Politics UK: Culloden

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Mr Speaker,

I beg leave to rise and offer the House the following statement.

Mr Speaker as the House is no doubt aware this country has engaged in military action against the Saddam Hussein Government in Iraq. This began with a lightning campaign in Kuwait leading to the 48hr dismantling of Iraq’s ability to fight a conventional war including the death, wounding, or capture of well over 300,000 Iraqi service personnel of which large numbers of the terrorist organisation the Revolutionary Guard were included. I would like once again to pay tribute to the troops for this historic achievement and to pay tribute for their ability to turn this into another forward advance, this time into Iraq proper. At this stage it would be improper for me to reveal the full battle plan however the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been informed by our commanders on the ground that battle has been joined in Baghdad and we anticipate the city to fall in days. Across multiple fronts British troops are working well with our allies including a joint Anglo-French front and a joint Anglo-American front. As a result of British leadership, we stand on the precipice of eliminating one of the most dangerous regimes in the world, that posed a grave threat not simply to the Middle East but to people here in Britain as well. The regime’s use of weapons of mass destruction showed us once and for all that it had to be eliminated which we are now close to achieving. However rather than resting on our laurels and patting ourselves on the back while a new, potentially more dangerous Saddam 2.0 comes to power, we're taking the initiative to ensure the Iraqi people finally receive the peace, stability, and freedom they deserve by building a new coalition of nations capable of maintaining peace and rebuilding a fractured society and a broken nation.

Mr Speaker the imminent collapse of the Iraqi army and the Hussein Regime will no doubt lead to instability in Iraq - one cannot overthrow a government, no matter how corrupt and appalling, today and expect blue skies tomorrow. Dealing with the transition of Iraq from despotic, backward, destabilising regional dictatorship into a more functional and robust nation state is not going to be easy, quick, or cheap. It is for this reason that I have spent the duration of the conflict considering, with our allies and other parties, how we will manage this transition and it is that arrangement which has been struck which I can unveil to the House this afternoon. Mr Speaker I will note now, at the start of my statement, that a malicious and untrue briefing was leaked to Her Majesty’s Press suggesting that the British Government was taking over Imperial Occupation of Iraq with no respect for our allies, regional powers, or indeed international law. As this statement sets out very plainly this is not true and I invite the numerous Honourable and Right Honourable Members opposite who were led astray on this matter including the Leader of the Opposition, the Shadow Chancellor, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary to apologise for their error and set the record straight.

Mr Speaker it would be impractical and unethical for Her Majesty’s Government, or indeed any government, in the present day to assume temporary control of Iraq under a mandate system as seen after the end of the First World War, or as Labour have mistakenly been led to believe by errant briefings imperial occupation, such a measure would be undemocratic, indeed such a measure would amount to little more than a military occupation. It is for that reason that this Government has sought to build a coalition of peace just as strong and robust as the coalition of war established some months ago. This coalition includes regional and international powers, and is crucially backed by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council giving us full international legal authority and clearance on this matter. The system that will be implemented in Iraq, with the consent of our allies, key regional partners, and the United Nations Security Council, is for a Commission to be established consisting of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Syria, and Egypt. Again this is different from the patently untrue briefing that was released. This Commission shall principally be concerned, at least initially, with the immediate post-war reconstruction of Iraq; this includes financial support, food aid, and development aid. The Commission will, of course, also be concerned with numerous other tasks such as the establishing of a peaceful and secure Iraq, ensuring that violent regime-loyalists and terrorists cannot gain a foothold in the country whilst training a new generation of Iraqi military and police forces in the latest counter-terror techniques to prevent loyalists of the old regime from getting a foothold.

Mr Speaker Iraq is a complicated nation with strong Islamic tendencies in both the Shia and the Sunni traditions. It is for this reason that I am glad that Syria and Egypt have consented to being brought back into the coalition to help with the post-war healing process in the hope that these communities can be reconciled to peaceful coexistence. Their endorsement of this plan is going to go a long way towards helping us enact it on the ground in a meaningful way that will help rebuild Iraq and create a more peaceful future for all concerned. Her Majesty’s Government will, along with the US and France, be consulting heavily with the Commissioners appointed by Egypt and Syria to ensure that the rebuilding process is culturally sensitive and to avoid unfortunate mixups which could cause issues were this to be a Western World only administration. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Egyptian and Syrian Governments for their involvement in this project and welcome their interjections thus far in the spirit of international cooperation.

Next Mr Speaker we come onto the positions of High Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. The High Commissioner will oversee the day to day administration of Iraq in conjunction with the Commissioners appointed by our fellow nations in the Commission. He shall be responsible for administering and directing aid and reconstruction efforts, in effect one might consider him the Prime Minister of Iraq for the temporary stretch of time between the Fall of Baghdad and the handover of power back to the Iraqi people. The man we have decided to appoint to this position is Lord Carrington. Lord Carrington brings a wealth of governmental experience to the role including stints as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and being appointed as Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he is a born diplomat having chaired the Lancaster House Conference which brought and end to the Rhodesian Bush War, in short he is the perfect, standout, and obvious candidate for the role. The Deputy Commissioner shall concern himself primarily with security and defence, it shall be his job to oversee efforts to keep the peace in Iraq. For this job I know of no better candidate than my Right Honourable Friend the Member for Bridgwater. My Right Honourable Friend has extensive experience overseeing some of the most difficult roles for security in the United Kingdom including his stint as Secretary of State for Defence and his stint as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland showing a strong ability to lead in difficult circumstances with fraught inter-community relations, perfect for the situation in Iraq.

