I have never met nor even seen the recently departed Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. I understand, however, that he was at the front of the public gallery in the Commons and saw the exchange I give below between myself and Tony Blair during Prime Minsters Questions on 7 May 2003. This was just seven weeks after the invasion of Iraq.
Tom Clarke M.P. was sat a distance from me and was looking up and observing John Howard's reactions at the time. Afterwards he told me that Howard had an expression of disgust on his face when Tony Blair made sympathetic noises towards the developing Trade Union Movement in Iraq.
Even George Bush made a double edged commitment to "free labor unions" for the Middle East in his 2004 State of the Union address, when he said -
I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world. (Applause.)
All that can be said in favour of Howard's reactions in the Commons that day was that, at least, he was being honest about his feelings. How far can the same be said about the reactions of Blair and Bush?
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued an appeal to the International Labour Organisation and to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions to involve themselves in the creation of a democratic trade union movement in Iraq. Will he have words with President Bush to establish that the President also presses for this, and supports the development of a labour movement as part of the democratic movement in Iraq?
The Prime Minister: One of the great advantages of the liberation of Iraq is that the people there should be able to enjoy the same human rights as people enjoy in other countries that have a greater history of democracy and representative government. One of those essential freedoms and rights is the right to be a member of a trade union, and I have no doubt at all that that will form part of the dispensation in the new Iraq that is being created.