaza strip. Although those initiatives might be seen as a step in the right direction, what we need most is not unilateral action but negotiation and agreement. The rejection of Sharon's proposals by the ruling Likud party has given the plan an uncertain future. A real and lasting peace will be achieved only through mutual agreement over those divisive issues.

Donald Anderson

It is significant that, in a statement made on 4 May, the Quartet said positive things about the plan. It said: The Quartet took positive note of the announced intention of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to withdraw from all Gaza settlements and parts of the West Bank. The Quartet welcomes and encourages such a step".

Mr. Streeter

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. It has to be seen as part of the ongoing process of the road map. We have made that point to the Government and to the Minister time and again.

President Bush recently stated that, given the setbacks, achieving a Palestinian state by 2005—one of the time lines under the road map—was no longer realistic. I wonder whether the Government agree. Will the Minister touch on what has happened to the other time lines so clearly set out in the road map? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, many of them have already been missed, and it seems that yet more are likely to be missed. Is it now intended that those time lines will be renegotiated?

Although Israel is rightly concerned about the threat that it faces from terrorism, that does not permit the construction of a security fence on its current route inside occupied territory. Paragraph 30 of the Government's response describes it as a severe impediment to efforts to secure a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state". Surely, that is right.

Israel has the right to self-defence. We all accept that—the first duty of a state is to protect its citizens—but Israel must step back from the use of disproportionate force. As others have said, this week has been particularly depressing for those of us who wish to see the peace process revived, following Israel's launch of Operation Rainbow, under which hundreds of Palestinian homes have been flattened, essential water and electricity supplies disrupted and several dozen civilians, including children, killed.

The attacks on women and children yesterday at the Rafah refugee camp provided a further shocking example of heavy-handed tactics that will do little to pacify the Palestinian people, will lead to further escalation in the endless cycle of violence and are, as the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both stated unequivocally yesterday, unacceptable to the international community. It has to be said that there is, of course, an equal obligation on the Palestinian Authority to bring under control the terror of the suicide bombers. If we are to find the elusive way back to the road map, there must be action on both sides.

I turn to wider issues raised by the report. The Committee has drawn its inquiry on a broad canvas and has rightly linked broader, non-proliferation events in the wider middle east with long-term regional stability and global efforts to counter terrorism. Libya's recent decision to terminate voluntarily its weapons of mass destruction is welcome as a step against WMD proliferation. What has happened in Iraq should send a clear message to would-be proliferators, and those who threaten the region with such weapons, that there are severe consequences for defiance of the UN and the international community. Libya's cautious reintegration into the international community demonstrates that there is another route that brings benefits all round. I hope that Iran and North Korea will also take heed of that route. We support a policy of constructive engagement.

Proliferation aside, while Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute remain the backdrop to much popular sentiment in the middle east, the issues that affect the region are far broader. The Arab world is facing challenges revolving around demography and the need for economic diversification, and an aspirational middle class in many countries is demanding greater participation in government.

The challenges are great, and it is for us to help reform processes that are already under way in many countries, rather than seeming to hector or lecture. Reform that moves forward at its own pace, and for which the impetus comes from within, is more likely to be deeply rooted and effective. It is in all our interests to help the nations of the middle east face their reform challenges.

Although it is uncomfortable for those of us whose instincts are profoundly pro-American, as mine are, and uncomfortable for us to admit it, one of the biggest obstacles in winning the war on terrorism is the rampant anti-Americanism that prevails across the world. The majority of respondents in recent polls in Jordan and Pakistan viewed Osama bin Laden in a more favourable light than President Bush. How is it that so many American values, such as individualism, upward mobility and freedom are admired the world over, yet America's foreign policy provokes such a negative reaction? How can we explain the enthusiasm of Iranian teenagers to watch smuggled Hollywood movies, while their clerics criticise America as the great Satan?

The US must consider the tactics at its disposal to improve its global standing. It would do well to reconsider Joseph Nye's thesis on the dichotomy between hard and soft power. In a nutshell, soft power is based on people's ability to achieve positive outcomes by attracting and persuading others to adopt their goals. Hard power is when people use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow their will. The current US Administration has been quick to exercise its hard power capabilities, but it might pay more attention to the soft power tools at its disposal, including displaying greater cultural sensitivity, encouraging exchange programmes and mutual understanding, exercising better public diplomacy and improving international broadcasting. The entire US diplomatic budget for the whole Islamic world is $150 million, which is the equivalent of a few hours' worth of the defence budget. Only through a two-pronged approach combining the assertiveness of hard power and the effectiveness of soft power can this bout of anti-Americanism be curbed. That is an essential ingredient in crushing the malaise of global terrorism.

