Iraq

– in the House of Lords at 4:02 pm on 8th October 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:02 pm, 8th October 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister:

"Mr Speaker, the Statement that I wish to make today is to set out detailed proposals for political reconciliation and economic reconstruction in Iraq, for the security of the Iraqi people, the future configuration and security of our own Armed Forces, and about the obligations that we owe to the local Iraqi staff who have supported us in our efforts."I start, as the whole House would want me to, by paying tribute to the seven members of our Armed Forces who since July have lost their lives in action in Iraq: Corporal Stephen Edwards, Private Craig Barber, Leading Aircraftman Martin Beard, Lance Sergeant Christopher Casey, Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, Sergeant Mark Stansfield and Sergeant Eddie Collins. I want to pay tribute also to the 18 who have died in Afghanistan: Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins, Guardsman David Atherton, Sergeant Barry Keen, Lance Corporal Michael Jones, Captain David Hicks, Private Tony Rawson, Private Aaron James McClure, Private Robert Graham Foster, Private John Trumble, Private Damian Wright, Private Ben Ford, Private Johan Botha, Private Brian Tunnicliffe, Senior Aircraftman Christopher Bridge, Sergeant Craig Brelsford, Corporal Ivano Violino, Colour Sergeant Phillip Newman and Major Alexis Roberts. They died doing vital work in the service of our country. We owe them, and others who have lost their lives, a deep debt of gratitude. They will never be forgotten. I also send our wholehearted sympathy to the families of those who have fallen, and to the injured and their families. "Our strategy as a Government in Iraq has been, first, to bring together the political groupings in Basra and across Iraq as part of a process of political reconciliation; secondly, to ensure that the security of the Iraqi people and the new Iraqi democracy is properly safeguarded, as well as the security of our own Armed Forces; and, thirdly, to work for an economy in Iraq where people have a stake in the future. "Our strategy is founded on the UN mandate that was renewed last November in UN Security Council Resolution 1723. Whatever disagreements there have been about our decision to go to war, there can be little disagreement about the unanimous UN position affirming the right of the Iraqi people freely to determine their own political future and,

'calling upon the international community, particularly countries in the region and Iraq's neighbours, to support the Iraqi people in their pursuit of peace, stability, security, democracy, and prosperity'.