Finally Mr Speaker we end on the mission. As I said earlier to the House it shall be the responsibility of the Commission, the High Commissioner, and the Deputy Commissioner to restore Iraq to the point where it is possible to hand over administration of the nation to the Iraqi people. As I have said repeatedly this is to be done in conjunction with international law and in consultation with international and regional partners. The first phase of this plan is essential to ensure that the whole thing goes as smoothly as possible. During the first phase of the Commission’s existence it shall focus on providing basic necessities for the people of Iraq. These necessities include, but are not limited to, food, water, sanitation, security, and shelter. It is essential that we get the basics right before we begin to move on to far larger and loftier reforms of the Iraqi state including the handover of power back to the locals through democratic elections. I will rise again to this House in the future to lay out plans for phase two of the rebuilding process once we have established that phase one is complete or nearing completion allowing for a stable handover of power to the Iraqi people and the aforementioned elections to occur.

Mr Speaker I commend this statement to the House.
Mr Speaker,

It is customary for the Opposition to thank the Government Minister for their statement to the House, however the Right Honourable Gentleman is so tardy in his coming before us and so lacking in what he has said, I am afraid I am going to have to skip right to the substance, or lack thereof. Instead, I will add to the record my own tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have conducted themselves with honour and dignity and leadership. We commend that and thank them for their service to the country.

Mr Speaker, when the Government first came to us and explained that the UK would be involved in military action abroad, the Labour Party were very clear that we would only support them if the principles that have underpinned our foreign policy since 1945 would be upheld. We said that we would offer cautious support if it met three golden standards that we believe are at the core of Britain's work around the world; morality, legitimacy and practicality. In short, any military action had to be morally justifiable, legal and effective.

Mr Speaker, the Labour Party continues to champion these golden rules. We pressed the Government for them when consulted, we have repeated them in the House, and elsewhere. In short, we have upheld the principles that our democracy and government in this country is built on, that the role of the Opposition is to offer scrutiny of Government policy and hold them to account in line with the principles. Mr Speaker, we have been more than fair in our dealings with the Government. We engaged honestly and openly on the sole occasion we were consulted. We have been constructive in Parliament and in private; asking challenging questions to Ministers about the detail but welcoming policy decisions we agree are in the national interest. We have upheld not only the golden rules, Mr Speaker, but our own values, which we believe to be British values; internationalism, cooperation with others and a just and fair world with human rights for all.

I am sorry to see, then Mr Speaker, that the Government is proving unable or unwilling to show the same leadership and respect for the structures and institutions that make our democracy world-class. It is a shame, Mr Speaker, that the Foreign Secretary has seen fit to come before this House and give us this watery half-baked statement that mismanages key elements of the policy itself, undermines the role of the Opposition to provide scrutiny and is wholly inadequate in terms of substance.

Mr Speaker, this statement shines a light into the string of mismanagement of the Iraq War under this Foreign Secretary. From the beginning, the Foreign Secretary has made is very clear that he would jump at this opportunity to play global statesman; he was eager to get into the UN and push for a mandate, although the Security Council denied him one, he was quick to jump into a deeper conflict despite all regional powers backing out after the initial withdrawal of Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, he did so, I should add Mr Speaker, without proper Mission Objectives being delivered before the House in time, and he was all too happy to run in and try his hand at nationbuilding without a clear path through. His eagerness for oriental adventure has overridden entirely the detail and overarching strategy necessary to conduct this matter with the moral leadership, the credibility and the effectiveness that is needed.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary has displayed a complete disregard for Parliament on the matter of Iraq. In his statement today, the Foreign Secretary spent more time talking about the Labour Party and press leaks from inside Government than he did the substance of a plan to rebuild Iraq. Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman stood in this House and delivered what was, for all intents and purposes, a Party political broadcast about the apparent successes of his brief stints in office. The statement delivered a lot of intentions and praise for the Government's policies but seriously absent was the level of information required for this House to fulfill one of its primary functions to hold the Government to account.

There was no update on the number of deployments to be made.
No update on what proportion of the troops supporting recovery would be British.
No update on casualties; in fact we haven't had an update on casualties before this House all year.
No accounts submitted to project costs; Mr Speaker, has the Right Honourable Gentleman even asked the Treasury and MoD for such projections?
Does the Foreign Secretary seriously think he can come before the House of Commons and say, "this will be expensive" and expect that to be that?
There was no update, Mr Speaker, on a plan of how to rebuild Iraq beyond food aid and a vague intention of handing over power "at a later stage."

Mr Speaker, this is not a strategy. It is not a substantial statement to be made before the House of Commons as part of a functioning, credible democracy and this Government has repeatedly now fallen into the trap of neglecting this House and pursuing instead vanity projects and ego-soothing headlines. This statement is, Mr Speaker, hollow because once more the Foreign Secretary is avoiding scrutiny. On only three occasions, Mr Speaker, since Iraq invaded Kuwait has the Foreign Secretary come before the House to account for the Government's policies and be answerable to Honourable and Right Honourable Members. The first was a six sentence statement announcing the country was at war. Six sentences from the Foreign Secretary and not a word from the Prime Minister.

On the second occasion, Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary made a brief statement to the House announcing a complete change of mission objective and that the country was not only at War with Iraq to force a withdrawal from Kuwait but was now in the business of regime change. Did the Foreign Secretary allow for scrutiny then? No, Mr Speaker, he made his statement and when asked questions by myself and other Honourable and Right Honourable members, he disappeared from the chamber.

Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman's ego doesn’t often allow him to submit to others but I suggest he take this piece of advice; he ought to know his place. This House is the sovereign power in this country and he is answerable to it. It is time he start taking that responsibility more seriously.

