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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 03:34 GMT 04:34 UK
MPs criticise lack of Iraq vote
Labour conference
Delegates should be able to debate Iraq on Wednesday
Anti-war protesters have reacted angrily after Prime Minister Tony Blair was spared the embarrassment of a vote on the UK's involvement in the war on Iraq at his party's annual conference.

Delegates decided four contemporary issues would be discussed this week - but military intervention in Iraq was not one of them.

Instead manufacturing, employment rights, pensions and health came top of a poll of party members on the first day of the Bournemouth conference.

Despite the vote being largely influenced by the big unions, Halifax MP Alice Mahon accused the party leadership of manipulation.

She said: "It is quite outrageous that they have managed conference in this way - the fact that they have manipulated and manoeuvred the agenda so they are not going to give us a formal debate."

The decision not to have any debate at this conference will not do anything other than increase public cynicism
Alan Simpson MP
Chairman, Labour Against the War
Veteran ex-Labour MP and staunch peace campaigner Tony Benn also criticised the decision and said it was a "major scandal".

The country's top four trade unions, Unison, Amicus, the GMB and the Transport and General Workers' Union, ganged up together to guarantee that their motions would succeed.

Amicus's bid for government support to address manufacturing job losses won 57% support, while a call by the GMB for companies to be forced to pay into occupational pension funds secured 57% of the vote.

The TGWU's demand for stronger employment rights won 66% and Unison's opposition to foundation hospitals won 72%.

While a motion on Iraq trailed in fifth place with 21%, it was still well ahead of other issues including fair trade and emigration.

The conference is expected to get the chance to raise Iraq during a debate on Wednesday following a speech by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

The vote results were revealed a day after tens of thousands of people marched on London in protest at the UK's "occupation" of Iraq.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"He wasn't backing down"


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