Jack Straw MP: You Ask The Questions

The Leader of the House of Commons answers your questions, such as 'Why did you raise the issue of the hijab?' and 'Have you thought about dyeing your hair?'
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Donald Rumsfeld, an architect of the Iraq war, has resigned. As its principal UK apologist, did you ever consider resigning? MARK MORGAN, Bath


You appear to have been against the attack on Iraq initially. Were you threatened with the sack if you didn't go along with it? RICHARD SHARP, Waterlooville, Hampshire


You congratulated and hugged Colin Powell, who addressed the UN Security Council in perhaps the most shameful and cynical attempt to argue the case for war against Iraq. Don't you feel ashamed? GEORGE WHITFIELD, by e-mail

No. We are supporting the Iraqi people as they seek to build democracy in Iraq. In their recent elections, millions of ordinary Iraqis defied the terrorists to vote for a democratic future. Supporting them in that aim is nothing to be ashamed about.

Why is the UK Parliament stalling on an inquiry into the Iraq war? MOHINDER JERATH, Canton, Georgia, USA

There have been three inquiries into the Iraq war, conducted by Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, by the Intelligence and Security Committee and by the Butler inquiry. The Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly also examined aspects of the war.

Many people, including myself, regard you and Blair as war criminals for invading Iraq. You no doubt think you are not, why not? SANJEEV CHOWDHURY, by e-mail

I'm sorry that you feel that way about me, but you are wrong. The Iraq war was not illegal.

On 7 December 2002, as required by Resolution 1441, Iraq provided the UN Security Council with a 12,000-page declaration of its past WMD and missile programmes. You condemned it as "12,000 pages of lies". Is that still your opinion? PAT ODDY, Yarm

Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant who deceived the international community time and again. Military action could and would have been avoided if he had co-operated fully with the UN.

Do you concede that the invasion of and occupation of Iraq is fuelling terrorism in the region far greater than al-Qa'ida ever could have? BRENDAN CLEGG, Worcestershire

No. The terrorism in Iraq is appalling. But it is important to remember that the terrorism is being carried out by people who are seeking to stop Iraq from having what a majority of its people want, democracy. This kind of terrorism did not begin after the Iraq war - it had been growing for many years before.

How can you sleep at night, given all the death and bloodshed in Iraq? STEVEN ALMOND, Cambridge

The implication of your question is whether I reflect on the decisions I have taken as a politician. Of course I do, and I have done so over Iraq. But I believe we did the right thing in taking military action in Iraq. You may disagree with me over that, and I respect your view. But when I have visited Iraq, as I have done many times, what Iraqis have told me is that they are glad the coalition took the action it did in 2003. The people responsible for the bloodshed are not coalition forces but vicious terrorists determined to prevent the construction of a democratic Iraq, which the overwhelming number of Iraqis wish to see.

Whatever became of the left-leaning radical young Jack Straw, now buddies with the likes of Condoleezza Rice? DR TOM MCGUIRK, Denmark

I had friends across the political divide then. I am very much the same person.

You seem to have got on very well with Ms Rice. Was it an emotional bonding? And did you discover that she is a nice woman stuck in a nasty administration or a tough beastie? JIM HODGETTS, Chennai, India

I'm sure you spent some time dreaming up this question. Nice try, but next please...

Despite being Ms Rice's guest on her aircraft, would it not have been more gentlemanly to have slept on the floor and allowed your hostess the bed, rather than the other way around? CAROL FEENSTRA

Yes, I feel a bit of a cad about it! However, I was so tired that I did not properly realise until the morning that Secretary Rice would be sleeping on the floor.

What was your honest reaction to being replaced by the robotic uber-Blairite Margaret Beckett? GARETH DANCER, by e-mail

Margaret is a good friend of mine and she is a very good Foreign Secretary.

Are you a Freemason or member of any other secret society and what is your opinion of secret societies? T GOLDMAN, Blackburn, Lancashire

No. When I was Home Secretary I initiated a system whereby police and prison officers declared membership of societies like the Freemasons.

It's now six years since you released Augusto Pinochet. He has still not faced justice. Why did you let him go? MARCUS WILLIAMSON, by e-mail

All the way through I acted in accordance with the best judgements I could make on the law. I concluded on strong independent medical evidence that the extradition process had to be stopped because Pinochet was medically unfit to stand trial.