Britain, so much more skilled at exercising soft power, must play its full part in working for global stability. Our much-respected diplomacy, NGOs, peacekeeping skills, commitment to democracy and the rule of law, global heritage and networks are all assets that equip us to play a unique role in influencing the world. We also enjoy a special relationship that equips us to be a truly candid friend to the only global superpower. We must make better use of that privileged position, as we have in the past, and help the USA to play a more constructive role in the complex issues that face us all.

Sadly, the war against terror will be with us for some time to come and the Committee has done us all a service by keeping such a seasoned eye on its progress. I hope that it will continue to do so.

5.1 pm

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

It gives me pleasure to respond to the debate. I congratulate the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on a very detailed report. I genuinely believe that that process of scrutiny helps the Government in their work, although that is perhaps not the first sentiment that springs to mind as I rise to respond to such detailed questioning.

Andrew Mackinlay

It is good for you.

Mr. Rammell

Absolutely. I think that the process is extremely worth while.

I will do my best to answer hon. Members' questions. If there are some that I do not answer, and hon. Members make me aware of that afterwards, I will follow them up in writing.

Clearly, the situation in Iraq has been the focus of much of the debate, which, nevertheless, has been wide ranging. That underlines the extent of the continuing concern about the battle against international terrorism. Terrorist attacks continue at very significant levels. For example, in the past two weeks, two Britons were among six shot dead in Saudi Arabia, and attacks on mosques in Karachi killed 15 and injured more than 100. Several hon. Members referred to the recent murder of the US contractor. Nick Berg, which demonstrated to the world the type of enemy that we face in the fight against international terrorism. It sickened everyone who witnessed the news footage. Unfortunately, those are just three examples of terrorist acts, and I could list more. In the past two weeks, more than 30 people have been killed by terrorists.

Al-Qaeda and associated groups will remain a grave threat for the foreseeable future and we must accept that, as we find ways to counter them, they evolve in their response to the threat that we pose to them. They are not monolithic and that is one of the immense challenges that we face. Any notions of al-Qaeda as a hierarchical or coherent structure against which we can fight a conventional war can be forgotten. The fundamental threat is not so much from organisational networks but from networks of ideas. Although we can and will go after terrorists to prevent attacks, our core activity for the longer term will have to be countering the underlying ideas that are used by terrorists to justify their action and the underlying conditions that lead some to believe that those ideas are acceptable. Undoubtedly, that will take a long time.

The scope of the terrorist threat means that we must maintain and enhance our international counter-terrorism co-operation. As the Government's response to the latest Foreign Affairs Committee report sets out, we are doing that—or, certainly, trying to do it—in several ways. For example, in the past year we have spent more than £3 million developing the counter-terrorism capacity of key priority states. We have worked with our partners in south and south-east Asia, the middle east and Africa to deliver counter-terrorism assistance to build legislative and administrative capacity. Our counter-terrorism assistance programme is fully consistent with our human rights obligations.

Multilaterally, where key progress needs to be made, we continue to develop and implement international counter-terrorism standards. In the wake of the murderous attacks in Madrid, the European Council adopted a declaration on terrorism. It renewed our commitment to fight against terrorism, which has never wavered. It also appointed a new EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, who will draw together the many strands of the EU's work on counter-terrorism. Those are measures that we welcome.

I want to take this opportunity to update hon. Members on an issue that the Committee raised in its 10th report. In March, the Security Council adopted resolution 1535 to strengthen the counter-terrorism committee. This week, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed the first executive director to lead the strengthened expert team. That is a significant step forward and it is a success for the UN structure in taking forward and tackling this issue.

Ms Stuart

Will the Minister clarify whether Mr. Gijs de Vries, the counter-terrorism co-ordinator, reports to the Commission or to the Council?

Mr. Rammell

I understand that he reports directly to the Secretary-General and that the reports go to the Security Council. However, if I am wrong, I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Working together, the international community has had some successes in combating terrorism. Only this month, the Turkish police disrupted a plan to bomb the NATO summit in Istanbul. In April, our colleagues in Jordan foiled an attack in Amman and six individuals were arrested in the Philippines this month for planning to mount an attack during the Philippine elections.