"I therefore affirm, as I told Prime Minister Maliki last week, and as I have agreed with President Bush and our other allies, that we will meet our obligations, honour our commitments and discharge our duties to the international community and to the people of Iraq."The future depends first of all on sustained progress on political reconciliation. That is why, when I met Prime Minister Maliki and Vice-President Hashemi in Baghdad last week, I said that it was vital—and they agreed—that the 3 plus 1 leadership group of the Prime Minister and Presidency Council meets to take the political process forward; that key legislation on sharing oil revenues, the constitutional review and provincial elections be passed; that the Government reach out to disaffected groups, as well as decide on next steps on detainees; and that local elections go ahead in early 2008, making provincial councils more representative. Our message to the Government of Iraq, and to the leaders of all Iraq's communities and parties, is that they must make the long-term decisions that are needed to achieve reconciliation. "The support of Iraq's neighbours, including a commitment to prevent financing and support for militias and insurgent groups, is also critical to ensuring security and political reconciliation. I urge all nations to implement the international compact to renew Iraq's economy, to participate in the neighbours conferences to boost co-operation and surmount divisions in the region, and to support the enhanced mission of the United Nations in Iraq. I renew our call, which I believe will be supported across the House, that Iran and Syria play a more constructive role by halting their support for terrorists and armed groups operating in Iraq, by continuing to improve border security and by arresting and detaining foreign fighters trying to reach Iraq. "We must all act against the presence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. When the people and security forces stand up to al-Qaeda, as happened in Anbar province, which it had declared to be its base, it can be driven out. "As I turn to the security situation, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the steadfastness of our coalition partners who are working with us—troops from Denmark, the Czech Republic and Lithuania—and to the continuing role of Australia and Romania. The achievement of a democratic Iraq matters to every civilised nation. I pay tribute to all 26 nations, led by General Petraeus and the United States, that have troops on the ground in Iraq. "As the Petraeus-Crocker report set out, the security gains of the multinational forces this year have been significant. As important as improving current security is building the capacity of the Iraqi forces to achieve our aim: that Iraqis step up and progressively take over security."In 2004, it was agreed with the Iraqi Government that, in each of the 18 provinces, security responsibility would progressively be transferred to the Iraqi authorities, as and when the conditions were right. Now we are in a position to announce further progress."Over the past four years, the UK has helped to train over 13,000 Iraqi army troops, including 10,000 now serving with the 10th Division, which has been conducting operations in Basra and across the south of the country without the requirement for coalition ground support. As we tackle corruption, 15,000 police officers are also now trained and equipped in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army 14th Division, with around 11,000 men, is in the process of joining them and has already taken on responsibility for Basra city, bringing security forces in the south to almost 30,000 now and over 35,000 Iraqi security forces by June next year."Since we handed over our base in Basra city in early September, the present security situation has been calmer. Indeed, in the past month there have been five indirect fire attacks on Basra air station compared with 87 in July. While the four southern provinces have around 20 per cent of the population, they still account for less than 5 per cent of the overall violence in Iraq."During our engagement in Iraq, we have always made it clear that all our decisions must be made on the basis of the assessments of our military commanders and actual conditions on the ground. As a result of the progress made in southern Iraq, United States, UK and Iraqi commanders judged over the past 15 months that three out of the four provinces in the UK's area of control in southern Iraq were suitable for transition back to the Iraqis, and these have subsequently been transferred to Iraqi control."As part of the process of putting the Iraqi forces in the lead in Basra, we have just gone through a demanding operation, which involved consolidating our forces at Basra airport. This was successfully completed, as planned, last month. "The next important stage in delivering our strategy to hand over security to the Iraqis is to move from a combat role in the rest of Basra province to overwatch, which will have two distinct stages. In the first, the British forces that remain in Iraq will have the following tasks: training and mentoring the Iraqi army and police force; securing supply routes and policing the Iran-Iraq border; and maintaining the ability to come to the assistance of the Iraqi security forces when called on. Then, in the spring of next year—and guided as always by the advice of our military commanders—we plan to move to a second stage of overwatch, where the coalition would maintain a more limited reintervention capacity and where the main focus will be on training and mentoring."I want now to explain how, after detailed discussions with our military commanders, a meeting of the National Security Committee, discussions with the Iraqi Government and our allies, and subject to conditions on the ground, we plan, from next spring, to reduce force numbers in southern Iraq to a figure of 2,500. The first stage begins now. With the Iraqis already assuming greater security responsibility, we expect to establish provincial Iraqi control in Basra province in the next two months, as announced by the Prime Minister of Iraq; move to the first stage of overwatch; reduce numbers in southern Iraq from the 5,500 at the start of September to 4,500 immediately after provincial Iraqi control and then to 4,000; and then in the second stage of overwatch, from the spring—and guided as always by the advice of our military commanders—reduce to around 2,500 troops, with a further decision about the next phase made then. In both stages of overwatch, around 500 logistics and support personnel will be based outside Iraq elsewhere in the region."At all times we shall aim to achieve our long-term aim of handing over security to the Iraqi armed forces and police, honouring our obligations to the Iraqi people and to their security, and ensuring the safety of our forces."I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances exposing themselves and their families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy that more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff who work for our Armed Forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances."Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than 12 months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or—in agreed circumstances—for admission to the UK. Professional staff, including interpreters and translators, with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance. We will make a further Written Statement on the detail of this scheme this week."The purpose of economic reconstruction is to ensure that ordinary Iraqis have an economic stake in the future and so, as a result of the work that I launched with Prime Minister Maliki in July, the Provincial Council has created the Basra Investment Promotion Agency to stimulate private sector development and is forming a Basra development fund—financed by $30 million from the Iraqi Finance Ministry—to help small businesses to access finance."As announced this morning by the Government of Iraq, we have agreed on the need for a new Basra development commission, which will bring national, regional and international business knowledge together to provide advice on how to increase investment and economic growth. The commission will host a business leadership conference to strengthen the engagement of the UK private sector in Iraq and it will help the provincial authorities to co-ordinate projects to strengthen Basra's position as an economic hub, including the development of Basra international airport and the renovation of the port."I can tell the House that in addition to our support for humanitarian assistance being announced by the Department for International Development today, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minster Barham Saleh has announced more than $300 million for investment in Basra. This will be increased again in 2008, ensuring that economic reconstruction can make real progress."The safety and security of our Armed Forces remain our highest priority. The Mastiff patrol vehicle offers the best known protection against mines and roadside bombs and I can announce today that, in addition to the 100 bought and deployed last year in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence is placing an order for another 140 Mastiff patrol vehicles."In recognition of the work of all our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan—and to help our troops to stay in touch with home—we will provide additional funding from the reserve to double the number of internet terminals and provide free wireless internet for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan so that they can e-mail their families from their living quarters."I am convinced after my visit to the region that progress cannot be fully achieved without progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues. A few days ago, this Government published our proposals for an economic road map to underpin the peace process, a programme for economic and social support for the rebuilding of the Palestinian economy and the reduction of the high levels of poverty among the Palestinian people."My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I believe—as does the whole international community, including the United States, the European Union and the Arab League—that current dialogue between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert offers the best chance of final status negotiations since 2000. The next step is a meeting with the parties and key international players in November at which we would like to see an agreement that puts the Israelis and Palestinians on a path to real negotiations in 2008 leading to a final settlement of two states living side by side in peace and security. "There will also be a donors' conference in December, through which the international community will work with Prime Minister Fayyad to strengthen the economy and institutions of a future Palestinian state. I welcome Tony Blair's work as quartet envoy on this."The UK will continue to support the political process and to provide support for humanitarian assistance and economic development. I assure the House of my personal commitment to doing all that we can to ensure progress."Working for a successful conclusion in the Middle East peace process, taking on al-Qaeda terrorism and ensuring a more secure Iraq are all key to the future stability of the region. We have made commitments to the Iraqi people through the United Nations, and we will honour these obligations. We will continue to be actively engaged in Iraq's political and economic development. We will continue to assist the Iraqi Government and their security forces to help to build their capabilities—military, civilian and economic—so that they can take full responsibility for the security of their own country. "It is also important to remember what has brought us to this stage. It is the determination, professionalism and sacrifice of our Armed Forces. They have protected the Iraqi people, while training their security forces to bring peace to their cities, towns and districts. The scale of their achievement should not be underestimated, and we will never shirk from, but will continue to discharge, our duties to them and to the international community. I commend the Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of Opposition In the House of Lords, Parliament 4:11 pm, 8th October 2007

