The numbers of UK forces in Iraq depend on the conditions in Iraq. The numbers of forces have come down from 9,000 to 7,000 to 5,500. When, in the next few weeks, we are able to complete a further phased withdrawal, they will come down even further, but they must come down as and when the security conditions allow. We have already handed over responsibility for several provinces that used to be under our control to the Iraqi forces. The 10th division is now operating very effectively down in Basra, so we will be able to do more in the near future, but it must be dependent on the security circumstances.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. Does he recognise that, in the United States, the Congress has voted for the withdrawal of US forces and only a presidential veto is preventing that from happening, and that overwhelmingly, British public opinion wants the British troops to be withdrawn and the occupation to end? Does he not think that it is time to give a timetable to bring the troops out of Iraq?
I am afraid I do not, for the reasons that I have often given. What is important is that those people who are fighting us in Iraq, who are either backed by elements in the Iranian regime and who are using terrorism to try to kill our troops, or al-Qaeda up in Baghdad who are using the most evil carnage through terrorist bombs to kill as many innocent civilians as they possibly can—those two elements that we are fighting, we are fighting the world over. We will not beat them by giving in to them. We will only beat them by standing up to them.
Is the Prime Minister aware that when troops are eventually withdrawn from Iraq, that will be the most dangerous time, unless there is peace in Iraq, which at present seems unlikely? Will he or perhaps even his successor ensure that by then our troops are properly equipped to fight a counter-insurgency war, rather than just a conventional war?
I do not, I have to say, accept that our troops are not properly equipped. Indeed, every time these claims are made, we look into them and find that, when urgent operational requirements are made, we do our level best to meet them. Our troops are, in fact, extremely well equipped. However, the hon. Lady is right in this sense—that it is important that we judge when it is right to leave Iraq in relation to the security circumstances. The fact is that Basra is different from Baghdad. Most of the attacks that happen now in Basra are aimed at British troops; the sectarian levels of violence have declined very sharply. Up in Baghdad, however, it is a different situation altogether. But whether in Basra or Baghdad, the criteria that we have set out for the Iraqis being able to handle their own security are the criteria that have to be met for withdrawal—no other criteria. Of course we will make sure between now and that time that we give our troops every form of equipment that they need. Indeed, just recently, for example, at the main base in Basra substantial additional protections have been given against some of the incoming indirect fire.
Will my right hon. Friend welcome the findings at the weekend of the Iraqi higher tribunal, which found Ali Hassan al-Majid—"Chemical Ali"—guilty of genocide and the killing of 180,000 Kurds? May I assure the Prime Minister that many, many people in Iraq salute his courage and leadership, without which that regime would never have been brought to justice?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. It is important to emphasise that, even as we try to deal with the new situation in Iraq, which is about terrorism visited on the country in substantial part by outside elements, we should never forget the hundreds of thousands of people who died in Iraq under Saddam, including those who died through the use of chemical weapons, or, indeed, the 1 million casualties of the Iran-Iraq war.
It has gone up, of course, enormously over the past 10 years. One of the reasons why we now have the best results at the age of 11 for primary schools and the best results for GCSEs—in fact, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency there has been a remarkable increase in the numbers getting five good GCSEs over the past few years, and the best results at A-level—is the investment in our education system. I agree entirely that we have to make sure that those educational benefits are spread right across the country and into all groups of people, but if the hon. Gentleman looked at education in his constituency, he would be hard put not to say that over the past 10 years it has got significantly better, precisely because of the investment that we put in and, if I may say so, the reform that he opposed.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the huge contribution that he has made, not only to the success of our party, but to the transformation of our country, and at a personal level, I pay tribute to his work and that of the Chancellor in standing by the communities of south-west Birmingham following the collapse of MG Rover two years ago. Looking to his future, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Quartet has a potentially crucial role to play in bringing peace to the middle east, and that one of the lessons of the Northern Ireland peace process is that for peace to be successful we need not only to involve friends but to reach out to hardliners?
I obviously agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of bringing peace to the middle east. As I learned in respect of Northern Ireland, it is important to be in a position to bring people together, including those who have been very hostile towards each other. That is the whole basis of the peace process.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words in relation to the closure of Longbridge in his constituency. He is absolutely right. I think that 85 per cent. of the work force have now found a job, and I congratulate him on that. I feel a certain solidarity with them since I received the following communication by urgent letter yesterday:
"Details of employee leaving work: Surname Blair. First name T"— it actually says "Mr., Mrs., Miss or other"—
"This form is important to you. Take good care of it. P45."
What advice would the Prime Minister give his successor on the relationship between faith and state, in particular with regard to his successor's reported views on the disestablishment of the Church of England?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done in relation to climate change. It is true that I and the Governor of California had a meeting on climate change, and the prospect of the United States joining other countries in bringing a global deal to fruition is exciting. That is the most important priority over the next few years. Interestingly, when the Governor and I visited a state primary school in London, he was, I think, taken aback and hugely impressed by the state of the school and the investment in it, and I took some comfort from that as well.
I wish the Prime Minister and his family well for the future, but is he aware that a majority of the people of the United Kingdom feel betrayed by the fact that they are being drawn down further into the suffocating quicksand and expensive bureaucracy of the European Union? If he and his successor genuinely believe in trusting the people of this country as they claim, will they now honour their commitment at the last general election to a referendum to enable the people to decide on the new treaty that is in substance the old discredited constitutional treaty?
