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Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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12.32 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the situation in Iraq.

I will deal in a moment with the post-conflict arrangements. Let me start, however, with the military situation. All right hon. and hon. Members will have followed the extraordinary events of the last four days as coalition forces entered Basra and then Baghdad. We can all share the new sense of hope so evident on the faces of ordinary Iraqis who are now tasting freedom, many of them for the first time in their lives.

I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the courage shown by the men and women of our armed forces and those of the United States, and their compassion in dealing with the civilian population. Some of our service personnel and some of the United States personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice to help remove the threat from Saddam's regime and to secure Iraq's liberation. We mourn them and we send our deepest condolences to their families and to their comrades in arms.

I also want to express my profound sorrow at the death of innocent Iraqi civilians as well as of a number of international journalists and aid workers. This is, I am afraid, a tragic consequence of military conflict, despite all the care taken by the coalition military forces to keep casualties to a minimum.

Given what we have seen and what we now know, there is understandable euphoria at the progress made in recent days. We must recognise, however, that the military task is far from complete. Large areas of Iraq are still not under coalition control, and units of the Iraqi armed forces are still engaged in combat. After years of brutal repression, we have also inevitably seen excesses and lawlessness on the streets as the old regime collapses. Coalition military forces will be doing all that they can to provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people.

For all the difficulties that may be ahead, we are, without question, now at the start of a new and much better chapter in Iraq's history. As our control extends, I am afraid that still more of the dark secrets of Saddam's regime will be revealed. Just two days ago, ITN's Bill Neely gained entry to Saddam's secret police building in Basra. In graphic detail, a former inmate, Hameed Fatil, described how he had been tortured, along with two of his brothers. Hameed was the lucky one; his two brothers, having been tortured, were then executed, but Hameed had to re-enact the ordeal that he had gone through before the cameras. There were no television cameras in Saddam's torture chambers—there are now, and the truth that they reveal is shocking.

As for Iraq's programmes to develop chemical and biological weapons—to develop weapons of mass destruction—we know that those programmes existed. We know that those weapons existed, and in 173 pages of damning detail the weapons inspectors have already spelt out all the questions that the Iraqi regime has failed so systematically to answer. We now will seek those answers, which the Iraqi regime failed to provide. We pledged to rid Iraq of those weapons, and we stand by that commitment.

The recent, rapid course of events has made all the more timely the discussions on Monday and Tuesday at Hillsborough between President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Those discussions were dominated by issues relating to post-conflict Iraq. Copies of the joint declaration issued by the two leaders have been placed in the Library.

Our immediate priority is to ensure the delivery of food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement on that shortly; but, in brief, British forces are already heavily engaged in the provision of humanitarian assistance and in the organisation of basic services in the areas of the south that we control. As the coalition brings security to more of Iraq's territory, the flow of assistance will increase. We are actively looking at sending police advisers to Basra to assist UK forces and to help to create a more lawful and peaceful environment as soon as possible, but our responsibilities to the people of Iraq go well beyond immediate humanitarian relief.

For a generation, Iraqi people were starved of information both about developments in their own country and in the wider world, but those days when they had to labour under the lies spread by Saddam's propaganda machine are now at an end. I am pleased to announce that a new Arabic television service, "Towards Freedom" is being launched in Iraq today, with opening statements from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush.

A major subject of discussion at Hillsborough was how best to help the people of Iraq build a stable and prosperous country, living in peace with its neighbours. The Hillsborough declaration emphasised that the United Nations had a "vital role" to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. The United Kingdom and United States plan to seek the adoption of new United Nations Security Council resolutions, which would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq. In that context, we welcomed the appointment, by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, of a special adviser to work on that range of issues.

At Hillsborough, we reaffirmed our commitment to protect Iraq's oil and other natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used for their benefit, and for their benefit alone.

Active discussions are under way among members of the Security Council to prepare the ground for those further resolutions. In addition to participating in the Hillsborough discussions, I have travelled in the past week to Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Madrid for consultations with Secretary Powell and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, Russia, France and Spain and our other NATO and EU colleagues.

It is our guiding principle that, as soon as possible, Iraq should be governed by the Iraqi people themselves. We therefore support the early formation of an Iraqi interim authority, which will progressively assume the functions of government. The coalition will need to work with the UN in establishing that body. As an initial step, I greatly welcome—I believe that the House will, too—the initiative taken by British military commanders in the south of Iraq to bring together local tribal leaders. I envisage at the right moment a national conference, bringing together credible representatives from all parts of Iraqi society to agree on the establishment of the interim authority.

