Iraqi interpreters: new EDM

I have retabled my EDM calling on the British Government to move further and faster in its help for the Iraqi interpreters – those who helped us and are helping us in Iraq but for whom the consequence of doing so is to be hunted by death squads in Basra.

All EDMs fall at the end of a parliamentary session – which is why I have retabled it for the new session and it is now open for MPs to sign it (whether or not they signed the previous one). Encourage your MP to sign!

It’s EDM 401 and you can read it here and see who has signed it.

If you are not familiar with this issue – here’s what I wrote recently:

Many Iraqis employed by the British are tortured when found by the Iraqi death-squads. Like Haidr al-Mtury, a translator for the British, who had holes drilled into his hands and knees before both legs were broken and acid was poured over his face. Only then did a bullet to the head put an end to his suffering.

You can read the full article here.

Meanwhile – Dan Hardie has a harrowing account of the day-to-day fears for their safety of Iraqis who worked for Britain.

A death sentence for UK's Iraqi employees

That’s the subject of my recent article for Liberal Democrat News:

Many Iraqis employed by the British are tortured when found by the Iraqi death-squads. Like Haidr alMtury, a translator for the British, who had holes drilled into his hands and knees before both legs were broken and acid was poured over his face. Only then did a bullet to the head put an end to his suffering. These Iraqis are people whose intelligence and work the British Forces lives have been dependant upon. Yet the fact is that the British government is treating these people as if they are applying for means tested benefit – not like people who are fleeing for their lives.

The British treatment of Iraqi employees stands in stark contrast to the employees of the Danes. When the Danish government pulled their troops out of Iraq at the beginning of August, they foresaw the perils facing their staff and immediately acted, chartering a flight that took all 60 of their Iraqi staff, and their families, straight to Copenhagen and a new life without fear…

The government’s protracted review has brought us a remarkably poorly thought out policy that is practically unsustainable and morally unforgivable. The death squads won’t wait and neither should we; the government must act immediately or it will have the blood of Iraqi employees on its hands.

You can read the full piece here and sign the petition here.

Once more into the fray!

It felt just like going back to school – but only for a moment. Then it was back into the familiar routines when Parliament is sitting and as if the summer recess had never happened.

The big one yesterday was Gordon (I used to be taken seriously) Brown – coming to the House to give a statement on Iraq. I was trying to think: if he hadn’t made such a pig’s ear of the last few weeks – would this have been well received? Partially – is the answer.

His news on reductions in troop numbers – albeit not enough – and half-hearted help for the Iraqis whose work for us in the war now means the Basra death squads are hunting them down and killing them – was typical Brown, picking up on the big issues but only making partial and unsatisfying moves on them.

As I am sponsoring tonight’s meeting on the fate of the Iraqi interpreters who worked for the British armed forces, I was glad the the pressure that has mounted on this issue (mostly thanks to the blogosphere who pushed it to the fore) had obviously got to Gordon.

As usual, Gordon threw his big arms around the Iraqi employees tent – not wishing to look bad publicly (which he does) for using them then throwing them to the dogs. But he didn’t say what he should have said. Instead we got the mealy-mouthed Gordon version which was a financial package to help resettle somewhere – and ‘under agreed circumstances’ some would be allowed to come here.

A more detailed statement will follow this week. It had better!

Gordon Brown breaks his word

Oh dear. It really isn’t new Gordon at all is it? Off jets the PM to Iraq (handily clashing with Conservative conference, trying to steal some of the media coverage from them) and announces 1,000 troops are to come home – but 500 of them were coming home already. And – what happened to GB’s promise to make announcements first to Parliament?

Double-counting numbers and putting spin first. It’s the same old Gordon!

Debating Iraq

So – another chance to debate and beg for an Iraq inquiry – and another chance for the Labour Government to say no! And that is what happened. Although it has to be said it was game, set and match to the opposition parties (united now the Tories have realised how wrong they were to vote for the war) who really made mincemeat of Beckett. The Government had not a single good argument. Sadly, that didn’t stop them winning the vote. For goodness sake – even the US has had an inquiry!

Before that we were subjected to King Tony in the last days of his reign coming forth to the House of Commons, returned from the glorious G8 Summit where agreements to talks were the successes of the day.

Not to be too harsh (oh why not?) whilst it is good that the G8 agreed to a UN-sponsored process on climate change – actually there already is one in the form of Kyoto protocol which involves all of the key developing countries. And while the protocol’s first commitment period comes to an end in 2012 – the protocol itself doesn’t.

If Bush is serious about wanting to involve the US in climate talks all he needs to do is ratify Kyoto – and Bob’s your uncle. Then he can join the next commitment period talks – no probs!

That having been said – it’s at least a start to raising these issues amongst those who count – agreements etc must follow – otherwise it’s all hot air.

Ed Vaizey's dress sense

Just got back from the Westminster Hour. Ed Vaizey (Conservative MP), now clearly desperate to put me off my stride on our weekly Sunday tryst, has taken to wearing strange outfits. Tonight’s little number was a bright yellow phosphorescent jacket and shorts. That boy will try anything! So if I seemed distracted … perhaps next time I should bring a camera!

First up was the Opposition Day motion on an Iraq enquiry coming up this week in Parliament. The Scot Nats had a debate asking for an enquiry not that long ago – and whilst we Lib Dems voted for an inquiry – the Government (just) won the vote.

This time however, the interesting issue for me is the timing. With Gordon about to ascend the throne – if I was he and trying to put a bit of distance between myself and TB – I might very well in my first hundred days announce an Iraq inquiry. So let’s spoil it for Gordy and vote for one before he gets the chance to spin his involvement in taking us to war.

In fact, listening to a package before I went on tonight, several of the would be deputy leaders of the Labour party were – at one of their hustings in Oxford that the Westminster Hour’s Carolyn Quinn had been to – wringing their hands in grief over how misled they had been over the war (even though most were in the cabinet) and how wrong the intelligence must have been. Spare me the tears. We, the Lib Dems, were the only party asking the hard questions and we were reviled in the House for our stance. Those Labour MPs can’t get away with saying “we were misled”. The truth is – they not only failed to answer the right questions, they reviled those who did ask questions.

And those Tories are being very cheeky (if not somewhat opportunistic) having a debate for an Iraq inquiry as they were very much cheerleaders for the war (though boy David has flipped and flopped back and forth on the issue – saying he was for it, then saying he agreed with the Lib Dems, then changing his mind again, and now – I presume! – will be voting for an inquiry).

Anyway – we also had a chat about my colleague Tom Brake’s 10 minute rule bill on Freedom of Information – coming up on Tuesday. It really extends the original powers to request material under the Freedom of Information Act so that when the Government tries shenanigans to avoid giving up information the ultimate decision will be in the hands of the Information Tribunal or Commissioner – and not in the hands of ministers.

Interestingly, the Bill would also bring private contractors who work for public bodies into the realm of FoI. Quite right! Now virtually everything is outsourced – the companies to whom previously public sector contracts are now awarded should be subject to proper scrutiny and come under the FoI banner.