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Commons Chamber

Volume 400: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2003

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 25 February 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

The Secretary of State was asked—

Zimbabwe

1.

If he will make a statement about the situation in Zimbabwe.[98782]

5.

What action he is taking regarding human rights abuses by the Government of Zimbabwe.[98786]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

The situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate. The leader of the opposition is on trial for treason. Arrests and torture of those opposed to President Mugabe's regime continue unabated. The economy is in crisis: unemployment is at over 70 per cent., inflation is above 200 per cent., the currency is in free fall, there is a critical shortage of foreign exchange, and more than 7 million Zimbabweans now need emergency food aid. We are doing what we can to feed the population: Britain is the largest governmental donor to the humanitarian programme. Our aim remains a democratic, prosperous and stable Zimbabwe, under a Government of its people's choosing.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the catalogue of disasters that have befallen the Zimbabwe people; but does he share the pleasure that I felt on observing the bravery of two cricketers from Zimbabwe who wore black armbands to demonstrate their solidarity with the people?

I do share my hon. Friend's admiration—and, I think, that of all Members—for the two Zimbabwean cricketers who stood up to the Mugabe regime and in their own way, quietly expressed their abhorrence of the behaviour that the Government are causing in the countries to which they belong. They were an example to everyone.

Although our own cricketers were understandably concerned about their own safety in the event of their playing in Harare, I think it was clear from the comments of many of them, particularly the captain, that they also took a moral position. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating those cricketers on showing that they were not willing to compromise their own position or to compromise with Mugabe?

Is not one of the big problems in dealing with Zimbabwe the fact that South Africa sees the position rather differently? What discussions is my hon. Friend having with South Africa to enable it to see what we can see, and what President Mbeki does not seem willing or able to see?

I agree that the England cricketers were very uncomfortable about the prospect of playing a game of cricket in Zimbabwe in the circumstances in which the Zimbabwe people find themselves under the Mugabe regime. We have been trying to work with a number of countries, including South Africa, to bring about an international understanding that that regime is unacceptable, and is making its people's lives a misery. Only if South Africa, the Commonwealth countries and indeed the European Union recognise the abhorrent nature of the regime and try to change it can we give the opposition in Zimbabwe the support—both political and other support—that it requires.

Many of us strongly support the comment by the Secretary of State for International Development that a tacky deal was done with the French on Zimbabwe. Will the Minister assure us that we have told our French allies, in the strongest possible terms, that their action in allowing Mugabe to come to Paris last week has totally undermined the west's condemnation of the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe?

President Mugabe's visit to Paris certainly constituted a sad day for France. It was deeply regrettable. On the positive side, however, it produced a robust condemnation of President Mugabe inLe Monde and other French newspapers. I think that that brought home to many French people the detestable nature of the Mugabe regime.

What precisely have the Government done in the last two months to put pressure on the evil tyrant Mugabe? Following last week's disgraceful scenes in Paris, will the Foreign Secretary be summoning the French ambassador to tell him that the actions of the President of France are held in utter contempt by Members in all parts of the House of Commons?

On 18 February we agreed, through the European Union, to extend the ban on travel. Unfortunately the ban was interrupted for four days, between 14 and 18 February. We regret that, and we regret that President Mugabe was able to visit Paris; but we managed to ensure a continuation of the ban from 18 February, which was a result of the efforts of the British Government—working with others—to convey the message that as far as we are concerned, Robert Mugabe's Government are unacceptable.

My hon. Friend referred to the courageous action of Henry Olonga and Andy Flower in standing up to bemoan the death of democracy in Zimbabwe, and the Government have already shown support for their stand. However, as both are Commonwealth citizens, will the Government consider honouring them in a specific way, to show that we really do want to see change in Zimbabwe?

My hon. Friend makes a very good suggestion, and I shall take that idea away with me. We are certainly prepared to consider any similar suggestions from other Members, and as I have said, those two cricketers are an example to us all.

Given President Chirac's contemptible demolition of the EU travel sanctions as he danced attendance on Mugabe in Paris last week, and given the almost certain failure of the Commonwealth to renew Zimbabwe's suspension, is not the Government's policy on Mugabe now in tatters? Why will they not show the same moral outrage and determination in relation to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe that has been shown in relation to those in other parts of the world, and mobilise the international community—if necessary, through the United Nations—to bring about fresh elections in Zimbabwe, and to end this brutal human tragedy? When will they understand that they can no longer pass by on the other side?