Iraq's neighbours, too, have important interests at stake. They, like us, want to see a stable and prosperous Iraq living at peace in its region. Many of them have given valuable support to the military coalition. All will have an important contribution to make in the reconstruction phase. Last week, I saw the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mohamed Gul, and I look forward to talking to him again shortly. Next week, I will be visiting a number of Gulf states in the region.

My ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), will shortly be visiting Syria and Iran. It is important to maintain dialogue with both those countries. Syria and Iran now have their chance to play their part in the building of a better future for Iraq. I have maintained a dialogue over the past two years with the Iranian Government and, in particular, with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, covering a wide range of issues, including some that cause us concern. As for Syria, we hope that it will now take the opportunity to make a decisive break with the policies of the past and so contribute to a better future for the entire region.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has so often emphasised, nothing would make a more significant contribution to stability in the region than a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. That, too, was the subject of major discussion at Hillsborough. The Prime Minister and President Bush look forward to the publication of the road map as soon as Abu Mazen's Cabinet has been formed. President Bush made clear yet again his commitment and that of his Administration to implementing the road map and, as he said at the press conference, to expending the same amount of energy in the search for peace in the middle east as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done in respect of Northern Ireland.

For the Iraqi people, the search for a lasting peace began yesterday. Iraq has been a country essentially at war with its neighbours and itself for the past 24 years, its people subjected to a tyranny whose full horror will become ever more apparent in the coming days and weeks.

Just 23 days ago, this House endorsed the Government's decision to resort to the use of force in order to remove the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and to bring the Iraqi people's long nightmare to an end. In committing our armed forces in this way, we in this House took the most difficult decision that can ever face any democracy. But we were right to do so, and today we are well on the way to achieving the objectives that we in this House set. In doing so, we have taken on new responsibilities to and for the people of Iraq, and we will apply the same energy and commitment to fulfilling those responsibilities as we have to the military task.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for an advance sight of it.

While the conflict is not yet over, today must nevertheless be a good moment for the Foreign Secretary. We recognise the positive contribution that he has made to the emerging situation in Iraq today, and we must all welcome the enormous progress towards liberation that has been so swiftly and effectively achieved.

Three weeks ago, this House voted to send our armed forces to war. We asked much of them and they have responded magnificently. War is grim and cruel, but we can take pride in the courage, professionalism, attitude and, most importantly, restraint of our servicemen and women in this conflict. We pay tribute to them and to the American and other coalition forces as well.

We on the Conservative Benches remember with great sadness and pride those who gave their lives in the cause of bringing liberation to the people of Iraq and thereby making the world a better and safer place. Nor should we forget those innocent but unavoidable civilian victims of war who have been killed or wounded. They have also bought freedom for their country.

The military phase is clearly not yet complete. Our thoughts and prayers must remain with the coalition armed forces in the difficult and dangerous days ahead. However, we must look to the peace as well. Many unanswered questions remain. The first problem is the increasing outbreaks of lawlessness and looting. It is legally incumbent on the coalition to ensure public order and safety and means of enforcement. I presume that there were plans in place to deliver that. I should be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could tell us what they are. For example, could there be a role for NATO in helping to produce the manpower in the short term? Have Arab states made any offers to participate in peacekeeping? What proportion of the existing police service in Iraq can be sufficiently trusted to play a central part in enforcing the law? Security is an urgent matter, not least to enable the provision of humanitarian aid.

On Tuesday in Belfast, the Prime Minister and President Bush referred to the vital role of the United Nations. Will the Foreign Secretary clarify that? What precisely does "vital role" mean? Will he confirm that the United Nations is already involved through its control of current oil revenues under last week's renewed resolution on oil for food? Is it clear to whom, legally, the revenue from Iraq's oil belongs? What progress is being made to achieve a further resolution to lift current sanctions? I believe that that is needed to enable the restoration process to proceed. Is it included in the resolution that the United States tabled in the Security Council today? What else does that resolution contain? How many resolutions should we expect as a result of the Foreign Secretary's statement today?

The Foreign Secretary spoke of early steps to set up an interim administration. Will he give us an indication of the likely timetable for reconstruction? For example, will there be a conference in Naziriyah this weekend, as has been suggested? How soon and by what process will a leader of the interim authority emerge? When does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the interim authority will be in place? What will be its relationship with the Pentagon Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance? Will they run in tandem?

What did President Bush mean when he spoke of the United Nations helping to stand up an interim authority? When the Foreign Secretary mentioned endorsement, did he mean that a resolution was imperative, or can it be achieved in other ways? Who will ensure that the interim Iraqi authority is, as promised, both Iraqi and representative of all parts of the country?

It was a bit rich of the French President, who ensured that neither France nor the United Nations are involved in the liberation of Iraq, to claim that
"reconstruction is a matter for the UN and it alone".
Did the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity yesterday, when he met his French counterpart, to refute that, and to point out that France's conduct in recent weeks gives it little or no authority to pontificate now?

