Kim Howells puts the Government's case on Iraqi interpreters

It Helicopter in Iraqcompletely buggered up my going to Pond Square carols on Thursday – which is one of my fav of the year events – but having been trying to get a meeting with Minister Kim Howells about the Iraqi interpreters issue for some time – then when only the day before I was told that a 5.30pm meeting was arranged, that took precedence.

I think it was the powers of persuasion of Chris Bryant (MP for Rhondda, Labour) rather than my that achieved this – but also Ed Vaizey Conservative MP and Dan Hardie – my local constituent who first brought the issue to me and who is at the forefront of this campaign.

The Minister would only see MPs and Ed was unable to come – so myself and Chris put the issues to him. I have abbreviated substantially and just give the essential gist below. The answers are those given in the meeting by Kim Howells – rather than my own view of what the answers should be!

Q. Why had the Government decided that only those Iraqis who had worked for more than 12 months for the British armed forces could qualify for the asylum or resettlement grants?
A. Difficult to draw the line – but must be drawn somewhere otherwise Britain would be open to thousands coming here; 12 months seemed to accommodate most of those at risk.

Q. But why not make a decision based on a risk assessment of an individual’s circumstances rather than impose an arbitrary cut-off date?
A. Too difficult a process in the situation.

Q. Why can’t people who worked for the British armed forces before 1 January 2005 qualify for asylum or resettlement grants?
A. It wasn’t dangerous before then.

Q. Why is the process of helping those who have worked for our armed forces so slow? Time is of the essence when people are in fear of their lives.
A. Because it takes time to do checks before a person is got out of the country, and when they are got out to a third party country there is another delay there whilst their status etc. is sorted.

Q. How long is it between contact by an Iraqi in danger and getting him/her out of the country
A. Three months.

At this point the Minister had to attend the Commons Chamber and the meeting terminated. Kim Howells seemed genuinely committed to trying to get those at risk to safety – but in erring on the side of caution so much it did seem to me that he was getting it wrong.

There would be people whose cases did not neatly fit the guidlines, and the whole process can be terribly slow. When people’s lives are at risk, it is better – far, far better – to err on the side of of saving someone’s life. We live in a world that at times seems obsessed with avoiding any risk – hence all the warnings that packets of nuts may contain nuts, that hot drinks might be hot, and on and on. And yet then when we have lives at risk in this case – suddenly erring on the side of safety doesn’t apply. A mad, mad world!

To be continued…

But in the meantime, there are two things you can do:

  1. There’s an EDM (a sort of Parliamentary petition) you can ask your MP to sign. It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.
  2. You can sign the petition at

(If you’d like some more background on the issue, you can read my recent article on the subject).