Mr Speaker, I will now attempt, as best I can, to make my way through the Foreign Secretary's statement and offer constructive scrutiny and feedback on what he has said. I worry, however, Mr Speaker, he hasn't given me much to work with. I hope, at least, Mr Speaker, I can prise some detail and answers to the questions the country and this House needs and deserves.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary started his statement by setting out the Government's apparent successes on the matter of Iraq. If he is to be believed, the Right Honourable Gentleman paints a very sunny picture about "Oh what a lovely war" he has had so far. He prides himself, Mr Speaker, as Tory backbenchers have too in the press, on the number of Johnny foreigners he has managed to kill, capture or wound. This is given to the House as some sort of measure of success, as opposed to the withdrawal of Iraqi forces or the successful completion of measured mission objectives. The issue, Mr Speaker, is that because the Foreign Secretary never submitted any such mission objectives to the House, it is nearly impossible for him to offer any measure beyond how many Iraqis have died, been captured or been wounded. He has yet to even clarify how many of that number are fatalities. He repeatedly evades the statistic, out of ignorance or arrogance. However, we should be clear for the record, Mr Speaker, that thousands of dead Iraqis, soldiers or not, is not something to celebrate but represents the level of failure of the international community to curb this brutal dictatorship sooner. Thousands dead represents thousands of lives lost due to this Government's unwavering inertia when it came to holding Saddam to account for genocide and use of chemical weapons throughout the 1980s. Had this Conservative Government done more sooner, fewer would have had to lay down their lives to serve a dictatorship. I asked the Foreign Secretary on the record why the Government has taken no action on Saddam until now and why the use of chemical weapons didn’t matter until now but he refused to answer the question in his last Ministerial statement. Instead, I shall ask it again; why was no action taken on Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons until last year?

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary goes on to take great pains to tell the House how responsible the Government is being in taking "the initiative" in rebuilding Iraq. It is not taking the initiative, Mr Speaker, if one was partly responsible for the destruction in the first place. Mr Speaker, the Government has shown no willingness nor desire to take responsibility for the role they have played in the current state of Iraq. The fact thy ignored Saddam, the deaths of the Kurds and the use of chemical weapons, the fact they had no plan for exit, no mission objectives, they changed the strategy halfway through, all of this contributed to the current situation in Iraq but the Foreign Secretary is trying to sell to this House that the Government are being saviours by helping this nation to improve. The fact that no plan for any of this was in place before he went in is an absolute disgrace.

Mr Speaker, the second part of the Right Honourable Gentleman's address starts by calling Iraq a "backward" country. I want to go on the record, Mr Speaker, and state that I do not believe any member of this House other than the Foreign Secretary would want to support that sentence as it betrays a deeper colonial mindset still at play at the heart of this Tory Foreign Office. I welcome the fact that this is the first acknowledgement from the Foreign Secretary that rebuilding won't be "easy, quick or cheap". In fact, Mr Speaker, he tells us it will cost the country a lot of money. Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, no estimates or projections are given. I wonder if the Foreign Secretary has projections of costing he can give to the House today? I note, Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman also states in this section that he is laying out these arrangements before the House of Commons today…and then proceeds not to give one. I think, Mr Speaker, that speaks for itself. The rest of this section is a long-winded rant about the Labour Party and press leaks that I won't bore the House with a response to beyond to say that it tells us more about the Foreign Secretary's utter vain obsession with his image in the papers than it does about defence policy.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary's next section deals with how the governance of Iraq will be structured moving forward. News, I presume to the people of Iraq who while pleased I am sure to be rid of a dictator, were likely taken by surprise to learn their entire system of government and their country's political and constitutional foundation was being rewritten by a man hundreds of miles away. The Foreign Secretary notes other forms of administration, such as mandates or imperial occupations, as "undemocratic". While I am pleased to hear the Right Honourable Gentleman reiterate his commitment to democracy, it does seem strange that he subsequently goes on to explain that no Iraqis will be involved in the governance of Iraq. He also, bizarrely Mr Speaker, immediately declares that this system of his own clever invention will be "implemented in Iraq". A strange word for somebody so dedicated to democracy.

Mr Speaker, I worry about what the Right Honourable Gentleman has said about policing. He says that the militaries of these countries involved in the Commission, which again doesn't include Iraq itself, will also be keeping the peace and policing Iraq. I wonder how that sits with a fundamental principle of our own police force that policing ought to be by consent. Do the Iraqi people consent to having these other countries act as their law enforcement? How does the Foreign Secretary intend on finding out? Again Mr Speaker, the absence of Iraqi voices is stark.

Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman then stumbles over his words a bit here. He cites Iraq as a country with "Islamic tendencies." Mr Speaker, forgive me for correcting him but Iraq does not have a tendency; Iraq is a Muslim country. He says this, I suspect to justify the lack of involvement of Iraqis in governance. Indeed, Mr Speaker, he goes on to say that there are Sunni and Shia elements in Iraq. While technically true, Mr Speaker, it is somewhat misleading; Iraq's Sunni population sits at around 30% to 70% Shia. That is hardly the balanced picture the Foreign Secretary is trying to sell the House. The majority of the Sunni population, Mr Speaker, are minority Kurds; the very people the Foreign Secretary said he was going into Iraq to save from chemical weapons that started this whole affair in the first place. Mr Speaker, that the Right Honourable Gentleman is so poorly briefed on a central aspect of this issue is astounding.