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. But I am sure—or at least I hope—that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who knows a thing or two about such matters, will join me in asking why there is nothing in the Statement about the issue that dominated the press conference given by the Prime Minister this morning. Why has government been brought to a standstill for weeks? Why was official business rescheduled? Why was a major statement by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, which should have come to the House this week, launched instead to the media last week? Why were our troops in Iraq exploited as a backdrop to spin?

Why was general election fever stoked up by No. 10 and then dropped in the most humiliating circumstances? Why did the Prime Minister consider an election at all? Can the noble Baroness explain? Or was she, too, kept outside No. 10 while the young Turks and US polling gurus swaggered in and out?

We are pleased that the Prime Minister has now turned his attention from swings in marginals to the immense strategic challenge facing our country in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. This is a full Statement; but it still leaves much unsaid. It is essential that this House should have a chance to debate these matters and the Middle East well before Christmas.

I follow the noble Baroness and the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the 25 servicemen who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since we last met; 25 young lives. It is a deeply disturbing number. The steady toll in death and serious injury to young men and women who serve our country and to their families is never something that should become a routine litany of condolence. Each and every one of these is or was a unique person; a son, a father, or a husband. Their sacrifice and their loss will never be forgotten by their loved ones; it must never be forgotten by any one of us.

We owe our servicemen and their families three things. First, we owe them our support; they need to know the profound and lasting sense of debt that we have for what they do, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in that. Secondly, we owe our troops the logistic support and equipment that they need to succeed in the dangerous jobs that we ask of them and to succeed in those jobs with a minimum of risk. Is the noble Baroness aware that many in the services say that the equipment has not always been there and, in some cases, still is not?

It is good to hear that the MoD is ordering 140 more Mastiff vehicles, but was not the time to have them not as our troops are coming out but when they were going in? We welcome the support for Iraqis who have helped British forces, though it is a depressing comment on the situation that their only safe recourse may be to flee here. We also welcome the provision of internet and e-mail facilities for our troops—perhaps they may even get the facility to vote—but surely that, too, should have been done before. Can the noble Baroness promise that where the system of support and compensation has failed servicemen injured in Iraq, that scandal will urgently be addressed?