We welcome the Foreign Secretary's reassertion that uncovering and eliminating weapons of mass destruction remain a key objective. What independent arrangements are being made to verify the discoveries when they are made?

We have long emphasised the importance of maintaining the integrity of the state of Iraq. How does the Foreign Secretary intend to manage the inevitable tensions between Turkey and the Kurds in northern Iraq as Kirkuk, Mosul and the surrounding oil fields are liberated?

What is the Foreign Secretary's current assessment of reaction to war in the Gulf and the wider region? He mentioned the publication of the road map, which is obviously important. When will it be published—in days, weeks or months? Is he worried about the reported unhelpful activities of Syria?

The war's objectives—disarming Saddam Hussein, eliminating weapons of mass destruction and liberating the people of Iraq from oppression—were right when the House endorsed them three weeks ago. They remain right today. It is in all our interests that they are successfully achieved and that a prosperous and peaceful Iraq replaces the evil that has gone before. We must not waver in our determination to see them through.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous personal comments, which I reciprocate. Military action should not be an issue of partisan politics across the Chamber because that is bad for the country and, above all, bad for our armed forces. Thankfully, because of the official Opposition's statesman-like position, it has not been such an issue, and I express my gratitude to the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman, especially.

The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions and I shall do my best to reply to as many as I can. I am sure that other hon. Members will raise several of them. The increasing outbreaks of lawlessness were discussed in some detail this morning at a meeting of Ministers. The situation is, as ever, patchy, but reports as of this morning show that the situation is changing. British commanders in the south say that there seems to be less looting and lawlessness than before. They are doing everything that they can to ensure that law and order is restored and, as I said, we are looking actively at putting together teams of police advisers to assist with that role. Of course, we are aware of our responsibilities under the fourth Geneva convention, the Hague regulations and the additional protocol.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what we meant by the "vital role" for the United Nations. I was asked that yesterday, and no doubt I shall continue to be asked it. In the end, the judgment of whether the role of the United Nations turns out to be vital will be set against history. Reality will be the referee of that. President Bush did not use the word reluctantly; he volunteered the word three times in answer to questions during his press conference at Hillsborough. The framework is as set out in the decisions announced at Hillsborough and, before that, in the Azores. This country and the United States have recognised not only the general role for the United Nations, but its vital role on not only humanitarian relief, but reconstruction.

We are working with our partners in the United Nations Security Council on one or more further resolutions. The right hon. Gentleman asked how many, and that depends on the practicalities. One resolution—1472—has been passed since the military action began. Despite suggestions that we had run into difficulties, it was agreed rapidly, thanks not least to the co-operation of Germany, which sponsored it, and the resolution's unanimous support. We look forward to similar co-operation in the future.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about likely timetables. I am sorry that I cannot provide him with explicit timetables, but we are getting on with the job as quickly as possible. He asked about the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was established by the United States. Several of our people are working alongside General Garner and his staff. The body's function is as stated in its title—reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. It will 'work with the interim authority in the early stages, but we hope that such external institutions will be replaced relatively quickly by internal institutions that will be run for, by, and from the Iraqi people themselves.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the reported comment by the President of France. I raised that during constructive discussions yesterday morning with Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister, and I was assured that President Chirac had not used those words. [Interruption.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman asked the question and I raised it yesterday.

We understand Turkey's historic anxieties and also the anxieties of the Kurdish people on either side of the border. We look to Turkey, as we do to every other member of the United Nations, to comply with existing UN Security Council resolutions that lay down emphatically the importance of having respect for Iraq's territorial integrity within its existing borders. I shall talk to Foreign Minister Gul again shortly.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the road map would be published. It will be published as soon as Abu Mazen's cabinet is in place—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position, he asks whether that will be days or weeks, but I am afraid that that is a matter for Abu Mazen and Chairman Arafat, not for me.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Syria and reports of its unhelpful activities. We hope that Syria's actions are not unhelpful, but to the extent that they are, we look to it to end any and all assistance to the Iraqi regime and to co-operate fully with the people of Iraq and coalition forces.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance notice of his statement. I am sure that everyone in the House will welcome yesterday's events in Baghdad. We hope that they mark the end of the most intense period of this conflict and although military operations will continue, a welcome end is now in sight. Liberal Democrats join the Foreign Secretary in paying tribute to our armed forces and, of course, mourning the loss of life during the conflict.