Mr Speaker, all of this is summed up as a long length the Foreign Secretary was willing to go to justify the fact that there are no Iraqi voices in the decision making processes in their country under this Government's proposals. In fact, the Foreign Secretary seems to think having Sunni Muslims represent the culture and politics and society of a majority Shia population is acceptable. He said before the House himself, that he is expecting Egypt and Syria, both Sunni, to represent the interests of Shia Iraq. Quite frankly, it is very clear Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary's colonial attitude meant he simply wanted brown faces at the table so that the little foreigners felt included.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary furthers this attitude by stating that the Syrian and Egyptian commissioners will give "blessing" to commission decisions by "regional allies". Quite why Iraq needs the blessing of foreign governments on internal matters is unexplained, Mr Speaker. He says they're "endorsing the plan", that would be the plan he has still at this point not outlined. Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary seems to think any Muslim country ought to be able to speak and govern another. I wonder if he feels the same way about Christian countries; if the UK were spoken for and governed by, say, Russia?

What is worrying, Mr Speaker, is that the next part of the Foreign Secretary's statement, which deals with the appointment of a Commissioner, says that he, vaguely, wants to "give power back to the Iraqi people". This is the first reference to the actual people of Iraq in the whole statement today and the first time the Foreign Secretary has accepted that the Iraqi people under his system will have no power at all. Mr Speaker, the appointment of Lord Carrington as Commissioner is most unwelcome. Lord Carrington has absolutely no expertise in nationbuilding, law, constitutions or the Middle East at all, and in fact, famously resigned as Foreign Secretary because he failed to foresee the Falklands War. Hardly a ringing endorsement, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker, in this last section, the Right Honourable Gentleman finally mentions the mission. We await with baited breath to hear the big plan, Mr Speaker, but none is forthcoming. Instead, the Foreign Secretary simply says the aim is to "restore Iraq."
Can he define that?
How will that be measured?
What are his success criteria for a successful mission?
What are the specific mission objectives?
What milestones will be measured?
What is the timeline?
What information will be presented to Government? To Cabinet? To Parliament? When? How often? By whom?

There is no plan, again, Mr Speaker. The fact he then brushes off the Iraqi population and citizenry as "the locals" smacks of the arrogant colonial mindset that has taken root in his Office.

Mr Speaker, it is clear that this has not been thought through. There was never a plan and never a strategy. When the Foreign Secretary heard of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he jumped in with glee hoping for a glorious victory and thinking only of which picture the papers would use. I am, quite frankly, Mr Speaker, sick and tired of rising in this House or elsewhere, giving honest scrutiny and fulfilling my obligations on behalf of the Opposition, having to ask time and time again for more detail, more substance. His policy has no depth to it; it is an empty shell of  a plan which is, Mr Speaker, a testament. It speaks to his stature, character and credibility.

Mr Speaker, this Foreign Secretary wanted this war to be his crowning glory; his achievement. Instead, he is the Foreign Secretary who let spies infiltrate Government, presided over a diplomatic crisis with both the USSR and South Africa, haggled with other countries to get criminals back. That is his legacy Mr Speaker. The Minister of State for Security called it "chaos on his watch". I call it weak, weak, weak.
Mr Speaker,

Can I first thank the Foreign Secretary for making his statement today. Though I believe there is a long road ahead to give this House adequate information - perhaps information which may not exist, given the lack of prior planning - I appreciate the Member for Crosby's effort at creating greater clarity. I am glad that the briefing that many in this House received was not fully accurate, and it is of great comfort to me and many of my colleagues that we will be backing an international coalition and Commission will include Americans, French, Syrian, and Egyptian representatives. I eagerly await further detail on the make-up of this Commission. After all, being given full legal authority over a nation in the state Iraq is in is not going to be a walk in the park, and we must not treat it as a fiefdom.

Something I am very concerned about, Mr Speaker, is that though we are hearing very big words from the Foreign Secretary, past dispersing some very big picture matters, detail is scant. He promises "financial support, food aid, and development aid". This is all well and good, and no right-minded member of this House would disagree with that. But, well, what exactly does that mean? How much? Where is it coming from? I was always under the impression that when proposing a policy, one needs to answer some simple questions first. What does it cost and how are we paying for it is quite close to the top of the list. I see the House has been provided with no real answer to either of those questions. And, Mr Speaker, what pains me, is that we have had ample time to consider this question. This has not been sprung on the Government. This is not the first war of this kind. That Kuwaiti sovereignty has been preserved and we are now having to rebuild Iraq is something that, put simply, has been odds-on for months. I have asked the Foreign Secretary about this numerous times over the past months as a result, and been regularly told that announcements will come in the future. We are now in what was referred to then as the future, and I fear that the approach of crossing bridges when we come to them is going to lead to some rather nasty consequences without a change of tack. I would ask that the Government releases such details as soon as possible, so we can have proper democratic scrutiny and decision making - not just in this Parliament, but with Iraqi citizens in mind. We need more long-term thinking and proper policy-making. Currently, we have no time-scale for the democratic transition, no indication of what our financial contributions will be, and no news on much-needed reform to our own armed forces.

My proposals, for what it's worth, would be quite radical here. We cannot get away with half-measures and poor strategic planning. The last defence review proposed 18% cuts to our manpower - evidently, this is no longer feasible, and we need a new announcement on that. The military is going to play a major role in the peace process, ironically, and we need real investment in training and to reject proposals made by the Conservatives to cut down to just 38 infantry battalions. This statement means that this needs to happen pronto. It also means that the lack of training budget, which the last Finance Bill did nothing to help or correct, must be addressed.

