Geoff Hoon – 2003 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, to the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth on 1st October 2003.

Conference, we have heard today from an outstanding president of Afghanistan. I would like to tell you now about one man from Iraq.

Muff Sourani was born in Northern Iraq in 1942. His father was in the army, and as a result, as a child, he moved to Southern Iraq, where he went to Secondary School in Basra.

Mr Sourani first came to Britain in 1962 to complete his education. In the 1970s he returned to Iraq as an engineer. Saddam Hussein’s regime falsely accused him of being a British collaborator. They imprisoned and tortured him for eight weeks.

It was only after urgent petitioning by the then Member of Parliament for Workington, the late Fred Peart, that Mr Sourani was released.

Mr Sourani has lived in Britain ever since – with his wife Ahlam, who is also an Iraqi.

The Souranis have experienced at first hand the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime.  Yet they also know of Iraq’s enormous potential, not least its educated, sophisticated people.

Mr Sourani’s determination therefore, at the age of 60, is to see a better Iraq.  He has worked for over thirty years for the engineering unions.  He is currently a Regional Officer for AMICUS and sits on the Board of the West Midlands Labour Party.

I am delighted that with the help of AMICUS, the TUC and the Ministry of Defence, Mr Sourani will soon be returning to Iraq to help organise free trade unions, beginning in the south of the country where he was brought up.

Trade Unions were banned by Saddam Hussein in 1977. With the help of Mr Sourani, and others like him, trade unions will have the opportunity, once again, to recruit and to organise.  Free trade unions are a fundamental part of the civilised democratic society that we are determined to develop in Iraq.

Conference, I am delighted to introduce you to Muff and Ahlam Sourani.

Conference, we all know that there are different and passionately held views about the military intervention in Iraq.  There was a vigorous debate in Blackpool last year.  We have heard strong speeches today.

But I do want to emphasise that no-one takes a decision to use military force lightly. Whether and when to intervene militarily is always the most difficult decision to take. I have spoken to bereaved family members too often lately. I will never take their loss lightly. The decision to commit Britain’s armed forces is never one that I, or anyone else in Government, takes without carefully considering all of the arguments.

But whatever differences exist on the question of military intervention – now is the time to agree on a shared vision of the way forward for Iraq.

Muff Sourani is determined to help rebuild the country of his birth.

We want to work with him, and others like him, to help build that better Iraq.

All of us should share that determination.  Whatever our sincerely held differences about the military intervention

surely all of us want to see:

– an Iraq that respects human rights.

– an Iraq that respects democracy.

– an Iraq, free and prosperous restored to its rightful place in the international community.

Our Armed Forces are just as determined to go on playing their part.

I want to pay tribute to the fifty-one British service personnel who have died since the conflict began.

They died to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime – and in doing so, to disarm Iraq of its illegal weapons of mass destruction.

They died to provide the opportunity we now have to build a better Iraq.

We, and the people of Iraq, are indebted to them. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Nor should we forget the hard work and professionalism of all those people, both military and civilian, who have helped to support operations in Iraq.

There are many unsung heroes – from planners to logisitics experts, from TA drivers to theatre nurses.  All have worked long hours, often in the most difficult and demanding conditions.  Proving once again that Britain’s armed forces are amongst the best, if not the best, in the world.

Over 10,000 British service men and women are in and around Iraq today, working hard to secure that better future for the people of Iraq.  Demonstrating, now, their excellence at peacekeeping and their skill in the demanding and sensitive task of reconstruction.

British service personnel are helping to stabilise the security situation.  The number of security incidents in the south has been declining.  Our work with local councils, schools and religious leaders is increasing public support – assisting the operations against those terrorists and criminals that remain.

British service personnel are helping to train the Iraqi police. Some 45,000 police have been recruited across Iraq, with thousands now operating alongside coalition forces.  Together with over 2,000 Iraqi border guards they are providing vital improvements to the security of the country.  Every day enabling Iraqis to take more responsibility for their own country.

And British service personnel are providing practical assistance to the international development efforts to rebuild Iraq. Too often those efforts have been thwarted by criminals and looters – literally stealing copper cable from power lines. That is why we still need a military presence. That military expertise is helping to deliver a more stable power supply and to significantly improve the delivery of fuel and water – securing the everyday necessities of life for the Iraqi people.

Legitimate concerns remain. About security. About infrastructure. About the political process.

But real progress is being made. Thanks to the determined efforts being made right across Government.

Surely no-one would want us to fail.

The fact that Britain’s armed forces are amongst the best in the world – able to make such a difference in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere – does not happen by chance. Their excellence is the result not only of the inherent qualities of service personnel, but also of the decisions taken by Government on how they are trained, organised, equipped and supported.

This Labour Government is providing our armed forces with the investment they deserve. The Tories cut the defence budget by nearly a third between 1985 and 1997. In contrast, last year’s spending review settlement produced an extra £3.5 billion for defence. Thanks to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the defence budget is rising.

And a growing defence budget means that we will be able to invest more money in the people that serve in the forces and in the modern technologies they need. For it is those people that ultimately define our armed forces.

The extra money will be invested in better, more integrated training.

The extra money will be invested to improve accommodation.

And the extra money will be invested to provide better pay and fairer pension entitlements, where there will no longer be discrimination against unmarried partners.

The extra money is also being invested to improve the quality of the armed forces’ equipment – equipping our forces to be the best.

Thanks to the excellence and competitiveness of British manufacturing industry, and all those who work in manufacturing, our forces are equipped to succeed.

We are helping the revival in shipbuilding by building over 30 ships and submarines in the next 20 years. This has given new hope to proud shipbuilding communities on the Tyne and Tees, on the Clyde, at Rosyth and at Barrow.

And two weeks ago I was delighted to open Vosper Thorneycroft’s new shipyard in Portsmouth – the first new shipyard in Britain for 100 years.

And this Government’s decision to choose Hawk as the next Advanced Jet Trainer for the Royal Air Force – securing over 2000 jobs on Humberside – is a further example of our commitment.

When I visited BAE Systems at Brough last week, I was able to offer my thanks to the workforce.

Hawk is an example of where we in government listened and where we in government have delivered.

Talking to the shop-stewards, I was able to congratulate them on  their consistently constructive support and the support of the trade union leaders of AMICUS, the GMB and the T and G.

They, like me, are committed to British manufacturing excellence.

A commitment that delivers the best equipment for our armed forces when they need it.

This is the real difference a Labour Government makes.

With extra money for defence, there is renewed pride in local manufacturing communities, working together to build the best equipment for our armed forces.

There is renewed pride in our armed forces, recognising the sacrifice they make on our behalf.

And there is renewed pride in our Party’s internationalist tradition.  A tradition that ensures that the United Kingdom makes a real difference in the world.

This debate is called “Britain in the World”. It is about Britain’s place in that world.

This Labour Government is taking difficult decisions. Decisions that make a difference to real people’s lives.

Providing medical and practical help to the orphans of Sierra Leone who lost limbs at the hands of vicious rebels.

Rebuilding schools in Afghanistan to give girls – some for the first time – an education.

And freeing the people of Iraq from a murderous and oppressive regime to give them back their rights as citizens of what is once again a free country.

Conference, Ernest Bevin, said a generation ago:

“We regard ourselves as one of the powers most vital to the peace of the world.” It was true then and it’s true now.

That is Labour’s role in the world – contributing to peace, a force for good, upholding our values at home and around the world.