The Foreign Secretary said that he stands by his commitment to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Will he outline who he believes should take a lead role in the task of identifying and disposing of any weapons of mass destruction that may be found in Iraq? Is that now a task for coalition troops or United Nations inspectors? The Prime Minister said yesterday that independent verification would be preferable. Did he mean that UN inspectors should be given the task and, if so, when does the Foreign Secretary envisage that it will be safe for them to return?

Now that Saddam's regime has fallen, does the Foreign Secretary still envisage that there will be direct attacks on Saddam himself or is the Government's policy now safe capture? If capture is the policy, will he confirm Saddam's status? Does he regard Saddam as a war criminal who is subject to international law, or is Saddam's fate subject to a decision made by any future Government in Iraq? What advice has the Foreign Secretary sought from the Attorney-General on that point?

Finally, the Foreign Secretary has made it repeatedly clear that occupying forces have a responsibility for law and order and people's welfare under international law. We welcome his statement that police advisers will be sent to Basra but, clearly, more than just advisers will be needed. What plans exist to change the role of British troops to policing and peacekeeping, and will more troops be required to fulfil those functions?

I greatly welcome the change of the Liberal Democrats' tone. There is always space in heaven—[Interruption.] I was about to say that there is always space in heaven for sinners to repent, but for the benefit of the Hansard reporters, the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) added "bandwagon". I did not want them to be confused about what the hon. Gentleman said. The change of tone is good news and we look forward to further recantations of the Liberal Democrats' position. If they will the end, they have to will the means as well—

We hope not.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) asked about inspectors. As I said in my statement, we are completely committed to finding the answers to the questions—173 pages of them—raised by UNMOVIC in its last, and final, report of this phase that was published as the Security Council meeting on 7 March finished. The military forces are bound to have the initial responsibility for that because we are in occupation and, for all sorts of reasons, the inspectors are not in Iraq.

We will discuss future arrangements for verification with the United Nations, Kofi Annan and our coalition partners, but any discoveries that are likely to made— either by chance or in the heat of the battle—will almost certainly be made by coalition forces. Given those circumstances, I hope that there are no cries by people who did not support military action in the first place—who managed to will themselves into believing that there were no biological or chemical weapons in Iraq—that because coalition military forces make the discovery, if and when that happens, the veracity of their discovery is to be challenged. There is a reality that needs to be accepted.

The hon. Gentleman asked about direct attacks on Saddam versus his capture. I would much rather see that man put on trial as a war criminal. Unlike Saddam, I mourn for the death of any individual whether they are a criminal or innocent, and I am sure that I speak for the whole on House on that. However, I cannot say for certain in what circumstances—if any—that man will be either captured or apprehended.

On Saddam's status, we have of course taken advice from the Attorney-General. I have before me the full text of the relevant parts of the fourth Geneva convention, the Hague protocol and regulations and the additional protocol. It is likely that Saddam will be classified either as a criminal or an unprivileged belligerent. In any event, he will be put on trial if he is captured alive.

My right hon. Friend is quite right: as the liberation of Iraq proceeds, more of the regime's dirty secrets will be revealed to the public at large. For human rights reasons alone, I am certain that the military action will be vindicated.

On war crimes, Indict's A list has 12 most wanted war criminals; its B list has 35. We know that at least one of them—Ali Hassan al-Majid—is dead, but the rest remain. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if those people are alive, they will stand trial, preferably at a UN war crimes tribunal on Iraq which has long been awaited? Many documents will be found in the process of liberating Iraq. They will contain secrets that the regime will undoubtedly want destroyed. I hope that there is a system of preserving them so that the photographs and the documents in the police stations and cells can be used against those people who have committed those awful crimes.

I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend. She showed huge courage in standing up for an oppressed people in parts of Iraq and for the Iraqi people as a whole, and she has taken completely unwarranted and unjustified criticism for that. Unfolding before our eyes on the television screens is vindication enough for her stand.

War criminals were the subject of part of ministerial discussions this morning. We do not know where those people are, but if we did they would be apprehended if it were safe to do so. If they are alive and we can obtain evidence, the UK and the United States intend to ensure that they face the full rigour of the law. It all depends on the evidence because we, the United States and the international community operate trials according to the evidence, unlike the trial system operated in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. One critical part of gaining the evidence is to ensure the integrity of the evidential chain from the moment that the documents are discovered so that there can be no accusation later of a contamination of evidence. We are in active discussion with our armed forces and those of the United States to ensure that that happens.