As far as development aid and financial support goes, we need to take the lead. Moral authority on the matter is essential, and aid is more likely to come from our friends and allies if we are the first to say that we will take the lead and be the nation that puts the democratic peace process first. Capital investment to rebuild and even improve Iraqi infrastructure, and a serious commitment to long-term support for any democratic regime, support which in my eyes should be legislated for to ensure any future Government would have to fight hard through Parliament to change the process. I also believe we need to be brave on the topic of refugees - hundreds of thousands have had to flee. They must not only be welcomed home once possible, but they must be properly catered and cared for. We must support our friends in Jordan and Syria in this, and acknowledge the enormous role they have played. It is notable that again, we have large words and proclamations from the Government now, but I would remind this House that the process for getting full refugee status in this country has a 5% success rate at the moment. Perhaps this is a good juncture to address that clear failing of our system, too, given there will almost certainly be shortages and unrest for some years to come as we rebuild Iraq. There is a lot to do, and not very much preparation or political will from this Government to do it in a structured, strategic way. If and when there are failings in Iraq - which may have fatal consequences - I want to make one thing clear. They will not have been inevitable. Voices across this House have been warning the Government for a very long time about the need for a proper strategy, and we still lack anything more than the skeleton of one.

I wish Lord Carrington's efforts well. He is a good choice for the role. I am not quite so certain about his Deputy Commissioner, who has a less than sterling record in managing nations with severe internal strife a little closer to home, let alone in the Middle East. All the same, he has my best wishes for success. The last comment I wish to make, Mr Speaker, is perhaps slightly pedantic. The Foreign Secretary has rightfully welcomed involvement from Egypt and Syria in the process, and as part of our Commission. He has, however, I believe implied that this means Shia and Sunni Muslims will be represented directly on the Commission. Both Egypt and Syria are overwhelmingly Sunni nations, Mr Speaker. Perhaps it would be wise to ask for a Shia representative going forward to ensure all communities are respected.
Mr Speaker,

While I am yet to hear the words "I'm sorry" come from the lips of any member of the Official Opposition for their misleading the public by claiming that this is an imperialist adventure I will engage with the substance that has been raised here by the Shadow Foreign Secretary.

The Honourable Member raises his so-called golden rules, that any action should be moral, legal, and practical. I do not remember the Labour Party demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a brutal and violent dictator who used weapons of mass destruction on a civilian population to destabilise the Middle East, are we therefore to assume that Labour deems this to not be a moral issue worthy of his removal from office? I do not remember Labour standing beside the Government on any step of the road to regime change, not when I went to the United Nations General Assembly, not when I engaged with them under Privy Council terms, never. The Labour Party have always stood against this action, they stood against it when our troops were bombed in Saudi Arabia, they stood against it when Israeli civilians died under fire from Weapons of Mass Destruction, and they stood against it when they proposed to sign 10,000 redundancy notices for our troops upon their return. I will not take lessons from the Labour Party on matters of defence, a Labour Party who proposed real terms cuts to defence procurement and maintenance at a time when our troops were heading into combat to liberate an occupied state and overthrow a war criminal.

This plan is the internationalist plan, it is the legal plan, it is the practical plan. It has the backing of the United Nations Security Council, it has the backing of our key regional allies including but not limited to Syria and Egypt, it has the backing of the United States and France two key international allies in the West. This plan has access to international manpower and money, this is not Britain going it alone on an imperialist adventure, this is Britain leading the way on an internationalist humanitarian mission with global partners.

I would also like to take the opportunity to correct the record Mr Speaker as Syria and Egypt have not only returned to our campaign in the Commission but also did not represent the only regional actors supporting us as no doubt other nations such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be all too happy to point out.

Mr Speaker this statement was not meant to be definitive, how could it be? Our troops are still fighting in Iraq, we haven't secured Baghdad yet, the fighting isn't over. The Opposition are tripping over themselves asking for strategic analysis about a situation that doesn't yet exist, until we have access to the full picture it would be folly to decide how many troops we bring home and when, it would be folly to set arbitrary timetables for progression from phase 1 of the plan, the provision and security of the essentials for the people of Iraq, to phase 2 and phase 3. All British and coalition forces will remain in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war to make a full assessment of the situation both tactically and strategically, then in conjunction with the commission, the local populace, and our allies we will review the situation and make amendments as and when we are able to. If the situation is peaceful and phase 1 is progressing well I will return to update the House about Iraqi elections and the return of some of our forces, if the situation is not then I will return to update the House about how we are handling the shift from open warfare to counter-insurgency. Until I have the reports from the officers and soldiers on the ground I cannot make that call, suggesting that I should be making the calls now from London about a situation on another continent is foolish opportunism from a party desperate to downplay Britain on the world stage.

Mr Speaker as I said in my statement we are preparing to move towards Phase 1 of our plan to rebuild Iraq. As I said in my statement what this entails is the provision of the essentials before we try and fix the political situation in Iraq. That means the provision of food, water, electricity, shelter, security, and other essentials. It is only by winning over the hearts and minds of the people, by building them a better life than they had under Saddam, that we will be able to move onto Phase 2 and fresh Iraqi elections. Declaring a new election and a government of Iraq when people are starving, or homeless, or under the crippling new reality of a Baathist insurgency will not help us win the hearts and minds, it will lead to chaos and confusion. The reason that there are no estimates at the present time is that the conflict has not ended, we do not know how the Baathist regime will react to losing control of Baghdad and more broadly Iraq. Obviously if they employ a tactic of burning everything they cannot hold it will cost the entire coalition more to rebuild Iraq, if they poison wells it will take time to establish new sources of water, if they salt earth and kill cattle it will take time to build up food chains. Once we know the situation I will, as promised, return to the House to make further statements on the matter.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary laments my not coming to the House more often Mr Speaker, I dare suggest that I could have done daily televised updates and the Shadow Foreign Secretary would have been displeased. In the last 3 months I have been to this House to answer at Foreign Secretary's Questions every time I have been required to, in that time I was asked precisely three questions by the Honourable Member, I have them here. The first question concerned a new Colonial Dominion of Iraq, a reference to the now discredited leak which he was so pleased to parade about until it was proven for the lie it was, the second concerned carrier pigeons which is as relevant to modern diplomacy as the Shadow Chancellor is to modern economics. The third question he asked me was the only question one could possibly consider to be relevant to the situation we have at hand, and I explained in tremendous detail how we had always followed the plan when it came to Iraq. When Saddam invaded Kuwait we demanded he withdraw, he crossed that red line, there were consequences. When we prepared to liberate Kuwait we said that if Saddam used Weapons of Mass Destruction we would remove him from office, he crossed that red line, there were consequences. Every step of the way we have been clear in our statements, we have been decisive in our leadership, and we have been unyielding in our upholding of our red lines. Mr Speaker the Honourable Gentleman complains that I have not been to the Chamber often enough, in the last three months he has asked me exactly one question that is pertinent to the present situation, one question. I have delivered three statements, I spoke on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly, and I convened the Privy Council to discuss the move to regime change with the Labour Party's "leaders", it is not I who holds our most important international and domestic institutions in contempt.

