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Mr. Hoon: Like me, my hon. Friend has met a number of members of the governing council, which is united in its determination to resist terrorism and criminal acts. I emphasise that the attack was against the Iraqi people, whom we cannot afford to let down, and I entirely support my hon. Friend's point.
We are attempting to transfer authority, after decades of tyranny, to an elected, representative Government in Iraq. I specifically refer to the transfer of authority, rather than simply sovereignty, because sovereignty resides with the people of Iraq and cannot be taken from them, although their rights have frequently been usurped over the years.
On 30 June, authority in Iraq will pass to the Iraqi interim Government; the extent of the authority that we will be able to hand to them has been subject to recent debate. On 1 July, the coalition provisional authority and the Iraqi governing council will dissolve. The interim Government will, however, initially limit themselves, by confining their work to the effective day-to-day administration of Iraq's affairs, which is only right. Decisions about Iraq's longer-term future should be left to the elected transitional Governmentas every Iraqi to whom I have spoken agrees. That is why we are moving forward with that strategy, and the Iraqi people should have the opportunity to choose those who will decide their future.
Mr. Hoon: I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I will deal with the precise security arrangements in a moment. Obviously, some discussions about the precise level of control remain, but I assure him that we are alive to the issue. We will try to find a sensible solution that meets the needs of coalition forces and secures their safety, but recognises that authority has properly passed to the Iraqis.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): I have received several e-mails from constituents over the past few days claiming that the British Government are about to send 4,000 extra troops to Najaf. Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny that point?
Again, my hon. Friend anticipates a passage in my speech that I shall reach in a moment. As
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I have done on a number of occasions, I assure her and the House that the Government have taken no decisions on any number of extra troops. I will inform the House in the usual way as soon as any such decision is taken, if it is taken.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My right hon. Friend says that the nature of the Iraqi Government is a matter for Iraqis. Does he have a view on whether that Government should be secular? Would he be concerned if religious parties were to form a Government next January?
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) (Lab): On the constitution and an elected Iraqi Government's right to decide the nature of the state, is it true that, once elected, the Iraqi Government will not have the right to rescind previous changes such as the wholesale privatisation of the public sector in Iraq?
Mr. Hoon: An Iraqi Government will consider such matters when they are established with democratic legitimacy conferred by elections. The interim Government's main task, acting under the transitional administrative law that we and the Iraqi leaders worked so hard to agree, will be to prepare the ground for full elections to a transitional assembly around the turn of the year. For the first time, Iraq will have a representative body chosen by all its people that works for the country as a whole. The assembly will be responsible for choosing a transitional Government and for preparing a constitution in time for general elections towards the end of 2005.
Clare Short: Ambassador Brahimi made it clear that elections cannot be held without security. If an interim Government are appointed, there may be so much chaos that elections are not possible. Does my right hon. Friend share that worry, and what should be done?
Mr. Hoon: I do not share that worry, but it is a risk that we have to address. That is why our forces, alongside Iraqi forces, are working so hard to deal with the security situation. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would support them in their efforts to do that precisely to allow elections to take place in accordance with the schedule.
It has always been our intention to involve the United Nations in the process. We are working towards a new Security Council resolution. We expect it to be agreed before the transition and to emphasise the new arrangements for full Iraqi authority. Any new resolution will take account of the views of United Nations Security Council members, other international partners and, most important, the Iraqi people. We expect that it will clearly mark the next stage in the transition towards democracy in Iraq, confirm the mandate of the multinational force and specify the future role of the United Nations, including support for the political process and assistance in preparing elections.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the strategic purposes of the resolution must be
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to attract other countries, which do not currently do so, to provide soldiers for Iraq? Consequently, the language and the nature of the resolution must be drafted with that principally in mind.
Mr. Hoon: I would regard that as an incidental advantage of such a resolution; I would hardly describe it as the main reason for it. If, as a result of passing a new Security Council resolution, other countries are willing to deploy their forces to Iraq, I will strongly support it. I am sure that that also applies to the Iraqi people.
United Nations international staff are already operating in Iraq and in the region. One team, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, has been consulting Iraqis on the formation of the interim Government; the other, headed by Carina Perelli, has been examining options for the electoral process.
We also believe that the United Nations has a vital role to play in preparing for elections and giving advice on the constitutional process in 2005. We would welcome United Nations involvement in the full range of humanitarian and reconstruction tasks in Iraq. We very much value the United Nation's constructive attitude towards Iraq's future, expressed by the Secretary-General down. It is all the more commendable following the terrible tragedy that the United Nations suffered last August.
Regrettably, as we make both political and economic progress, some continue to oppose the process: former Ba'athists, terrorists and others willing to use extreme violence, sometimes for personal gain. I assure the House that we will not allow the violent few to hold hostage the prospects and fortunes of the many Iraqi people who want peace and progress. We are determined to do what we can to provide security in Iraq, for it is only within a secure and stable environment that reconstruction and political life can flourish.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for saying that. It will be essential to have troops on the ground to ensure that that happens. I have constituents who are currently serving in Iraq and are worried about the possible extension of six months to nine months. Will he answer that point?
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not present during Defence questions, when I dealt with that. There is no reason at this stage to extend the usual tour of duty for British soldiers in Iraq. However, if circumstances on the ground make it necessary, we will have to make that decision. However, no such decision has yet been made.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): The continuing violence must hugely worry civilians in Iraq. I realise that it is not Government policy to count the number of civilians killed and injured, but will coalition forces undertake that now, or in future under the authority of the United Nations, to build confidence among Iraqi civilians that things are getting better, not worse?
As I believe was suggested earlier, it is extraordinarily difficult to count precisely the numbers
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killed or injured when engaging coalition forces. Perhaps I could give my hon. Friend an example from recent events. Yesterday, British forces were attacked in al-Amarah with 15 mortar rounds. I am pleased that they were able to respond effectively. Two British soldiers were wounded and several militiawe estimate 30, but that is necessarily an estimate that cannot be made with great precisionwere killed. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) came pretty close to suggesting that British forces in that position were required to go back into danger and ordered to count the dead bodies of those who had attacked them in the first place. I simply appeal to him to be realistic.
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