My wife, without any coercion from myself, has expressed a desire to wear the hijab. Yet, because of fear of discrimination, she has not felt confident to do it in this country. Can you explain why you chose to raise the issue of the wearing of the hijab? MUHSIN MALTEZOS, by e-mail

I didn't. I raised the issue of the wearing of the niqab, the veil. The hijab is the headscarf. I not only support the wearing of the hijab, I celebrate it. Indeed, I criticised the French government when it banned the hijab in schools and workplaces. On the niqab, I also defend the right of those who wish to wear it. As I said in my column in the Lancashire Telegraph, I ask women who come to my constituency surgeries wearing the niqab if they would mind removing it because I find that face to face communication is easier. If they do not want to remove it, that is their decision. I would never support a ban on wearing the niqab. I'd advise readers who wish to know my views on the veil to read my original column, which they can find at www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/blog/ index.var.488.0.i_want_to_unveil_my_views_on_an_important_issue.php

A British citizen can wear anything they like so why should it be any different when meeting their constituency representative? Given that you have projected yourself in this debate as narrow minded and anti-Muslim, should you even be a politician? ADO SIGAL, Geneva

I agree with the thrust of the first part of your question - people can wear whatever they like when they meet me. As I've said many times, I defend the right of women to wear the veil. When I asked if they would consider removing it, it was a request not a demand. I suggest that you read my column (see above for the web link). As for your second point, it's both untrue and ignorant. My remarks on the niqab are no different from those of many leading Islamic scholars - does that make them "anti-Muslim"?

Muslim women can go to mosques in Kabul but not Blackburn. Isn't that more of a problem than veils? PAUL GREENING, Oxford

I have never suggested that the issue of the veil is the number one issue. I wrote about it in my weekly column in the Lancashire Telegraph. Others decided it was an issue upon which to have a major debate. As I said in my column: "My concerns could be misplaced. But I think there is an issue here." It seems I was right.

You unleashed mayhem in Iraq. You unleashed racism in Britain. You even turned in your own son to the police. Why on earth do you think you are fit to be deputy leader of the Labour Party? MARGARET McDONALD, Edinburgh

Your question contains an assumption wrapped in a series of inaccuracies. I have answered the first two points you make. You are absolutely wrong on both counts and I reject what you say. On the third, I have never talked publicly about my family.

Which was more embarrassing: that at a Commonwealth summit in 2004 you shook hands with Robert Mugabe, or that he then turned to his minders and asked "who was that?" KATRINA BENNETTO, Durham

I wasn't embarrassed. Mugabe and I both evidently had the same problem - not realising who the other was.

Do the demands of realpolitik destroy the political soul? JOHN LEONARD, by e-mail

They can do, if politics becomes valueless. But if by realpolitik you mean accepting the need for compromise, that is not antithetical to good politics but part of it.

Do you think a coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in a hung parliament would be a good thing, or are you against a coalition full stop? SARAH VEALE, London

I'm in favour of the Labour Party winning elections. Always have been. Peacetime coalitions are almost always second best, and often give the smaller parties involved great power for little responsibility.

Have you ever used illegal drugs. If not why not? BERNIE EVANS, Tottenham

No. Mainly, I guess, because they were not around much in Leeds when I was there.

Have you ever thought about dyeing your hair? BRAN CULLEN, Birmingham

Yes. Then I remember the closing scenes in Death in Venice.

Are you religious and do you pray for guidance over big political decisions? KATIE CONNOR, Manchester

I am religious, but my religion is a private matter.

Do you think Labour will have sorted out Lords reform in this parliament? PETER REDING, by e-mail

I hope so. We have achieved more on Lords reform than any other government. When we came to power, the largest proportion of peers were there on birthright. Most of them have now gone. But Lords reform is unfinished business. I am currently seeking to build a cross-party consensus on the next stage of reform. There are a myriad of views on the subject and it will be tough, but I am hopeful of making progress.

What cabinet job would you like under Prime Minister Gordon Brown? EILEEN BARRETT, Reading

Another nice try, but as I'm sure you know the allocation of cabinet jobs is a matter for the prime minister of the day.

Do you ever hanker for the old days of student radicalism? MARY BIGALOWSKI, London

Yes. They were huge fun - and I think we did good.

Did you find as Foreign Secretary, having to attend European negotiations as eye glazingly boring as I imagine? PETE GRAY, Sussex

The truth is that sometimes they are pretty dull!

What do you think was your biggest mistake as Foreign Secretary? TAHSIN BHANJI, by e-mail

Good question. The only people who never make mistakes are those who never make decisions.

Tell me one good thing you have ever done in politics. ROB HANSON, Brighton

Here are five: I set up the inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence, I took the subsequent legislation (the 2000 Race Relations Act) through Parliament, I led the negotiations which cleared the way for talks on Turkey's entry to the European Union, I took the Human Rights Act through Parliament and some say I played a role in easing tensions between India and Pakistan in 2002.

What is the secret of survival at the top of the Labour Party? JO LANDESMAN, Edinburgh

Energy, stamina, the gym and five pieces of fruit every day.

You Ask The Questions Next week: Alan Johnson, Education Secretary

Send your questions to: myquestion@independent.co.uk