The Honourable Gentleman accuses me of taking a victory lap, he says I treasure each and every killed, wounded, or captured Iraqi trooper. He is wrong. I do value the statistics for killed, wounded, or captured troops of the enemy it is true, but that is not because I view them as lesser men to our own troops and it is not because I glory and revel in their death and dismemberment. Mr Speaker it is incredibly difficult to prosecute a war if you run out of men. In the lead up to the Liberation of Kuwait it was openly posited in the media that Iraq had between 650,000 and 800,000 men in the area, our removal from the situation of 700,000 men meant one thing and one thing only to me, we were a very large step along the road to peace. You cannot fight if you have nobody to fight for you, that is the simple truth of the matter. I mourn the dead. I mourn the British dead, I mourn the coalition dead, I mourn Iraqi troops that have died, and I mourn any civilians who have died including those targeted in Israel. Every step of the way I have informed the House openly and honestly about our progress, when Kuwait was liberated I hailed it as the completion of phase 1 of combat operations. I have been as open and as honest as I can be in the circumstances but this is a military operation, at D-Day Winston Churchill did not stand before the House of Commons and declare the Allied intention to land on the beaches of Normandy, once D-Day had been completed he didn't tell the country that we would be moving inland in the way that we did, and when the Nazi counter-attack failed Mr Churchill did not brief the international community of our plans for the final push. Secrecy was the order of the day because when secrets get out in war troops die, our men die, our women lose their husbands, our children lose their fathers. I will not apologise for holding the lives of our soldiers in such high esteem that I will not take risks with their safety.

Mr Speaker I have laid out a reconstruction plan, I have explained why we need a softly softly approach, I have laid out before the Commons a plan to accomplish phase 1 of reconstructions and win the hearts and minds of the people. I have outlined how this is a British-led operation but is not exclusively British, how we have regional support, international support, and United Nations support. I have outlined how it will not solely be our troops and our money that goes into Iraq's reconstruction, how we will train the Iraqi police and military forces to begin to take more and more of the strain over time, but again I have not set an arbitrary timeline. Being in opposition is easy Mr Speaker, you can demand an end date and pretend that that is your job done before you go home and have a nice soak in the bath tub. So let me ask the Honourable Gentleman what he thinks will happen if we withdraw too early to stick to an arbitrary timetable? Until phase 1 is complete we cannot move onto phase 2, it's as simple as that, we cannot rush the reconstruction or we could open the door to a Baathist resurgence or worse. I will take this as an opportunity to once again reiterate that we are not doing this alone, it will not solely be British troops, British expertise, or British money that undertakes this project. This plan has international partners and international backers, everyone will pull their weight. Equally I would like to reiterate to the Honourable Member that the next phase will include democratic elections, but as I have said before we cannot put the cart before the horse, we must win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by meeting their basic needs before we go about implementing a democracy. Once again, this plan has been endorsed by the United Nations meaning it satisfies their requirements for, among other things, self-government and legitimacy.

I am happy to answer the Honourable Gentleman's questions though. Restoring Iraq means that the people there have access to their basic needs, that they have the ability to govern themselves, and that we are no longer needed in the region. This is a long-term aim, but it is an aim I had rather hoped that Labour subscribed to. In terms of measurement Phase 1 shall be concluded when the Commission believe that the people of Iraq have access to their basic needs and the security situation is stabilised to a peaceful equilibrium, then when elections are held and an Iraqi Government and Constitution are established it shall be for them to take the lead within the principle of self-government. In terms of criteria for a successful mission I have been open and honest with the Honourable Gentleman. The liberation of Kuwait was a criterion succeeded. The destruction of Saddam Hussein's terrorist organisation the Revolutionary Guard is a criterion succeeded. The removal of many of Iraq's troops from the equation through a successful pincer engagement around Kuwait, trapping the Iraqi army between an oncoming American force and a surrounding Anglo-French force was a criterion succeeded. When we capture Baghdad that will be another success, Mr Speaker I cannot go on because in military terms our mission objectives cannot be revealed as they may compromise our forces. The Mission Objective has been established for months, the liberation of Kuwait, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the reconstruction of Iraq. I cannot provide a timeline for the Honourable Gentleman because we do not live in a magic fantasy land where I can pluck a date out of the air and say we will leave on the 11th of May 1995, we will leave when the mission is done and when the Iraqi Government says we are no longer needed to help. I have been fully open, regularly updating Cabinet about our situation, regularly updating Parliament, when there is more to update Parliament about I will update it again. I will not commit to a weekly update if that update will see me read the same script as the one I read the week before, Parliamentary time is precious and it would be wasted if I took it up repeating myself for the Honourable Gentleman's amusement rather than for the third reading of the Sexual Offences Bill or the Children and Families' Commissioner Bill.

