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Question Time



Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Jack Straw Q & A
Jack Straw

Following the Labour Party conference, we asked you to send in your questions for the Leader of the House of Commons Jack Straw MP.

Mr Straw has answered a selection of your e-mails. Thank you for all your questions.

Jack Straw writes:

Question from Paul Grover, London: Would you consider running for the leadership of the Labour party?

Question from Terry Benson, Knutsford: Why don't you stand for the Labour leadership? I believe that you are the only person in the Labour party to have the statesman like qualities to carry the position as PM. Gordon is not trusted for his stealth taxes and he's Scottish and I don't see anyone else capable.

Jack Straw: I am confident that Gordon Brown will become the next leader of the Labour party. The foundation of Labour's success on social justice at home and abroad is our economic record. Many have been involved in that but the leadership of economic policy has principally been by Gordon. So I think he deserves it.

Question from Dr Matt Hogan, Durham: What concrete actions to solve climate change are tabled for debate in the Commons?

Jack Straw: Because things change so quickly, parliamentary business is only announced two weeks in advance. There are no debates on climate change in the period 10-21 October.

There are nevertheless ample opportunities to raise the issue including through written and oral questions to the Department for Environmental and Rural Affairs, Prime Minister's Questions, Business Questions and in adjournment debates.

Moreover, MPs have the opportunity to raise issues of concern, such as climate change, through the use of Early Day Motions.

Question from Mark Chrinside, Leamington Spa: What is your biggest single regret about your time in government since 1997?

Jack Straw: Pride greatly outweighs regret when I look back over nine years of Labour government. In that time we have delivered unprecedented economic growth, injected record investment in health, education and other public services, lifted 800,000 children out of poverty, cut crime, reduced unemployment - notably among the young, and led the world in fighting global poverty and tackling climate change.

However, there are always things that could have been done differently and, as I indicated on Question Time, I believe mistakes were made in the aftermath of the initial military intervention in Iraq.

I think, however, that my biggest regret was that we were not able to achieve more between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Question from Rob Patterson, Birmingham: People who support the "special relationship" sometimes say that it allows the UK to influence the US, and in particular that excesses of US policy are moderated. Can you give any specific example of this actually happening?

Question from Rupert Beauclerk, London: You obviously feel that your attempts to slow the US rush to unilateral war are now overlooked, and that you contributed something very positive by persuading the US to go back to the UN.

If you had waited until the inspections had finished, though, you would have avoided the accusations of lying, and been able to make a case for invasion according to your beliefs about securing the stability of the region, not on a WMD pretext. So why did you not put equal effort into persuading the US not to rush into war before the inspections finished? And if you did, why do you think they ignored you?

Jack Straw: As the second questioner acknowledges, the UK played a pivotal role in persuading the United States administration to seek the agreement of the United Nations ahead of any military intervention in Iraq.

It was the UN Security Council which declared Iraq a threat to international peace and security in Resolution 1441, which we were able to get passed in November 2002.

There were some people who said we had to have a second resolution to follow 1441. I made it clear to the House of Commons as early as 25 November 2002 that we didn't.

Nonetheless, we hoped very much that we could get a second resolution in order to secure a consensus in the Security Council. We also hoped that would not be necessary, because Iraq would come fully into compliance with its disarmament obligations. It didn't.

It is important to note that at all the Security Council meetings in early 2003, virtually no one was arguing that Iraq did not pose a threat to international peace and security. Nor was anybody arguing at the final Security Council meeting on the 7 March that Iraq was fully compliant with its disarmament obligations.

Question from Daniel Franklin, Manchester: As Leader of the House and a member of the New Labour government do you feel it is entirely appropriate to criticise both the actions and the members of an allied administration, i.e. the Bush government in the United States of America?

Question from Hans Pauley, Florida: During the last five years, the UK has destroyed its credibility as a "bridge" between the US and the remainder of the world. Is there any serious and substantive indication that a post-Blair Labour government would significantly alter this trend? Do you view Gordon Brown, whom admittedly is very Pro-American, as willing to make the tough decisions to rebuild the UK's status as the "bridge"?