First, I like the hon. Gentleman, and what I am about to say is no disrespect to him at all, but after the guttural roar from his own Benches that greeted his statement, I really believe that if I were the leader of the Conservative party I would be worried about that. I am afraid that we cannot agree on the treaty, but as for his good wishes to me, may I say to him au revoir, auf Wiedersehen and arrivederci?
I only learned Esperanto, so I cannot add to that. On behalf of the little part of the planet that I represent, I thank the Prime Minister for what he has done in transforming the lives of so many people in the Brightside constituency and across the world.
Does the Prime Minister agree that record police numbers, tough new sentences for the most dangerous criminals and zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour, together with 2.5 million new jobs, record investment in education and Sure Start centres across the country, is precisely what he meant by
"tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime"?
It is correct, of course, that crime has fallen over the period of this Government, but there are still tremendous challenges to overcome, as we know. However, when I visited my right hon. Friend's constituency recently, I was able to see for myself the benefits that the antisocial behaviour legislation had brought about. His role in that when Home Secretary was of immense importance, and he never forgot, either, the importance of investing in tackling the causes of crime. I genuinely believe that in time to come the focus on early years learning, the Sure Start centres, the children's centres, the extension of nursery education and the investment in primary schools will stand us in good stead for the future in creating the responsible citizens we all want to see.
In the coming months, my constituents are faced with the prospect of a serious downgrading of our local general hospital, the closure of a number of otherwise perfectly viable local post offices, a failure to deliver on a promised referendum on the European constitution, and an ever-increasing tax burden. Which of those are new Labour and which are unremittingly Brown Labour?
What is new Labour is the fact that within the hon. Gentleman's own area there is an investment worth £485 million in the health service, which has meant that, for example, the numbers of people waiting for more than 26 weeks has fallen from 27,000 to nil. In relation to education, he has had, I think, six new schools, 16 schools rebuilt and 549 additional or refurbished classrooms in his LA, plus an extra £1,000 funding for his pupils. In respect of the economy, as opposed to the situation when he was a Minister in the previous Government, when we used to have recession and high interest rates, under this Chancellor we have had low interest rates, low unemployment, high employment and a booming economy.
My right hon. Friend has visited the city of Sheffield on a number of occasions over the past 10 years to see for himself the work done by that city in rebuilding itself after the economic devastation of the 1980s. Now, of course, we have to start all over again. On his final day as Prime Minister, can I ask my right hon. Friend what message he has for the people of Sheffield? [ Interruption. ]
Certainly, they should vote Labour. Also, as we can see from the investment in the school system in Sheffield today, there is now the possibility of making sure that not just those who are comfortably off but those who come from poorer backgrounds get the chance of world-class education. That is why it is important to keep the programme of investment and reform going, which will deliver over time, as it is already delivering now, for every part of the country, a high quality—indeed, a world-class—education system.
May I say to the Prime Minister that I fully understand the exasperation that he felt many a day when I visited him? I understand that he was downcast many a day, that he was disappointed, angry and that perhaps he even lost his temper, but I want to say that he treated me with the greatest courtesy. I disagreed with him about many things, but we faced them. I am glad that I can stand here today and say to the Prime Minister that the people of Northern Ireland felt the same way as him—they were angry and cross, lost their tempers and were sad—but we made progress. It is not as great as I would like, but the Unionist people for whom I speak in the House are dedicated to seeing what was started concluded, so that every man and woman in Ulster has the same rights, liberties and opportunities to lead their lives, have their families and have a future.
The Prime Minister begins another colossal task. I hope that what happened in Northern Ireland will be repeated and that, at the end of the day, he can look back and say that it was well worth while.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much indeed for those immensely kind words. I was waiting for the "but" and it never came, and I am most grateful to him. Let me say—although it will do neither of us good in many quarters—that I found him to be not merely a very good person to work with but someone who was completely straight with me throughout my dealings with him. I wish him the best of luck in the future, because he has shown immense courage in what he has done.
I apologise for being more political than I normally would, but it is a special occasion.
May I wish the Prime Minister success and fulfilment in whatever he chooses to do? I hope that he chooses to do something that makes best use of those qualities that brought peace to Northern Ireland. He and I have not always agreed on policy, but I genuinely say to him that he is one of the outstanding Prime Ministers of my political lifetime and, without doubt, the most politically effective Prime Minister that the party has ever had.
May I thank him for leading us out of 18 years of wilderness life on the Opposition Benches, leading us successfully through three general elections and giving us 10 years of government with more to come? Under him, the party has once again become a natural party of government.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Father of the House for that extraordinarily generous remark.
Mr. Speaker, if I may just finish with two brief remarks—first to the House. I have never pretended to be a great House of Commons man, but I pay the House the greatest compliment I can by saying that, from first to last, I never stopped fearing it. The tingling apprehension that I felt at three minutes to 12 today I felt as much 10 years ago, and every bit as acute. It is in that fear that the respect is contained.
The second thing that I would like to say is about politics and to all my colleagues from different political parties. Some may belittle politics but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall. Although I know that it has many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. If it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes. I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. That is that. The end. [Applause.]
Order. We have a 10-minute Bill!
I think the Chamber has now quietened down. I call Mr. Stephen Crabb.