Mr Speaker the Honourable Gentleman is being frankly ludicrous in his assertions, unreasonable in his demands, and ignorant in his prescriptions. The Opposition attempt to smear the Government as nothing more than a colonial rehash is not merely a mistake now, it is a disproven fallacy, it is a lie, it is a wilful and slanderous attempt to mislead the public. This Government has bent over backwards to obey international law and uphold our values. Labour would have done nothing Mr Speaker, they'd have let Saddam Hussein get away with using a Weapon of Mass Destruction against the civilian population of an allied nation, they'd have let him target the British embassy in Israel, they'd have let him bomb our troops. This Government went to the United Nations Security Council, when the Soviets vetoed our attempts to enact regime change the Government went to the United Nations General Assembly, we built an international coalition to win the war, we've built an international coalition to win the peace, we've managed to secure United Nations Security Council backing for our plan. This is not the imperialist adventure Labour want to claim it as, it is a humanitarian mission to protect Iraq from a dictator that Labour would have been content to leave in power no matter how many WMDs he launched. I stand by each and every decision that we made in this campaign. The plan I have laid out today outlines a fitting culmination of a strong plan that saw Kuwait liberated in hours and shall soon see Saddam Hussein toppled from power. We will win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people by meeting their basic needs, their need for food, their need for water, their need for shelter, their need for security and then we shall hold elections to enable a peaceful and democratic handover of power from the Commission to the Iraqi people with our troops ready to assist in training and security operations until the Iraqi Government deem that they are capable of covering security on their own. This is a plan that meets our moral and legal obligations under international law, is endorsed by regional powers, international powers, and the United Nations. The only people who aren't endorsing our plan are Saddam Hussein, and the Labour Party.
Mr Speaker,

I think in that reply I detected that the Right Honourable Gentleman has several errors of recollection. Allow me to jog his memory and see if I can correct those errors for him.

The Right Honourable Gentleman seems to have forgotten that Labour laid out quite clearly our measures for whether military action should have been taken in the first instance. They are on record on Hansard and in the minutes of the meeting on Privy Council terms; we outlined the measures we saw necessary and we ensured we did so publicly so that the public knew what was being prescribed. It does seem, Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman seems to have forgotten that the Opposition also supported the Government, albeit cautiously, on the first matter of forcing Iraqi withdrawal of Kuwait. We went further and outlined further measures, again available for members and the public in Hansard, on the matter of regime change; a matter we again cautiously supported the Government on.

I shall assume the Foreign Secretary was in error when he said Labour was "against" regime change, Mr Speaker. I assume it was an error because it is a matter of record in Hansard that in his first statement, the Foreign Secretary said, and I quote;

Quote:"I am pleased to see Labour swinging behind the Government on this issue of international importance…I wish to associate myself with the comments made about the morality of Iraq's actions, a consensus on this issue is welcome and I look forward to more of it on this issue."


He later goes on, after further questioning;

Quote:"I thank the Honourable Gentleman for his bipartisan rhetoric on this issue and I will again reaffirm my commitment to keep him and the House fully informed and abreast of developments."


As I said, Mr Speaker, a failure of memory, I am sure.

I do find it odd, Mr Speaker, that the Foreign Secretary jumps around so often on what this mission's objectives actually are. We already know he changed the mission mid-way from withdrawal from Kuwait to removal of Saddam, but he is now going on to contradict himself. At the beginning of his reply, the Foreign Secretary says this is an "internationalist humanitarian mission with global partners". Mr Speaker, despite the obvious contention that this cannot be a humanitarian mission if it starts with bombing and ends with the forced restructuring of an entire country, I wonder why he then he stated later in his reply that he is withholding strategic information from the House as a matter of secrecy. Humanitarian missions would not, Mr Speaker, be subject to such strategic secrecy, especially not if they have the backing of the local population, so which is it?

I would also note Mr Speaker, that the Foreign Secretary is displaying a serious lack of knowledge about the stark differences between announcing specific tactics in advance of a mission and outlining overarching mission objectives. I have not once asked him to unveil state secrets to the House, nor provide detailed tactical information. Only strategic mission objectives. Mr Speaker, his examples comparing himself to Winston Churchill, a farcical comparison, my apologies to the Honourable Member for Crawley for the disservice to his grandfather,  demonstrate how the Foreign Secretary is conflating the two. It would not be improper at all for the Foreign Secretary to lay out specific mission objectives but withhold tactical details, for instance. He has not withheld them out of some grand Churchillian master plan, he withheld them because they didn't exist. This Government never had mission objectives.

The fact that the Foreign Secretary now pretends that this was always a "three phase plan" is disingenuous nonsense. He mentioned not a jot of any further phases when he came before the House to take us to war in the first instance. Nor did he mention this when asked about objectives in the House. It is again, a matter of record in Hansard. The Foreign Secretary was asked about objectives, he replied;

Quote:"With regards to the final question about military objectives I can say that the primary aim is to force Iraq out of Kuwait."


At no stage did the Foreign Secretary plan for this to be a first "phase" of a master plan. It was a set of decisions made off-the-cuff Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary spends much of his time telling us about who is "supporting us" and who isn't. It is abundantly clear that the Foreign Secretary continues to obsess over how much support he has and cares very little for the details. The fact that Syria and Egypt opted not to partake in the Foreign Secretary's change of objective to remove Saddam Hussein from power seems to have entirely bypassed him when counting up his "supporters".

