Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 8th October 2007.

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Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Leader of the Liberal Democrats 3:30 pm, 8th October 2007

The Prime Minister began with a tribute to those who have died and been injured. Let me, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, associate myself with that tribute. Let me, too, as he did, salute the professionalism and bravery of our armed forces—something that is too often taken for granted. The truth is, though, that they were given an impossible task in Iraq. Who now in the Government takes the blame for what the Chief of the Defence Staff called the "false and inflated expectations" of what they could achieve in Iraq?

Obviously, we welcome the Government's change of heart in relation to interpreters and other civilians, but we are entitled to ask why it has taken so long and precisely how generous the terms will be. What is the Government's estimate of the number of people who will be entitled to take advantage of that change of policy?

The Prime Minister has mentioned the target of 2,500 by next spring, but that is well below the figure that is thought appropriate for force protection. That has certainly been said by Ministers in recent times. In addition, from what the Prime Minister says, at 2,500, he does not anticipate any intervention taking place. If that is so, the question that immediately arises is what purpose will those troops serve.

The harsh truth is that Britain's involvement in Iraq has been a catastrophe. We have paid dearly in lives, resources and reputation. Is it not time to acknowledge that the presence of British troops in Iraq no longer serves any realistic military or political purpose. Is it not time, too, to acknowledge that, after four and a half years, Britain has more than fulfilled any moral obligation to the people of Iraq and that our obligation now is to our young men and women in our armed forces? Is it not time to acknowledge that the deployment in Iraq, where little more can be done, is prejudicial to our efforts in Afghanistan, where success is still possible? Is it not time now to set a framework and a programme for the complete withdrawal of all our forces from Iraq?