The Foreign Secretary said in his foreword to the Government's response to the Committee's report that the threat from terrorism is very real. As I shall make clear in my response to individual questions, however, the threat from terrorism did not begin when we took action in Iraq. The biggest terrorist outrage that we have seen—all hon. Members will recall this—took place on 11 September 2001. That occurred not after the conflict with Iraq, but 18 months before it. Terrorism was also not the result of intervention in Afghanistan, but what led to that intervention. I shall return to that issue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), the Chairman of the Committee, referred to one of the report's key conclusions, which is that not as many countries as we might have wished have contributed to the multinational force in Iraq. That is arguably the case. We made it clear in our response that we think that there is sufficient commitment. However, from a political point of view, we would undoubtedly want an increase in the number of nations committing to the multinational force. We are working on expanding that multinational force under the auspices of the UN, which is why the forthcoming resolution is so important.

My right hon. Friend also raised the key questions of what will happen on 30 June, what the interlinkages will be and what the authority will be. I shall try to answer some of those questions, but I cannot answer them all, because the detail is being worked on, in the form of the UN resolution that will oversee and give authority to the process. That is not ducking the question, but reflects the reality of the political situation that we face. However, the occupation will undoubtedly come to an end on 30 June. On that date, the coalition provisional authority will dissolve and Paul Bremer, the administrator, and David Richmond, the UK special representative, will leave Iraq, to be replaced by ambassadors. That will be a fundamentally different political and legal situation.

The new Security Council resolution should signal the end of the occupation and confirm the assumption of authority by a sovereign Iraqi interim Government on 30 June. The resolution's key elements are likely to be the political and security arrangements and the UN role in the transition period before elections. As I said, the detail is being worked on. There will be a Cabinet of Iraqi Ministers, who will be responsible for the day-to-day running of Iraq and ensuring the provision of services. A priority for the interim Government will be to help to prepare for the elections in January 2005, working with the soon to be formed independent electoral commission.

I repeat: that Iraqi Government will be sovereign. Iraqis themselves will decide on any limitations on powers. There will probably be some constitutional and administrative checks on the interim Government, to ensure that they deal with day-to-day matters and do not take long-term decisions of significant constitutional import. However, that will be self-imposed restraint. That view has come forward strongly in consultations with the leading politicians in Iraq and has been reflected by Mr. Brahimi. Fundamental, far-reaching constitutional decisions should not be taken in the interim period, before an elected Government.

The governorates will be run by Iraqi provincial councils and the governors elected by them. Some 11 Ministries have already been transferred to full Iraqi authority. That is a key point.

Mr. Chidgey

That is fine, but how will the security in Iraq be managed, and who will be responsible for that?

Mr. Rammell

The hon. Gentleman anticipates the point that I was coming to. As the Foreign Secretary and the US Secretary of State have made clear, the interim Iraqi Government, who will assume authority on 30 June, will be a sovereign Government. The multinational force envisaged in the forthcoming UN resolution will remain in Iraq at the behest of the Iraqi Government.

The multinational force, which will include British troops, will continue to operate according to the mandate set out by that resolution. That begs the question of what would happen if the interim Government said that they no longer wanted the force to be there. But if that happens, it happens. However, I see no indication that that is what the interim Government are likely to want. Direct indications from politicians and all the reputable, independent opinion poll evidence of ordinary Iraqis' views show that a multinational force is wanted, to continue to help and to work with the Iraqis to build on the security situation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East asked about the situation in Falluja, the Falluja brigade and whether there has been a change in Government policy. There certainly has not been a change in Government policy. We are considering a temporary arrangement to prevent further insurgent activity. We are very conscious that we need to give a firm response in that extraordinarily difficult situation, but that we also need to act with political sensitivity. That is what we are trying to do. The brigade is not part of the main Iraqi army, and it will be disbanded in future without being recruited into that army. That makes it clear that our policy has not changed.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) raised a number of detailed questions. He argued that the road map is not the only possibility for the future in the middle east, and a number of other hon. Members reflected that view. Several referred to Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan, and the right hon. Gentleman referred to "verbal chicanery" and the annexation of land through that.

I reiterate the point made by our Prime Minister and President Bush when Prime Minister Sharon made those proposals. We welcomed those proposals, not as an endgame or a final status situation, but as a step along the road towards the implementation of the road map. As the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East said, that has not been a unilateral US or even a US and British position. The view was recently endorsed by the Quartet, which said that if the proposals were a step along the road, we should welcome them, but—and this is the critical "but" that the Prime Minister and the President made clear—that does not alter the need for final-status negotiations, particularly with regard to borders and refugees.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling also said that he felt that the conflict with Iraq may well have been the biggest foreign policy mistake since appeasement. I have traded blows with him on this subject before. When it last happened, I walked out thinking that he was among the minority of Conservative Members who had voted against the war. I subsequently checked and found out that that was not the case.