My hon. Friend also asked whether war criminals would be put on trial before a UN tribunal or some other tribunal. No decision has been taken. If we establish a Government and governance of Iraq by the Iraqi people, that would be a matter of intense discussion with them. Although I appreciate the role that UN tribunals, like those in respect of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, have played, they are hugely expensive. The tribunal on the former Yugoslavia has already cost more than $500 million; the tribunal on Rwanda is getting on for $600 million for nine indictees. We have to consider whether there are other swifter, more efficient, but equally just processes to bring such people to trial.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's generous tribute to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) will be echoed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In order to underline the Government's determination to have a smooth transition to Iraqi rule, will he discuss with the Prime Minister the possibility of appointing a resident Minister—a member of Her Majesty's Government—to be present in Iraq during those crucial weeks?

I will certainly raise it out of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but the better approach—the one that we are following, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made clear to the House—is for us to have a senior representative of the British Government with military experience working alongside General Jay Garner of the United States. When I am in the Gulf early next week I shall discuss those issues with General Garner and our representatives, but I believe that that is the better way to proceed for the time being.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister on the cardinal and indispensable role that they have played in placing a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians right at the top of the international agenda? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as the liberation of Iraq highlights even more starkly the subjugation of the Palestinians, speedy, definitive progress on the road map will be the best way to dispel any scepticism in the Muslim world on the operations that are taking place?

I agree with my right hon. Friend and am grateful to him for his personal remarks, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be. As I have often said, delivering peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires an end to the terrible injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians. It also requires an end to the terror that the Israelis have suffered. One of the many benefits that should flow from the liberation of Iraq is an end to the state sponsorship of desperate terrorism, which has caused such damage and death in Israel and the occupied territories.

Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Government will continue to work towards a political settlement in Iraq which enables our troops to come home as soon as possible and that we have learned the lessons of the mistakes of the Kosovo conflict which have left our troops there four years later? The prospect is that our troops will be home from Iraq a long time before they are home from Kosovo.

Yes is the answer, but there is a big difference between Kosovo and Iraq. Part of the problem is in determining the status of Kosovo. That is still unresolved. Is it a state or part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia? No or very few institutions were functioning properly in Kosovo whereas Iraq has an institutional base. We do not want to stay a day longer than we are needed, but we will stay as long as is necessary. That is the same for the United States. The whole purpose is to liberate Iraq, to deal with the weapons of mass destruction, to help support and sustain a secure and stable Iraqi Administration and developing democracy, and then leave.

My right hon. Friend knows that BBC Monitoring Service, based in my constituency, has provided and will continue to provide an unrivalled, swift and unbiased news and information service from the region. Will he offer a message of congratulation to the staff there who have been providing that service in the last difficult weeks and months?

Yes, I would like to congratulate those staff and the staff of many other agencies whose unseen and unsung work has made such a contribution to the success of the action.

It was necessary to have a national understanding of the reasons for Britain to be part of the coalition. May I publicly acknowledge that one of the important factors in that was the public decision of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) to stay in the Government? That has helped many people to understand that the purpose of the action is to benefit the Iraqi people, both in and outside Iraq.

In the coming months, will the Foreign Secretary give attention to whether far more can be done to spread the message around the world that very few wars are fought between sides that are both reasonably democratic, and very few high-level and persistent civil wars occur in countries whose Governments govern with the assent of the people?

The hon. Gentleman pays a generous, but entirely well-deserved compliment to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I am sure that she is grateful—

I know that she is, but I thought I ought to check. [Laughter.]

The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) makes an important point about democracy. Democracy is not only right in itself, but the greatest bulwark against terror, terrorism and tyranny. The events in Iraq in the past few days are fascinating to those who take an interest in the history of humankind. There was a regime that had immense power, but only the power that is exercised down the barrel of a gun; remove that, and all the power crumbles into dust. By contrast, democracy, the power of the spirit, lasts and lasts.

By some estimates, as much as one fifth of Iraq's population has fled the country in the past 20 years. Some Iraqis are in Britain today, and many of them either had or have acquired skills, professions and experience that would be invaluable in the rebuilding of their country. Will the Government be in a position to assist any Iraqi citizens who, of their own free will and in due course, wish to return to Iraq to contribute to the rebuilding of their country?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the 4 million people who were forced to leave Iraq. Their number is an indication of the desperate state of that country. It is early days, so I cannot make any promises about the type of programme that we might establish to get people back to Iraq, but I remind the House that we did that in respect of Kosovo and Afghanistan, and we shall of course take that experience into account.

I join the Foreign Secretary in his tribute to the forces, but will he include the Australians, who have often been forgotten, and perhaps even the Kurds, who have been advancing from the north with the Americans?

I understand the extent of the upheaval in Iraq, but I am concerned about media reports of one officer suggesting that, if it proves necessary, some Ba'athists might take on police activities again. We must be very careful about that. Based on our experience of people who have been involved in terrorism seeking to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we doubt that the people of Iraq will readily accept those who have persecuted them in the past continuing in such a role.

