On Monday Ann Clwyd and Dave Anderson spoke in the Commons during the debate on the Queen's Speech, they both devoted the bulk of what they had to say to the current situation in Iraq. I give the relevant extracts below. With Dave's contribution I have also added what he said about the Tobin Tax as it could also be used to improve the condition of the people of Iraq.
Dave Anderson (fifth from the right in the back row) in Iraq with "Labour Friends of Iraq" and Iraqi and British Trade Unionists.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): .....I want to spend the time available today talking about Iraq. For the first time in many years, the Queen's Speech did not mention Iraq. The complex issues relating to that country have dominated so many debates, questions and speeches in the House in recent years, and I feel that it is important to use this moment to highlight the important progress that has been made, and to remind the House of some of the issues that still need further attention.
I spoke to President Talabani of Iraq when he was here in London recently to attend the very moving memorial service for UK troops who had been involved in operations there. I was struck by the fact that, despite all the difficulties that Iraq has faced since the overthrow of Saddam, the President retains an unwavering belief that it was the right thing to do. It is clear from talking to him, and almost any other Iraqi, that ultimately only they can solve Iraq's problems. The role of the UK and coalition forces was to get them to the point at which they had a realistic prospect of success. I have full confidence in the determination of the Government and the people of Iraq to ensure that the country continues on its path to stability.
Iraq's internal dynamics have changed significantly over the past 18 months, and I believe that it is now a nation that has changed for the better. There have been significant improvements on security, the economy and politics. Millions of Iraqis now have control over their own destiny. The Iraqi people have embraced democracy with great enthusiasm. The parliamentary elections in December 2005 saw a turnout of around 80 per cent., and provincial elections were held successfully in January this year, again with a very high turnout. National elections are due to take place in January 2010 and will provide another opportunity for Iraqis to embrace democracy. The Iraqi Parliament and the Council of Representatives are both steadily maturing as a voice for the people.
There are difficulties and delays in passing a new electoral law to regulate the next elections and the composition of the new Iraqi Parliament. Again, however, 25 per cent. of the places are going to be set aside for women, which is a point worth making here. It is another welcome sign that difficulties are being battled out in the political arena rather than on the streets.
The attempts by some to throw progress off course, as seen in the terrible bomb attacks on key ministries in Baghdad in August and October, have not had their desired impact. The response from Iraqis has been to deal with matters in a mature and considered manner. I sincerely hope that all the main political leaders in Iraq will continue to work together in a spirit of compromise and for the interests of all Iraq. Not doing so risks damaging the recent gains in security and political progress.
It is clear that many challenges remain in ensuring peace and stability in Iraq. Starting from such a low base, it is inevitable that work remains to bring about an effective human rights culture in Iraq. In my continuing role as the Prime Minister's special envoy on human rights in Iraq, I continue to engage with a wide range of Iraqis-both here and in Iraq-to help this process along. I urge those I meet to continue to focus their efforts on ensuring that the rule of law is respected.
The number of detainees held without trial has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, but sustained effort to ensure that those remaining are either released or made to face trial is needed. All those subject to the Iraqi legal system should be dealt with in a timely and humane manner.
Freedom of expression was an area that suffered greatly under Saddam. Since 2003, a vibrant media reflecting a wide spectrum of views has sprung up. There are signs of some efforts to curb the effectiveness of the media, with new regulations and legislation under consideration. This is a subject that I intend to raise when I visit Iraq shortly and meet key activists working to protect the rights of journalists. I discussed the challenges faced by the media in Iraq at one of the programmes of ongoing human rights forums or round tables held by the Foreign Office this year, which I chaired.
Industry in Iraq continues to recover and international trade links are being re-established. British companies assisted by UK Trade & Investment are showing more interest in doing business in Iraq. To support their efforts, the UKTI staff in our diplomatic missions in Iraq have been bolstered. BP and the Iraqi Government signed a new deal earlier this month to help revitalise the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq, which should dramatically increase oil production and revenue for the Iraqi Government.