Finally, we owe our forces truth, honesty and clarity about the aims of their mission, about its strategic purposes and about what it has achieved. The place where the search for truth and clarity should begin is here in Parliament. We therefore welcomed the Prime Minister's pledge to abandon the spin and announcements and re-announcements outside Parliament that had discredited his predecessor. Will the noble Baroness, as our Leader, express to the Prime Minister the regret of this House that, instead of coming first here to Parliament to set out facts, he went to Iraq to spin and manipulate numbers in the old new Labour way?

To say,

"indeed by Christmas, 1,000 of our troops can be brought back to the UK"; to give that message to troops still out there, 1,000 of whom will not be coming home by Christmas; to do so, for personal political advantage, to upstage a rival party conference; and to spin that headline to young men and women who deserved and knew the truth—was that not something that will tarnish the Prime Minister's reputation for a long time? Can the noble Baroness tell the House: did the Secretary of State for Defence approve that statement in advance? If she does not know, a nod from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, will confirm it.

What are the facts as to the mission? Most of us welcome the idea of troops coming home. But is not what is really wanted that our troops come home with the mission accomplished? The Prime Minister is right to refer to improvements in the Iraqi security situation, but he is right to refer also to the great need for further political progress and reconciliation. Is there not a very long way to go before that country even nears political stability?

What is our current mission in Basra and in southern Iraq? Can the noble Baroness explain a little more exactly what is meant by "overwatch"? What criteria would underlie a redeployment by our forces outside the air base and within Iraq? Would the UK Government contemplate a "surge" if there were a further upsurge in violence in the south? Who would make that decision? Could the Iraqi Government invoke such a deployment? Can the noble Baroness now say who controls Basra? Is any part of Basra or the south in the hands of those militias responsible for attacking and killing our troops? Is it true that the Mahdi Army are conducting a regime of terror in parts of the city, comparable to that of the Taliban, including brutal intimidation of unveiled women?

The Prime Minister says Iran and Syria must halt support for violence in Iraq. What is our assessment of the role of Iran in the threat to our troops? What response have we had to representations from the Governments of Syria and Iran? Have the US Government made representations to us about a joint response to the threat from Iran? If the international security situation deteriorates, is the noble Baroness satisfied that the border between Iraq and Iran can be policed effectively without the permanent involvement of British troops?

The security of our forces is paramount. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that a political temptation to be popular and to accelerate withdrawal will never be allowed to damage the whole strategic purpose of our deployment or to jeopardize what has been achieved by past sacrifices? Withdrawal is an ideal, but it is not an end in itself. Does the noble Baroness accept that the whole future of the Government would be called into question if our forces in Basra were reduced to a level where they could not conduct forceful and effective self-defence? Is she satisfied that these further reductions to just 2,500 troops—by when, the Statement is not clear—do not risk that?

Finally, can she assure us that when the Prime Minister said that 1,000 troops would be coming home, he meant home? Is there any proposal to redeploy units withdrawn from Iraq into even more bitter fighting in Afghanistan? Our Armed Forces are extraordinary in their courage and resolve; they must have that support, equipment and clarity of which I spoke. Clarity can come only when some of the fog that has settled over our strategic purposes in Iraq and Afghanistan is lifted. I fear that this Statement fails this vital test.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:20 pm, 8th October 2007

My Lords, I will resist following the Leader of the Opposition in commenting on the events of recent days and weeks, partly because most noble Lords on all sides of the House know what happened and why, and do not need any teasing from me to fully appreciate what was lost by the Prime Minister and the nature of this self-inflicted wound. However, three things are clear from recent events. Certainly, as the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, there is a tremendous pride in Britain about the courage and professionalism of our troops, and I associate myself with the tribute to the fallen and injured.

The British people instinctively find repugnant any suggestion that politicians appear to be playing politics with the safety and security of British forces. The Prime Minister has made his explanation and, as I said, people can make their own judgments about what happened. I accept, as the Prime Minister made clear in another place, that he and other senior Ministers must go and see our troops. That is clearly understood by opposition politicians as well, but that is different from what may or may not have happened last week.

The British people also recognise that a real and practical debt of honour is owed to those who work for British forces and the Government, and we welcome the explanation in the Statement about what will happen. I only hope that the process will not be over-bureaucratic and slow in dealing with these issues, because it is literally a matter of life and death for the people involved.