The hon. Gentleman raises the important and difficult issue of distinguishing between the leaders of the terror and those who went along with it because that was the nature of the society. We will have to make use of many people in the middle and lower ranks of all the services who remain in Iraq so that administration can continue—indeed, that is an obligation on us under the various conventions and texts of international law. Our armed forces initially, and then the interim authority, will have to make difficult judgments about who are genuinely culpable and who can be allowed to get on with their jobs once they have shown loyalty to the new Government or Administration. That is a task that must be undertaken.

Will the Secretary of State say what plans there are to establish a policing operation in Iraq to prevent further looting of many benign public institutions, which will remove evidence that could be used to prosecute war criminals in future? By what date does he expect British and American forces to have withdrawn completely from Iraq and handed over either to a UN international body, or to an Iraqi organisation? Will he confirm that Britain and the United States have no plans to maintain either a permanent presence in Iraq, or permanent commercial control over the Iraqi people and economy?

My hon. Friend started well, but as ever—[Laughter.] Of course I cannot give a date—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not? Give a date."] He knows very well that I cannot give a date. I have already said in answer to a previous question that our troops will not stay in Iraq longer than is necessary. We have no interest in them staying longer than is necessary.

As for oil, yes, some have suspected that oil is an issue, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has categorically answered those suspicions on many occasions, saying that if our sole interest had been Iraq's oil, we would have spared ourselves any humanitarian concern and taken the short cut to doing a deal with Saddam Hussein. The action has nothing whatever to do with oil. President Bush and the Prime Minister have repeated their commitment that the oil wealth and revenues of Iraq should be used for the Iraqi people alone. That is what will happen.

Does the Foreign Secretary believe that without a UN resolution, the coalition will represent "an occupying army" with no legal right to reconstruct Iraq? That is the view of the Secretary of State for International Development, who is in her place; is it the view of the Government?

The position is that the coalition forces have every lawful right to act in accordance with the various legal texts to which I have already drawn attention. Those rights and powers are extensive, and it goes without saying that everything that our forces and civilian personnel, and those of the United States, do will be strictly in accordance with international law.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially his comments about the need for a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian issue. No one doubts his commitment or that of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the middle east peace process, but a degree of scepticism persists about the depth of the US Government's commitment. Will he state whether he believes that the Americans are prepared to face up to the Israelis on the question of illegal settlements? Without their removal, there can be no unified and viable Palestinian state. Will he also give an assurance that the timetable accompanying the road map is not negotiable and will not be stretched into the distant future as a result of backstage pressure from the Israeli Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. Achieving a peace raises difficult issues for all the parties concerned. There are difficult issues for the Government and the people of Israel, because they will have to deal with the questions of settlements, refugees and east Jerusalem. There are difficult issues for Arab states, which will have to recognise the state of Israel. There are difficult issues for the Palestinians and the Arab states, who will have to stop terror.

As for the motives and commitment of the United States Government, I believe what I see with my own eyes: a President of the United States who is completely committed to what he says he will do. He is a man of his word and I believe that he will fulfil his commitments, first, to publish the road map, and then to exert the same energy to implement the road map as our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has exerted in respect of Northern Ireland, which is a huge amount. He knows the importance of delivering justice to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis, not only for those people, but for the security of the whole region.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that there be no reason for the liberated people of southern Iraq to turn against British troops? Those of us who served in Northern Ireland in 1969 remember when the Catholics turned against the British forces. Will he also recall the success of the use of British police and they way they helped during the elections in the run-up to the Rhodesia settlement? Finally, will he ensure that when the bulk of the British troops return, there will be a parade for them in London, so that people can see and thank them?

Although it is early days, I think we have already seen in Basra and the south that, far from their turning against British troops, as people's terror and shock from the regime gives way to confidence in the way that British troops undertake their duties so well, they are being welcomed, not rejected. Of course there will be criminal gangs. There will be members of the Ba'ath party who do not want to meet members of the armed forces, but they will be in a minority.

As for honouring our forces, the hon. Gentleman will realise that that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, I am in no doubt that he will be committed to ensuring that appropriate means of honouring, collectively as well as individually, the fine service of our armed forces will be found.

My right hon. Friend will have seen press statements about the Basra maternity hospital being looted. I welcome his commitment to considering sending police to assist our troops to restore law and order in such institutions. Understandably, there is anger among doctors in Basra about those events. There is also anger among clinicians in this country. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that work will continue to restore order as quickly as possible so that babies can be born safely in a free Iraq?

Yes, I give that undertaking. I also give an undertaking to ensure that we get water and power on as quickly as possible—in some instances power has been cut not as a result of coalition action but as a result of sabotage by retreating Iraqi forces—and that there are proper medical supplies.

