DEFENCE (FRONT BENCH) – LIB-DEMS & IRAQ – 26 March 2009

[Mr Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat Defence Spokesman): Only five months have passed since we last had a debate entitled “Defence in the UK”, but a great deal has happened in that time: there has been a grave worsening of the economic crisis; there has been the decision to issue a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq; and a new US Administration has arrived, with a very different approach from their predecessor. I particularly welcome the announcement of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and I recall with some amusement that when we Liberal Democrats argued previously for that, we were lampooned on the basis that we could not have a timetable for withdrawal and it was naive of us to think that such a thing could be done as we should never signal our intentions to the enemy. However, we said at the time that the day would inevitably come when the Government would announce a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and they have now done so, and so too have the Americans. It is my sincere belief – as it was when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) first suggested to this House that there ought to be a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq – that that is long overdue and could have been done a great deal earlier.]

Dr Julian Lewis: I am pleased that a debate on defence in the UK can be interpreted as covering defence in the world, and I would just point out that the Liberal Democrats were proposing a timetable for withdrawal before the surge had happened and succeeded, and at a time when the outcome of the conflict in Iraq was very much in the balance.

[Nick Harvey: I respect what the hon. Gentleman says and I understand his argument, but the point that was made at the time was that one could not have such a thing as a timetable for withdrawal, and the fact of the matter is – [Interruption.] That was not the point that was made at the time; the point was made that we could not have a timetable for withdrawal, but of course we can have a timetable for withdrawal. Clearly, it has to be a timetable that takes account of the circumstances, but the fact of the matter is that we can have such a timetable and, ultimately, as was always going to be the case, that is precisely what we have ended up having ... ]

[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]