We also welcome the priority in the Statement for attention to Israel/Palestine. We on these Benches have always pointed out that the settlement of the Israel/Palestine issue is a central part of the puzzle for getting lasting peace in the region. We also welcome the aspirations,

"to bring together the political groupings ... to ensure ... the security of the Iraqi people ... to work for the economy in Iraq".

We parted company with the Government for a long time because we did not believe that British military intervention was needed to foster those ends, and we do not believe that a continuing British military presence helps either. The real danger of this Statement is that it continues to try to ride two horses at once. It wants to satisfy what everybody knows is the popular desire to get troops home—hence the use of numbers. But it also ties us to a long-term military commitment inside Iraq. As was pointed out in this morning's Times by Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Government have in the past given the public false hopes for what could be achieved. I fear that this Statement is another illustration of making overblown commitments and false hopes.

What does "overwatch" mean? It means,

"training and mentoring the Iraqi Army and police force; securing supply routes and policing the Iran-Iraq border; and the ability to come to the assistance of the Iraqi security forces when called upon".

Is that all to be done by 2,500 troops, locked away in Basra airport? When noble Lords with a military background comment on this, I will be interested to hear whether that will be a force or simply a target. It worries me that the Government are trying to win the numbers game and, at the same time, leave an increasingly small number of troops locked away in one area with no time limit to that commitment.

What does "facility for reintervention" mean and in what circumstances would it be used? The trouble is that we are hearing all the right mood music to suggest that the Government have learnt the lessons of one of the most disastrous escapades in British foreign policy in the past 50 years—a disaster in which the British troops have had to try to get the chestnuts out of the fire—but there is no evidence in the long-term commitment that the lessons have been learnt. We are still tied to a long-term strategy in which our troops are asked to do far more than any rational examination of the situation shows they can do. What about training? What targets will there be for the trainers who are left in Iraq?

We welcome the new equipment and some of the new realities expressed in the Statement, but in his first 100 days the Prime Minister missed an opportunity. He inherited Blair's war and he could have got us out of it. Now, we are involved in Brown's war.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:36 pm, 8th October 2007

My Lords, I begin by saying that I am grateful for the sentiments expressed by noble Lords about the fallen and injured. I know that I speak for the whole House in sending our condolences to the families of those who have fallen and also to the injured and their families, as I said in the Statement.

Noble Lords have focused on a number of key points, and I begin with where we are today in the context of the previous days. I thought that I was a young Turk and I know a little about polling gurus, as noble Lords will appreciate. However, I have to say to noble Lords that, whatever the speculation about elections and whatever election fever, the business of government goes on, and many of the way in which people have ascribed the work that, for example, my noble friend Lord Darzi has been continuing with his review are irrelevant to whether or not there is an election. My noble friend has been busy working on his review and, indeed, he made a statement in October as he had planned to do. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said when he gave the Statement to another place, it was very clear that, had he not visited our troops before making the Statement, it would have been quite reasonable for Members of another place or this House to have criticised that fact.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that it would be useful to have a debate on these issues before Christmas. I am more than happy to ensure that that happens and I am sure that the usual channels can arrange that if noble Lords wish to see that take place.

My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister enjoy a close relationship on all these matters and they discuss these issues, as noble Lords would expect, in the way that one would expect them to continue over time. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that this would have been the case during the past few days, as it has been since my right honourable friend because Prime Minister.

Noble Lords focused considerably on overwatch. I am more than happy to arrange for a more detailed briefing to be placed in the Library to explain this to your Lordships as a precursor to a further debate that we might have. As I tried to indicate in the Statement, overwatch has essentially two stages. The first is keeping troops on the ground but enabling the Iraqis to take over the work of our troops, working closely to ensure that the training is in place, making sure that they have the equipment and the necessary knowledge, but being available to support them, if that is needed. Then, assuming that the military commanders feel that it is appropriate and of course when the Iraqis feel confident and comfortable that that be the case, to withdraw.

The capacity for reintervention must always be factored in. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right to raise that but it must always be factored in in situations where one is seeking to ensure that violence does not flare up again. But in all the work on overwatch, it would be essential to ensure that the commanders on the ground are comfortable that we have reached that point.