In deciding whether we have made the correct decision, we should not make a judgment based on what the situation is now, but on what the situation would have been had we not taken action in March 2003. There was clear evidence to virtually every intelligence agency in the world of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction capability, there was a 173-page dossier of unanswered questions put together by Hans Blix, and there was the unanimous Security Council resolution 1441, which gave Saddam a last chance to comply. If, despite all those things, we had turned around and said that we were not going to do anything, I genuinely believe that the situation would be worse and more dangerous today. That is difficult to prove because we cannot turn back the clock, but I think that we would have given the green light to aggressive nations and terrorists all over the world. I am sure that this debate will go on and on.

If we had not taken action, I question whether Libya would have taken the correct decision and moved towards ridding itself of weapons of mass destruction. I am not sure whether Iran would have engaged as it did in dialogue about concerns about its nuclear capability. I even doubt that we would be having the third round of the six-party talks on North Korea. So we are talking not only about Iraq, but about the wider international benefit that may have flowed from the decisions that we took.

The right hon. Gentleman also talked about security being the top priority for the Iraqi people. That is undoubtedly the case. The key question is how we build on that security. I am not sure that there is an alternative to the option that we are pursuing, which is the greater involvement of the United Nations, further Iraqisation of policing and security procedures in Iraq, and a political solution that leads to handing power over to the Iraqis and their representatives. That is the best way of tackling security in Iraq.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the middle east peace process and what steps the Government are taking to influence the Israeli Government to stop the unilateral annexation of land. We consistently make it clear to the Israeli Government that any withdrawal of settlements should not result in settlers being resettled. We also consistently ask both sides to make progress according to the road map so that there is a two-state solution along the lines of the 1967 borders.

The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) asked why we did not pursue a chapter VII UN resolution with regard to the middle east. There is an argument for that, but I remain unconvinced, because any settlement must be political and negotiated. I am not sure that such a settlement has ever been imposed successfully from the outside in such an historic conflict. All sorts of arguments could be advanced about the progress that is being made according to the road map, but I believe that it is the best opportunity that we have. We should pursue it with vigour and urge each party to do like wise.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the possibility of the military being over-stretched. We have always said that commanders on t re ground are best placed to advise on troop levels, but that Ministers should take the decisions. We constantly keep under review the numbers of troops that we are contributing. If and when we are in a position to alter that contribution, we will immediately make that clear to the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) said, I believe, that it was nonsense to talk about a war on terror. Let me make it clear that we are not involved in a war on Muslims or on Muslim nations, but we have a huge problem with individuals and groups throughout the world who are prepared to use terror on a massive scale to pursue their political ends. We need to do everything in our power to oppose that. I believe that there is consensus across the House on that, which is reflected in the report. Certainly, we need to consider greater security co-ordination and the counter-terrorism strategy agreed by the UN. We also need to investigate the sources of funding for terrorism and to examine the root political causes of terrorism. We cannot deny that we need a strategy to counter terrorism. That may not have been my hon. Friend's direct suggestion, but that is what he implied.

Mr. Sarwar

What I am saying about the war on terror is that I accept that there is a serious threat and that we need to deal with it, but we need an even-handed approach. The focus is to a great extent on people involved in individual acts of terrorism. I condemn the loss of any innocent life, but hypocrisy and double standards are coming out of the united States. What about the state terrorism in which thousands of people are losing their lives? What about the legitimate struggle, and the demands for implementation of UN resolutions 242 and 338?

Mr. Rammell

I certainly want all UN resolutions to be implemented. My hon. Friend refers to the middle east, and we all need to do everything in our power to move the process forward.

I take issue on one significant point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey). I think that I am correct in saying that he said we have lost all moral authority because of the recent allegations of prisoner abuse. I ask him to think about that and reflect on whether he wants to pursue those arguments. We cannot pretend, as the Prime Minister made clear a couple of weeks ago, that we can stop bad things happening, even in the most democratic, civilized state.

The key determinant of whether we are a responsible, democratic, civilized state, is the manner in which we respond to the allegations of abuse. There is a fundamental difference between the way in which we are responding, as a nation, and the way in which Saddam Hussein's regime responded in Iraq, where torture, brutality and killing were the nation's mission statement. We are not responding in that way. All allegations of wrongdoing by our troops are taken extremely seriously and are dealt with through the military disciplinary system.