The Foreign Secretary then goes on, Mr Speaker, to outline a set of reasons why he cannot give more details of his supposed plan. Mr Speaker, they range from "the fighting isn't over" to "we don't have the full picture". He mentions that he will make decisions as he goes along, which is becoming somewhat of a characteristic of his approach to policy, and then ends with a strange comment about not making calls from London. Mr Speaker, he should be making calls from London. That is exactly what he should now be doing. He should be outlining a full plan.

Mr Speaker, the most worrying thing about this is that the Foreign Secretary thinks the level of detail he has provided is sufficient. He thinks; "Give them food and water, train the police and see where we go from there, possibly an election" is acceptable. It is not. It fails wholly to meet the standards required of his office to research, make comprehensive projections for cost, for deployment, or scale. "We will be provide food" should be measurable. He should be standing here, Mr Speaker, telling us about the logistics he has planned, the types of food being provided, by whom, to whom, when, how much, how long for? How does he know? How will it be distributed? What equipment is needed? Are there additional vehicles needed? How many? What type? How much industrial capacity is needed? How will packaging be provided? Which country will procure? Which country will deploy? Which country will analyse? Is there sufficient storage? In which regions and cities? What is he doing about regions that don't have sufficient storage? Which are the most urgent areas? He claims he cannot tell us anything until the soldiers tell him more about the situation but there is plenty for him to organising and preparing without that additional context, Mr Speaker. His plan is a skeleton.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary has then made a series of errors around how this House has been holding him to account. He has claimed I have only asked one question on Iraq in recent months. This is an error. I have asked him several questions, he outlined three and then claimed I had asked one. On top of this, the Foreign Secretary has conveniently only accounted for the regular Foreign Office Question Time sessions. He seems to have forgotten that at his last Ministerial Statement on Iraq, I replied comprehensively and asked four questions;

In relation to the information about Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons being known throughout the 1980s and this Government's tenure; "Can the Foreign Secretary now take the time to tell the house if he feels this position was right and if he will apologise on behalf of the Government for turning a blind eye to this atrocity?" to which there was no reply.

In relation to mission objectives not being unveiled, to which there was no reply;
Quote:"Does the Foreign Secretary feel he has treated this House with the respect for its role in scrutiny that it deserves?"


In relation to Syrian and Egyptian withdrawal from the coalition, to which there was no reply. 
Quote:"Can the Foreign Secretary please outline for the House what reasons were given to him as to why the two states mentioned opted not to take part in the action, and can he please outline for the House the steps he took to ensure international consensus on this matter?"


And in relation to cost of nationbuilding, to which there was again, silence. 
Quote:"can he outline for the House how much this is estimated to cost and how this has been accounted for?"

Mr Speaker, the Government have been lax when it comes to keeping this House informed of developments. He considered three statements, one of which being six sentences, to be sufficient. I simply do not. Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary erroneously claimed I only asked one question and that he has always answered them. He simply has not.

On the matter on fatalities and casualty figures, Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary has said he values the statistics. However on every occasion he has come to this House, both in his ministerial statements and in question sessions, he has failed to update us on how many British fatalities and how many Iraqi fatalities there are. Mr Speaker, taking account of these statistics and ensuring the House is fully abreast of them is a prime part of his duties as a Minister. It is the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary to be proactive in ensuring the House can fulfil its function and hold the Government to account on their use of research, statistics and data.

Mr Speaker, the Foreign Secretary alleges that he has laid out a reconstruction plan. I am afraid we will have to disagree on the definition of a plan. Without information and depth of detail, an example of which I have just given on the matter of food provision, we cannot be expected to take what the Foreign Secretary has said as an acceptable plan. Will he now commit to providing a more thorough and in-depth plan along the lines I gave moments ago?

Mr Speaker, he has asked what I think will happen if we withdraw early to stick to an arbitrary timetable. The answer, Mr Speaker, is that we wouldn't. The purpose of a timetable is to demonstrate the best fit and projection using the information, research and data available. One can always update a plan and inform the House when the timetable has had to be adapted to fit new data. To go into a plan of this magnitude without a provisional timetable means the project will run away with him and he will have no estimate of how long the process will take or how much it will cost. I asked him in my initial reply if he would commit to outlining a projection and if he had asked the Treasury to do so. I ask again; has he asked the Treasury for a projection? If not, why not? If so, where is it? We are all intelligent people, Mr Speaker, we understand the costings will not be finalised but he can give costed estimates. We understand the timeline may change but he can give a best-case projection. We understand the tactics may vary and context may mean alterations but he can outline depth and detail. We understand that he may not have new information every week but I refuse to believe he has had no further information since his second statement. To be clear Mr Speaker, he is able to give these things, he is just refusing.

Mr Speaker, the Right Honourable Gentleman's last section was largely hot air and a series of…errors about the Labour position. I shall simply say this; Labour have been firm in our position throughout the conflict. The Government should be held to account in the House of Commons, they should be proactively coming here to update us and they should be more forthcoming with detail. The Right Honourable Gentleman's statement is not a fully costed, detailed plan of the depth required and expected of a man in his position. This House, and the British public deserve better.
Mr Speaker,

I think it would help the House rather if the Foreign Secretary could outline the estimated duration of each forthcoming phase of our involvement in Iraq, whether measured in month or in years. I'm sure such an assessment has been made by his department. Similarly, an understanding of the financial cost would benefit the House.

While Winston Churchill did not stand before the House and declare the plan for D-Day, the war was frequently discussed in this place. Indeed, Churchill because leader after just one such debate, the Norway Debate, in which the House expressed its dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war up to that point.

If it were possible in those times, Mr Speaker, I have no doubt in the capacity of the Foreign Secretary to do likewise in these rather less trying circumstances.