Noble Lords also focused on the issues of Israel and Palestine. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, on the importance within the region, and of course it is essential that as much effort is put in to ensuring that we get stability between Israel and Palestine and that we reach a peaceful and secure solution as quickly as possible.

As my noble friend Lord West said in response to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, earlier today, it is important to recognise our moral obligation to those who work with us. At this stage, I have given as much detail as I can and, of course, further details will be forthcoming later in the week. I know that noble Lords follow with great care what is being suggested and I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about ensuring that this is not over-bureaucratic, but is able to tackle the concerns as quickly as possible.

It is important to give an indication of troop numbers. The Statement said that the aim is a reduction to 2,500, which will start from the spring of 2008. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right, in a sense, to say that numbers are only part of it and that the numbers will be reached when the situation on the ground is safe for the troops and for the people of Iraq. That must be our ultimate aim.

The noble Lord said that bringing the troops home is a popular desire. It is the desire of all governments to bring troops home safely, having completed the necessary work. I am sure the whole House will agree that whatever the history and background, and whatever view noble Lords might take, it is very important that our troops stay to complete this important task, ensuring that Iraq is safe and stable for the future.

Photo of Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Conservative

My Lords, in the press reports foreshadowing this Statement it was suggested that, with regard to the number of people who have assisted our forces, whether as interpreters or otherwise, and who would be admitted to this country, there would be a ceiling of 500. Does the Minister agree it is only when carefully assessing each individual case that it is possible to know how many of those who have bravely assisted our forces are at such risk to their lives that they should be admitted to this country? If that is the case, does she agree that it would be quite wrong to fix, in advance, an arbitrary numerical ceiling of 500 and will she assure the House that that will not be done?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am aware of those press reports. I have been given no information of any arbitrary ceiling. I agree with the noble Lord that it is very important to consider each individual case carefully, within the context of the alternatives indicated in the Statement, and what might be available to those individuals. I know that noble Lords will watch with great care the detail of the proposals as they are laid before your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, can we be assured that the agreement conditions, which my noble friend says will be the subject of an Answer later this week, will not act as an incentive for people who are vital to Iraq to calculate that there is potentially an open door into the United Kingdom for them, thereby distorting their willingness to stay and carry out their vital functions?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, my noble friend raises an interesting point. I have no doubt that greater minds than mine are looking at this to ensure that we recognise the individual circumstances of those who have been involved with and worked alongside us, so that we are mindful of their desire to stay in their own country and, in the main, in their own region and that, where it seems to be appropriate, that offer can be made. When looking at the detail of what is proposed we should take the opportunity to consider the matter further through questions or debate.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness may be aware that I first raised the issue of the Iraqis who work for the British on the Floor of the House in April and later in June this year. I obviously welcome the movement that the Government have shown but it has not been quick. The concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Brittan is whether it will be enough. The Government now say that they accept that they have a moral duty to help, but if there is to be a limit on the numbers to be helped, that moral duty will be avoided. That will be the case if yet another limit is placed on those resettled in the United Kingdom. The House needs reassurance on that point.

Secondly, all the attention has so far necessarily and naturally been on Iraqi staff, but they have not been the only people working for the British in Iraq. An obvious example is those translators who have been working for British newspapers or television companies. Can we take it that those who have been working for the British in other ways will also have the same attention and the same ability to get help from the British Government?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 4:45 pm, 8th October 2007

My Lords, on the latter question, I will have to write to the noble Lord with the specific details. They will either be within the package or they will become clear. Obviously, I am most concerned with those who have been supporting us in our military involvement in Iraq. Those who have been working alongside the media, for example, fall into a slightly different category about which I do not have information at this stage; of course, I will let the noble Lord know.

About 15,000 people have been working with us since March 2003. I gather that the number of Iraqis working with us is currently about 600. I give those figures to noble Lords to give a sense of the number of people who we will have to think about, very carefully, as individuals. The noble Lord is concerned about an arbitrary figure. I do not have any arbitrary figures; it has not been suggested to me that there would be any. Of course, bearing in mind what my noble friend has said, it will be a case of looking carefully at what people are saying their position is, thinking about financial packages for some and other packages for others, and being as clear as possible about the criteria used.