Jack Straw: The UK has an enduring and very close relationship with the United States. It is vital that this continues. That means working together on areas where we agree and in combating challenges that we both believe need to be faced.

But perhaps the most important aspect of our relationship is working together on issues where we disagree. For example, on climate change, the UK government has taken up a different position from that of the US. But disengaging from discussions with the US government or gratuitously criticising them would be disastrously counterproductive.

So we continue to work together because we realise that these problems, like so many of the challenges that face us in the modern world - be they issues of terrorism or sustainable energy - cannot be solved independently.

In an increasingly interdependent world it is only through working together that such challenges can be overcome. So the UK government will continue to work alongside the US, as well as with our partners in the European Union and more widely.

Question from Anthony Teitler, London: Will the government support the Bush administration if diplomacy fails in regard to Iran?

Jack Straw: It is essential that diplomatic efforts are kept up to address the problems regarding Iran and in particular its nuclear programme. I remain hopeful and optimistic that such efforts will ultimately prove successful.

The UK government will continue to play a full part in assisting those efforts. So far the US, the "E3" (France, Germany and the UK) and China and Russia have worked productively together.

Question from Tom Barratt, Paris: Do you accept that the invasion of Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism?

Jack Straw: I have no doubt that the Iraq war has become a cause-célèbre for some Islamic terrorists. However, it is important to understand that the threat of Islamic terrorism predates the invasion of Iraq and indeed predates the attacks on America in 2001.

Furthermore, it is important to remember who the prime victims of terrorist violence in Iraq are today - ordinary Muslim people. If the terrorists are really motivated by concern for Iraq then why, as the Prime Minister recently asked, are they driving car bombs into the middle of crowded streets in order to blow up innocent women and children?

Question from Stephen, London: As Leader of the Commons, how can having two Scottish MPs as the front runners for PM be democratic? Powers for most agencies including health, education etc have been devolved in Scotland, yet Mr Reid or Mr Brown would set the agenda for solely English matters when they represent Scottish constituencies.

Jack Straw: English MPs control all the money which Scotland receives - is that 'fair'? England constitutes 85% of the UK's population and 87% of its wealth. It was English MPs who agreed to devolve some powers to Scotland in a Westminster Act of Parliament; but year by year controls over public spending levels for all of the UK continue to be exercised by Westminster. And power devolved is power retained, not ceded.

While the current Tory cry of "English votes on English laws" has a simplistic appeal, it is in reality unworkable, undesirable and dangerous. It would create a two-tier system of "ins and outs" that would be so complex and confusing as to be unworkable.

How is it possible, for example, to distinguish between English "bits" of legislation and UK "bits"? It isn't. The territorial extent of the clause in a bill - or part of a clause - cannot be conclusive, as so many "England only" decisions have plain implications for Scotland as well.

Hence, Vernon Bogdanor, perhaps the foremost constitutional expert in Britain, has claimed that the Tory proposals would "destroy the principle of collective responsibility, according to which government must stand or fall as a whole, commanding a majority on all the issues that come before Parliament, not just a selection. It is difficult to see how Britain could be effectively governed in such circumstances."

Moreover, it is difficult to see how the UK could remain united. The outcome of a break-up of the union would be calamitous.

The United Kingdom - Great Britain and Northern Ireland - is a union which works to the equal benefit of all four nations of the union. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Historically, England called the shots to achieve a union because the union was seen as a way, among others things, of amplifying England's power worldwide.

And the reverse would certainly be true. A broken-up United Kingdom would not be in the interests of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, but especially not England.

Our voting power in the European Union would diminish. We'd slip down in the world league GDP tables. Our case for staying in the G8 would diminish and there could easily be an assault on our permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

Mistakes made in Iraq, says Straw
28 Sep 06 |  UK Politics
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