There is much work still to be done to protect the rights of Iraqi workers. The British TUC, which I thank very much, continues to assist in many ways. There remain in place many Saddam era regulations restricting the rights of trade unions and preventing public sector workers from joining the union of their choosing. I am pleased to hear that a campaign launched by the Iraqi permanent co-ordination committee of trade unions and professional associations is gathering momentum. I note with some satisfaction that on 13 November President Talabani himself signed up to their campaign calling for more equitable labour laws.
I have raised from the start concerns about the treatment of women in Iraqi society. Women continue to face many problems in their day-to-day lives. Article 41 of the constitution could seriously affect the rights of women and I hope it will be revisited in the ongoing constitutional discussions. So-called "honour-based" violence has been reported as on the increase in many parts of Iraq. This is not a religious or an Islamic practice, but something rooted in the traditions of the clans and tribes. I have encouraged the leadership in Iraq, particularly the Kurds in the north, to speak out against it and to treat any "honour" crime just like any other crime. The considerable abilities of the new Kurdish Prime Minister, Barham Salih-he has visited this House several times-will, I think, be used to good effect in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I am sure that we would all want to send our good wishes to him. He has been an excellent Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq and I am sure that the Kurds will benefit from having him as Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan.
I plan to visit Iraq again before the end of the year and am sure that, as in each of my previous visits since 2003, I will see further evidence of improvements. I know I will meet Iraqis who are committed to the future of their country and to seeing peace and prosperity. I know I will meet such people because they form the overwhelming majority of the population. I am sure that they will be pleased to hear that Iraq is no longer such a regular source of bad news and that they will not be at all offended that this year they did not even get a mention from Her Majesty the Queen in her Gracious Speech.
I finish with a short announcement. On 1 December, our present ambassador in Iraq will be coming here to answer questions. The Foreign Minister will also be present, as will the chargé d'affaires from the Iraqi embassy. I hope that those interested in Iraq will come along on 1 December to ask any questions that I have not been able to answer today.
......Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Earlier tonight we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) about the situation in Iraq. She made the point that, for the first time in many years, the word "Iraq" was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. However, the Queen did say that her Government want to work for peace in the middle east, and it is impossible to have any real peace there without involving Iraq. In recent discussions that I had as chair of the Labour Friends of Iraq with the Islamic Dawa party, it said that it believes that Iraq can be a beacon for democracy, freedom and moderation in the middle east instead of suffering the tyrannies of poverty, backwardness and extremism in what is still one of the most prosperous parts of the world. The first part of my speech will ask what our Government intend to do to try to continue to improve the situation in Iraq, now that we no longer have troops on the ground to any great extent.
One of the key issues that I want to raise is something that has been a running sore for more than four years-the imposition of restrictions on the freedoms of the trade union movement in Iraq. In August 2005, the interim Iraqi Government imposed restrictions on the trade union movement in Iraq, seized its assets and reintroduced rules that said that working in the public sector, which is a huge part of the Iraqi economy, is not compatible with trade union membership. If Iraq wants to pretend to be a democracy and behave like a democracy, it has to accept that free, democratic and independent trade unions must be allowed to exist, something that trade unions in this country, our Government and the International Labour Organisation have all supported. We need to emphasise that, so I hope that the Government take that point on board.
We also heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley about the upcoming elections. They are due in January, but there are doubts about whether they will go ahead. They should go ahead, and one of the key things that we could is to sit down with the Iraqi Government and the various parties and people across Iraq and say, "What can we do to help you ensure that these elections go ahead?"
We have a strong and close relationship with the Kurds in Iraq. They are clear that we saved them from effectively being wiped off the face of the earth. I am proud to be the secretary of the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. The Kurds fear that the Government in Iraq are retreating into a central, rather than a federal state. The Kurdistan region of Iraq is struggling to get its people to see that their future lies in a federal Iraq. If the Government in Iraq do not realise that and do not work with the Kurds, they could well experience even more problems than they have recently.
Last week a friend of mine, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the High Representative to the United Kingdom from the Kurdistan Government in Iraq, wrote a passionate article in my regional newspaper, the Newcastle Journal. She rightly paid tribute to the fallen British soldiers and expressed her "appreciation for the sacrifices made in the liberation of our country".