The Foreign Secretary and virtually all of us in the House know full well that the only long-term ambition that either Britain or America has for Iraq is for it to be a peaceful and stable country, and for the action that has taken place to lead to a more stable and peaceful world. However, the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there are many people, especially in the region, who have their doubts about long-term objectives. Will he do everything that he can to ensure that those who are responsible for letting contracts for rebuilding Iraq understand that sensitivity, and that whatever the source of the money to pay for it, wherever possible Iraqi resources and companies and other resources within that region will be utilised to help to rebuild the country—rather than the activity being seen as somehow a business opportunity for other parts of the world?

On a personal note, I add that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister deserve and are entitled to a few days' break over the next few weeks. I mean that genuinely. However, will they find time to consider what has been happening in one or two other parts of the world while the eyes of the world have been directed on Iraq? I am thinking particularly of some horrendous incidents in Zimbabwe.

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the behaviour of the coalition forces and the Governments who are behind them in the way in which we deal with post-conflict Iraq. We must show the same high standards as our armed forces have shown in the military conflict.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about time off. I have already cancelled a holiday. I took that decision when military action began. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right about conflicts that are going on elsewhere. I reassure him by saying that although these issues have not been front-page headlines, I have been very concerned, for example, about Zimbabwe and by the brutal treatment that has been shown by ZANUPF forces as they appear to be losing their grip in parts of that country. Similarly, I have been very concerned about the rising tension across the line of control between India and Pakistan.

And the Congo. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend.

Those three issues have been subjects of discussions, not least at Hillsborough.

Surely no one could have failed to be moved by the pictures yesterday of the jubilation of ordinary Iraqi people in celebrating their freedom. It much reminded me of when I sat watching the television when Nelson Mandela walked free from his incarceration. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Iraqi people could do worse than consider some of the experiences that South Africa had on its road to building freedom in that country?

Saddam's evil and brutal rule is over in Iraq. Once again, brave men and women have given their lives to the great prize of freedom. We owe them a great debt of honour.

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend, including his point about South Africa. I pay tribute to his son, who is serving with our armed forces in the Gulf, and through his son to all his fellow comrades in arms in our services, the United States services and the Australian services.

I shall draw the attention of the House to a remark that I think says almost everything about the Iraqi regime and its complete absence of principle or scruple. It is what I heard on the radio this morning, as many others did, from Mohammed al-Duri, who was the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations. Unfortunately, I spent many hours sitting in the same room with him listening to him explain and justify the evil nature of the Iraqi regime. He speaks extremely good English and knows what he is saying. He said, "The game is over." So for him, the killing, the terror and the lies were all a game, and he knew it. Those who think that we were wrong to take action—the apologists who are still around—need to bear in mind that one of the greatest apologists for the Iraqi regime has put his hands up and said, "The game is over."

Please, please. Wait for it.

Does it not say so much about the Government that as the bodies are being stacked up in the main Baghdad hospital, the Government see it as a priority to set up a new propaganda television station? Thirsty Iraqi civilians will not be impressed by replacing the 6 o'clock news with Saddam with the 10 o'clock news with Tony.

I doubt very much whether that will gain the approbation of the hon. Gentleman's constituents.

We have had many years of experience of dealing with authoritarian regimes—for example, de-Nazification, what happened in Japan and the work that was done in central and eastern Europe over the past decade. I declare an interest as chair of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I ask my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development whether early consideration can be given to how we can go forward on an all-party basis, as we have done over many years, to help the people of Iraq get a genuine, multi-party democratic system.

Yes is the answer to that. It is worth bearing in mind that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has been active in eastern Europe. Some of those countries suffered under tyrants who were nearly as bad as Saddam Hussein, including Romania's Ceaucescu. They have emerged from those shadows to form an active, functioning democracy, and are about to come into the European Union. We can do the same, or similar, for Iraq, by giving it support to empower its own people to form that active democracy.

Order. Provided that there are brief questions and only one from each Member, I shall be able to call all the Members who are standing.

The Foreign Secretary was right to draw attention to the failures of the war crimes tribunals in Bosnia and Rwanda, but there is another model that the United Kingdom and the United States initiated and were responsible for, which is the successful tribunal in Sierra Leone that has its own specific UN mandate. I wonder whether that might be a model for Iraq. It would ensure that whatever happens is under the authority of the UN and has international respect.

There are a number of models, including domestic ones. We need to consider what will work and what will be most cost effective.

Will democracy in Iraq not require even more than political parties and general elections? Will it not require extensive civil liberties so that people can form interest groups to represent their positions, such as the trade unions that have traditionally been strong in the Basra area? Will the Government see that the Iraqi labour movement is facilitated to ensure that it has a full role in the establishment of a new Iraq?