Photo of The Bishop of Coventry The Bishop of Coventry Bishop

My Lords, is the assumption implicit in the decision to withdraw 1,000 troops that there is a certain stability in the country which was not there before? Can the Leader of the House relate that new level of stability to the large number of internally displaced persons and the huge number of refugees living in, for example, Syria? Is the stability such that they will be able to return to their homes and begin to live a normal life again?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, it must be the ambition of the Government, as the right reverend Prelate rightly says, that those who have been displaced should be able to return home. We would wish to see that happen in any region of the world. Certainly, in considering the security situation in any part of Iraq—not least in southern Iraq where our forces are working—it is a factor to be taken into account. It must be, as I have indicated, an ultimate ambition.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the way in which she dealt with the preposterous allegation from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister went to Iraq with the purpose of upstaging the Tory Party conference. That is a truly preposterous, almost outrageous, accusation. Of course, it was his duty to go and he was right to go when he did. Every right-minded person knows that.

On the interesting point about Iran and Syria, the Statement talks about a more constructive world by their halting their support for terrorists and armed groups. A lot of us would draw a distinction between Iran and Syria in this respect. We know that under the previous Prime Minister, Sir Nigel Sheinwald went to try to have a more constructive relationship with the Syrians. Can my noble friend say any more about how a constructive relationship might now be taken forward, particularly with the Syrians, who are, of course, part of the Arab League?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to my noble friend for the work that, as the whole House will agree, she did—and I know continues to do—so splendidly and constructively throughout the Middle East. I therefore hope that noble Lords will take heed of her comments to the Leader of the Opposition in that context; I shall say no more.

Syria is an important state. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary met the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in New York on 28 September. The purpose of that meeting, in part, was to urge Syria to do more than it currently does to work for greater regional stability and, of course, to play a constructive role in Lebanon and the Middle East peace process. We have full diplomatic relations with Syria and wish to see it engaged fully in the region for exactly the reasons that my noble friend indicated and to make sure that in so doing it is mindful that stability in the region will have a beneficial effect on the nation of Syria.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, given that so many of the details in the noble Baroness's answers to my noble friends Lord Brittan and Lord Fowler have not been worked out, would it not have been better to have made this Statement when they were worked out? Could she tell us when the Secretary of State for Defence was first informed of the Prime Minister's intention to visit Iraq?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, it is not that the details have not been worked out but that it is better for them to be put before your Lordships' House and another place in the form of a Written Statement in which noble Lords can see all the details. As part of the general Statement on Iraq, I was seeking to acknowledge that noble Lords and Members in another place wanted to hear the Government, swiftly back into Parliament, describe what they are proposing to do overall, and then to look at the detail more fully. That opportunity will be available to the noble Lord over the next few days. I am sure that he will come back to me and other Ministers if he is not satisfied.

As to when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence knew when the Prime Minister was going to Iraq, I do not have that detail. However, I asked officials whether the visit had been planned before it took place. It was. Therefore, if Ministry of Defence officials knew that the Prime Minister was going some time ago, then so, too, would the Secretary of State for Defence. If there is a specific date available, I shall certainly find it and write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Lord Morgan Lord Morgan Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that those of us on these Benches join in rejecting the unsustainable political accusations made about the Prime Minister? However, on these Benches, we look forward to a line being drawn as rapidly as possible under the catastrophic and criminal policy that Gordon Brown has inherited. There was one great gap and weakness in the Statement that my noble friend read out, namely that it referred to the security, police and military forces in Iraq as though they are an integrated, unified group. They are a group of sectarian fragments; there are Shia police and Sunni police, which is one of the consequences of the catastrophic policy that we created. It unfortunately means that the prospects of our remaining in Iraq for a very long time are greatly enhanced.

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, as I indicated before, wherever noble Lords may feel that the genesis of the problem lay and whether or not noble Lords agreed with the action that was taken, the critical issue now is to make sure that Iraq reaches peaceful stability. A lot of the Statement—and noble Lords have not referred to this very much—was about the economic initiatives that are being taken to support Iraq as it begins to develop both its small business and trade across nations. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support those initiatives and see that our purpose is now to move to a stable country within a stable region.