"Liberation" was the term that she used. It is also the term that I have heard time and again on my visits to Iraq. The people I have spoken to see what happened in 2003 as a liberation. For those of us who opposed the intervention in Iraq, that is quite a hard thing to have to accept. However, it is strange that we never hear much in this country about what the people on the ground believe. Lots of us have opinions, and lots of people outside this place have them too; but the truth is that the people of Kurdistan and the people in Iraq see what we did as an act of liberation.
Bayan knows what she is talking about. Both her father, who was the deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan, and her brother were among those killed by suicide bombers in the Kurdish capital Irbil in February 2004. I have had the privilege of visiting the monument to their death, which carries a profound epitaph: "Freedom is not free". Very true. Bayan also says: "it is important to appreciate that Iraq is far better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein and there are many great opportunities for exchange between Britain and Iraq-cultural, educational and commercial."
I hope that John Chilcot, whose inquiry starts tomorrow, asks people such as Bayan Rahman to give evidence. I hope that he asks Hangar Khan, from the regional trade union movement, and Abdullah Muhsin, who was exiled in the 1980s and became the international representative of the trade union movement, to give evidence too. They will say clearly what Bayan has said to me: "Some people seem to have forgotten the brutal reality of his long years of repression. Saddam conducted a campaign of genocide against the Kurds. His forces used chemical weapons to kill men, women and children including 5,000 people who were killed in an attack on the city of Halabja in 1988. They murdered innocent people including thousands of boys and men from the Barzan area who disappeared in 1983," never to be seen again, "and whose mass graves are being found today."
Saddam's forces also "razed 4,500 villages to the ground, destroying" the agricultural heartland of Iraq. The suffering in other parts of Iraq was the same. The key question that people ask me when I am over there is not "Why did you come here in 2003?" but "Why didn't you come here in 1983? We might have had a very different way of life."
The other thing that I want to stress to the Government is the opportunities that we are missing in Iraq. There is huge potential for investment in Iraq. The Iraqis want us there. They have a great belief in the craftsmanship of British workpeople and a great loyalty to us for what this Government and this country have done over many years. The Iraqis want us to take up those opportunities, but it is clear that other countries are getting there ahead of us. We really need to step up our game, and we need UK Trade and Investment to do that.
The Queen's Speech also referred to the need for us to ensure that we increase the 0.7 per cent. contribution from GDP to international development, a point echoed by the Foreign Secretary earlier. Over the past few weeks, we have had a discussion that I thought would never happen in this country, about the so-called Tobin tax or a currency transaction levy, which I have supported for many years.
I was a delegate to the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle in 1999, where we thought that we nearly had a deal. Unfortunately, it did not come off. We then went to the next round in Doha, where nothing like that was anywhere near the agenda, mainly as a result of what had happened on 9/11. It was therefore with some surprise that the idea of a currency transaction levy, as called for by early-day motion 1396, which I tabled earlier this year, came out of the discussions at St. Andrews. A currency transaction levy is something that our Prime Minister, our Chancellor and now other people across the world are starting to pursue.
I never thought that I would say this, but it appears that I was too timid in what I was asking for. My early-day motion, with the support of some campaign groups, suggested a currency transaction levy of 0.005 per cent., which would raise something in the region of £33 billion a year for international development. When we consider the trillions that are moved around the world, £33 billion is not very much, but it would be a huge step in the right direction for international development. I am very glad that that piece of work has taken hold in this country and across the world, because the people of this country are ready to say that it is time that the people who have made millions, billions and trillions off the back of ordinary working people across this country and across the world started playing their part.
For years, the story has been that if we do anything like that, everybody will run away and put their money somewhere else. That is the same story that people told me for years when I argued for the nationalisation of the banks, but what did we see in the past two years? Not only did they not run away; they ran towards and said, "Please, please, please, get us out of the hole that we've put you in." We have done that. We should now be quite clear and say to people, "We want you now to start playing your part in putting this right," and not just by having a transaction levy devoted to international development, but by looking beyond that. What else can we do with the money that we raise with a relatively small levy? The Austrian Government have suggested putting a 0.5 per cent. levy on financial transactions, which would produce £400 billion a year, which could effectively be spent on good causes. That is something that our Government should explore......
HAT TIP : Labour Friends Of Iraq