May I echo the Foreign Secretary's condolences on the deaths of service personnel, civilians and journalists in conflict, and praise the professionalism of the UK armed forces? In welcoming the apparent end of the Hussein regime, I wish to ask a specific question about post-Hussein Iraq? The Foreign Secretary will be aware that there has been widespread autonomy for the Kurds in recent years, including different arrangements in the oil-for-food programme. Will the UK Government support the Kurds if they wish to maintain that devolution in future?

We greatly welcome the autonomy that the Kurds have been able to achieve. Iraq is a country with many differences within it, but it is crucial that whatever arrangements are reached they are developed and agreed by the Iraqi people within the essential framework decided by the international community—the United Nations—on the territorial integrity within the existing borders of Iraq.

Who will decide who constitutes a credible representative of the Iraqi people in the interim Government? We are receiving reports that there is no agreement at the moment in the American Administration on the issue, and there are clear differences of opinion between the Departments of State and Defence. Will the responsibility for that decision therefore rest with the United Nations?

It will not be possible for it to be done by the United Nations simply because it would be premature for the UN to be involved in that direct way. In any event, even it was, it does not have the expertise to say that X should be a representative but Y should not be. We have agreed with the United States and the international community that those decisions will be made by the Iraqi people themselves. We have already made it clear that we want to work with the United Nations and, of course, coalition forces, but we have to start somewhere. As in Afghanistan, one starts somewhere, gets representative councils together at a regional level which then come together and form a national conference. They start off with an interim authority, which is what we are talking about, then, over time, more democratic and representative institutions are built up.

What is the danger of the liberation of Baghdad being used as a justification by the regime in North Korea for acquiring its own nuclear deterrent? Will the Foreign Secretary see his Chinese and Russian counterparts to ensure that the UN takes a robust line on that issue?

I do not think that there is any excuse for the action currently being taken by North Korea in defiance of its international obligations. Yes, this is a matter that I have actively discussed with my Chinese and Russian counterparts, and, of course, with Secretary Powell, Mrs. Kawaguchi, the Japanese Foreign Minister, and many others.

I understand that Iraq's national debt, incurred by Saddam Hussein, is well over $50 billion. I assume that there have been discussions in connection with that massive liability. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that that debt is properly and lawfully repayable?

The hon. Gentleman would have to ask a better lawyer than me about that last question, but we are looking carefully at the issue of potential liabilities of any successor Government, and are discussing it with the international financial institutions as well as the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will happily deal with that in greater detail when she makes her statement.

In his statement, the Foreign Secretary said that the search for a lasting peace in Iraq began yesterday. I agree with those sentiments. However, our armed forces are still in theatre and still face dangers, so will the Foreign Secretary clarify at what point, legally speaking, he, the Government and the coalition will regard the war as over? If, as I suspect will be the case, there is no neat point, what implications does that have for the formation of a lasting civilian Government?

I doubt that there will be a neat moment. Self-evidently, there will not be a moment when a surrender by Saddam Hussein is accepted because he has taken the coward's way out, if he is still alive. Certainly, all his henchpeople have taken that way out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Henchpeople!"] Women as well, I must point out, have been actively involved in the biological weapons programme. There will therefore not be a precise moment—historians will judge it later. As for international law on occupation and armed conflict, the coalition forces will be the authority until we can transfer that authority to an interim authority in Iraq and then a full Government. There will be a phased transfer according to the nature of the governmental functions to be transferred.

In view of the commitment in the statement to protect Iraq's natural resources as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, who will represent the people of Iraq in negotiations, some of which are urgent, to determine the terms and conditions of operating contracts in the oilfields and the future of things such as the production-sharing agreement with the Russian company, Lukoil.

There is a well established and, I am told, technically very good oil organisation in Iraq. We obviously have to make a decision about those right at the top of the organisation. but I am told that most people are there because of their expertise in running an oil organisation, not for other reasons. In the early stages, we will have to do our best with the available resources and people but, over time, we will get the interim authority established, then the decisions can be seen to be more legitimate. However, we have to start somewhere.

May I take the Foreign Secretary back to the question of Syria? Is there any substance to persistent reports that Syria has been harbouring both Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and now members of the outgoing Iraqi regime, and, if so, what action do he and the United States plan to take?

I am well aware of the persistence of those reports, but I am not willing to speculate on them. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there have been conversations between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of Syria and between our ambassador in Damascus and the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I have said already, we expect the Syrian Government not to take any action and to desist from any action that they have already taken, whether harbouring people from the regime or supplying or otherwise assisting them. We want them to co-operate fully with the coalition forces, as that is very much in their interest as a neighbour of Iraq.