Photo of Lord Craig of Radley Lord Craig of Radley Crossbench

My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome the news that troop levels are going to be reduced and that the figure of 2,500 was mentioned as a target. When we get to that level, we will clearly be in the business of training, not war-fighting or even counter-insurgency. Does that mean that we can look to the Iraqi Government to fund the training effort that we are providing or will it continue to be a charge on the British purse?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, as the noble and gallant Lord will be aware, it is important that all those decisions are taken in conjunction with the Iraqi Government and on the basis of advice from commanders on the ground. As the noble and gallant Lord said, the training requirement will continue. How that is funded will be a matter for those discussions. I take the noble and gallant Lord's point: Iraq is a country with resources and it may well be that in time to come there will be a different basis for the training. However, as yet, I cannot confirm that that would be the case.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us are concerned at growing discussion in Washington about the territorial integrity of Iraq and about, in effect, three states: Sunni, Shia and Kurd? One of the problems with that line of thought is that it would not be a long-term, peaceful solution and would put great pressure on neighbouring states. Would my noble friend bear in mind that we need to think about that dimension when looking at the international environment?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, last night I was looking at a map of Iraq and where the different populations have existed for centuries in groupings. I come from the north of this country and so I understand the concept of being a northerner with a particular identity. There is nothing wrong with regional and geographical identities within nations. My noble friend is absolutely right that that peaceful coexistence between people who have a history and tradition that goes beyond being members of an Iraqi nation should be respected, but within the context of a nation.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, when will the 140 extra Mastiff patrol vehicles be delivered on the ground? Secondly, is there any truth in the rumours in the press reports that the Iraqi command in Basra city is asking for British troops to resume patrolling within the city?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised when I say that we do not talk about operational issues on the ground. I am unable to answer his questions, but only for that reason.

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, what exactly have we achieved, and what more can we achieve, if we have achieved anything at all, by keeping any further troops in Iraq? On the wider issue, can the Prime Minister give an assurance that the Government will not support, on the United States' coat-tails, any military action of any sort against Iran? Also, if there is to be a wider settlement in the Middle East, are the Government prepared to talk to Hamas, which occupies a good part of Palestinian territory and of course is an elected Government?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, on Iran, noble Lords will not be surprised when I say that we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring the means to develop nuclear weapons. Noble Lords will also not be surprised when I reiterate that we believe that Iran should comply fully with Security Council resolutions. That is the UK Government's stated position and we are working with our allies to try to ensure that that will be the case. Noble Lords would not expect me to go over all the history of Iraq, but I believe that it is important that we remain in the country in order to establish a safe and secure place with as much prosperity as possible for the people of Iraq. We should not be under any illusion about what life was really like for millions of people in Iraq long before 20 March 2003.

Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative

My Lords, in connection with Iraqis working with the British armed services being considered for asylum, if, as the Minister suggested, each case requires to be considered on its merits, will she accept that for justice to be done, justice needs to be carried out relatively speedily and that this needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency and to be given some priority?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord is of course right. The balance must be between establishing clear criteria about precisely how we determine what support would be given to individuals—as I have indicated, a combination of financial resettlement and for some in certain circumstances the possibility of coming here—and being clear that we want this to happen as swiftly as possible. Again, I hope that when noble Lords see the detail of what is being put forward, notwithstanding the noble Lord's comments, they will feel more able to ask more detailed questions if that is appropriate, or indeed to debate the issues. Certainly, I would be more than happy to take those questions and to relay them to my colleagues in another place and Ministers here, and to make sure that noble Lords get the answers.

Photo of Baroness O'Cathain Baroness O'Cathain Conservative

My Lords, the Statement talked about a development commission that will look at projects particularly to develop Basra airport. In every recent exercise that we have had with the United States, after the settlement there has been a complete, 100 per cent reorganisation and restructuring by the United States, with no other contractors from any other countries having any work in place; they have never had a part of it. Do we have any idea whether there will be some strictures to the effect that jobs in the post-war situation should be handed out evenly among the people who actually did all the work for Iraq?

Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the critical aspect is to ensure that the work is carried out by those most able to provide the support and reconstruction—if that is what is required—for the country. In the Statement, I described how one way in which we are doing that is to consider through a business leadership conference how best to develop links with UK industry and companies that can offer that support and provide the expertise needed. As I understand it, a $75 million plan to upgrade the airport to international standards is now under way with the provincial reconstruction team, with which we are deeply involved. The opportunities for British industry to compete successfully in contracts will come through the development work being put forward, although that must be on the basis that the companies are the right ones to do that work in all the ways that noble Lords would expect.