The hon. Gentleman asked me for the figures. There have been 33 investigations since the arrival of British troops in Iraq. Twelve are still under way. In 15 of the 21 completed investigations, it was concluded that there was no case to answer. Recommendations about the other six incidents are being considered by the military authorities. That is the right and proper way to proceed. My reply to his question on why the process has taken so long is to ask him, rhetorically, how long he thinks a military disciplinary investigation should take, if it is to get at the facts and produce an outcome in which we can all be confident. We are going through the right and appropriate procedures.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the situation in Afghanistan and what he called the lack of contribution from NATO. I know that the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Afghanistan last week, because I was there the week before and will have had discussions similar to those that it took part in. In Afghanistan, we are working both within NATO and bilaterally, with NATO and non-NATO members, to generate the resources required for NATO to expand beyond Kabul and Kunduz. Once those resources are provided, the expanded NATO presence will, I believe, help to underpin our efforts in meeting our key obligations in Afghanistan. We need a greater NATO contribution and are pushing strongly for it, as we shall continue to do.

The remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) went to the heart of the debate, in a sense, in focusing on our relationship with the United States of America. He asked the Government to be more publicly critical of United States foreign policy. Although we are strong allies of the United States, there are certainly things on which we disagree, and we should not have a problem in saying so. Cuba, the International Criminal Court and our attitude to the Kyoto protocol are examples of that. However, we should be conscious of the way in which we conduct such discussions. I hope that my hon. Friend will at least accept that there is a judgment to be made about the degree of public criticism that is consistent with influence and leverage. That is at least an arguable case, and not as easily dealt with as he suggested.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to the closure of our embassies in central America and the recent DFID reductions in parts of Latin America. As the Minister responsible for that area, I do not want reductions, but this debate is about the key priorities of terrorism and tackling the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We live in a very different world from the one a few years ago, with increasingly dangerous circumstances. That sometimes means that we must take difficult decisions that we would not otherwise take.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) asked about the armed forces. I think that I answered that in my earlier remarks.

Andrew Mackinlay

I hate to offend the Minister, but I do not think that he did. The body language of every Member in the Chamber speaks of bewilderment. If I have missed something, I apologise, but will he answer the question about the military service agreement? When will it be published, with whom will it be signed, and will it be triggered at one minute past midnight on vesting day—sovereignty day?

Mr. Rammell

I made it clear to my hon. Friend that the detail of that is under negotiation. It will be overseen by the UN Security Council resolution that is being worked on. In terms of body language, I am receiving nods from hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock also asked about the role and position of the Iraqi survey group. I shall try to be specific about that. It is a US-led operation; the UK has contributed by providing personnel, mainly specialists on weapons of mass destruction. The Ministry of Defence has paid for that as part of Operation Telic, and the UK deputy brigadier responsible reports directly back, according to the UK military chain of command.

My hon. Friend asked about the lack of ambassadorial representation in Kyrgyzstan. We have looked at that issue from time to time, and in the past we have considered whether it would be possible to open an embassy. We have increased our representation of posts by a net number of 10 in the past few years, but it all comes down to a question of money and resources. I heard the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) offer a blank cheque, with a commitment to opening an embassy, but it is not that simple. We will keep the situation under review.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon rightly said that in the middle east peace process disputes neither side has the moral high ground. Significant criticisms can be made of both. I agree that in terms of the road map, which I still believe is the best way forward, not enough progress has been made since the commitments from both sides. We need to push for that progress. However, I reiterate my earlier point: on the basis of historical precedent and experience, I am genuinely not convinced that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a UN resolution imposed from the outside would work and lead us to a better political situation.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon talked about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Let me take Members back to March 2003 when we had clear intelligence information, as did virtually every other intelligence agency in the world. As a Foreign Office Minister, I saw that intelligence and it was convincing. More importantly and more publicly, we had the 173-page dossier of unanswered questions that Hans Blix had prepared. We gave a last chance to Saddam and the regime to comply with the resolutions, which were the culmination of resolutions that had been around for 12 years. He failed to comply, and in those circumstances we were right to take the decision that we did. As I said during the debate in the House on Monday evening, in terms of weapons of mass destruction, there was the apparent discovery at the weekend—although I am not making too much of this—of a chemical weapon as part of old munitions in Baghdad. Had that been found immediately before we went to war, it would have been in breach of resolution 1441.

We have had a good debate and a good opportunity to discuss the issues. I congratulate the Select Committee on a thorough report, and I hope that we have shed some light on the issues. If I have missed any questions or queries, I am happy to follow them up in writing.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Five o'clock.

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