In the real world, Zimbabwe is a sovereign country, and the sad reality is that if a regime is determined to destroy its own country and its own people, there is a limit to what the international community can do. However, the international community is making clear to the Zimbabwean Government the effects of their policies, and we have made it very clear that the Zimbabwean Government are behaving in way that is totally abhorrent to us. Through the Commonwealth, through the European Union and through our contacts with other countries, we have made plain our detestation of that Government, and we are continuing to apply as much pressure as we can to ensure that that message goes out throughout the whole of the international community.

Gibraltar

2.

What assessment he has made of the outcome of the referendum held by the Government of Gibraltar on 7 November 2002.[98783]

We have taken note of the outcome. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 18 November last year, we have always been clear that no deal will be imposed on the people of Gibraltar against their will.

The Minister will know by now just how proud the people of Gibraltar are of being British, and who can blame them? Bearing in mind what I have just said, has the Minister had time to study the recent United Nations press release, in which it recommends that the decolonisation of such territories should include the option of integration? Does he agree with the United Nations, or not?

The hon. Gentleman, who is an expert on this matter, poses an important technical question. Gibraltar is an overseas territory with considerable devolved powers of self-government. We do of course support the principle and the right of self-determination, but it must be exercised in accordance with the UN charter, and with other treaty obligations. In Gibraltar's case, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that includes the treaty of Utrecht.

It is clear that everybody recognises the voice of Gibraltar through the referendum, and their overwhelming support for remaining British citizens. Will my hon. Friend now look forward to helping to celebrate 300 years of British sovereignty of Gibraltar next year?

As an historian, I find that the idea of celebrating the 300th anniversary of the treaty of Utrecht has considerable appeal. However, we should perhaps note that, at the moment, Spain is standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Britain over the great question of Iraq. I hope that the patriotic people of Gibraltar will welcome the fact that currently, we have a very strong ally on the big issue that confronts us all.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the referendum, far from being eccentric, was judged to be fair and open. Will he take this opportunity to reflect on the bullying, arrogance and inaccuracies that have been characteristic of Ministers on this issue? I invite him to apologise now to the people of Gibraltar, whose only cardinal sin in the eyes of this Government is simply to want to remain British.

I have been accused of many things since I became Minister for Europe, but being a bully is not yet one of them. The hon. Gentleman is an expert on being arrogant. I am happy to repeat what has been said again and again at this Dispatch Box—as long as I am Minister for Europe, it will be the people of Gibraltar who will decide their future. That is the position of the Government. It was the position in the past, it is the position now and it will be the position in the future.

Do not the people of Gibraltar, especially the 98.97 per cent. who voted as they did, have an inalienable right to self-determination? Has not the treaty of Utrecht been overtaken by concepts of international law and are not the secret Anglo-Spanish talks in breach of international law?

There are no secret talks in which I have taken part. The treaty of Utrecht remains valid under international law—pacta sunt servanda, to use the Latin phrase. That means that we obey international law. I would not want to be a member of a Government who tore up international law just because it suited some people.

Iraq

3.

What recent discussions he has had with EU partners about Iraq. [98784]

4.

What the Government's policy is on Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [98785]

I have had frequent discussions with my EU counterparts on Iraq, including yesterday at the General Affairs and External Relations Council. Our policy is to ensure that Iraq complies with its obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. Resolution 1441, which served notice on Iraq that it must now give up its weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences, is strongly supported by the EU and the international community as a whole. The United Kingdom, Spain and the United States yesterday jointly tabled a draft second resolution in New York and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will make a statement about that at 12.30 pm today. The House will also wish to know that I have presented to the House today, for the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members, a Command Paper containing relevant diplomatic documents relating to Iraq, including the main inspectors' reports, statements to the Security Council and 13 of the—

It was written principally by the Security Council—and I think most of them have PhDs. It contains 13 of the main Security Council resolutions.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his response. In his discussions, did he confirm that the UK and the US would uphold international humanitarian law, which precludes the use of cluster bombs and attacks on water and electrical infrastructure? Did he also confirm the role that the UK and the US would play in rebuilding Iraq after a conflict and establishing democratic government there?

We have always made it clear that we will act strictly in accordance with all aspects of international law. The reason we are so focused on Iraq at the moment is to require it to meet its clear obligations under international law. If right hon. and hon. Members are unconvinced about the need for us to take firm action on Iraq, I urge them to read the 13 separate Security Council resolutions, which chart the obligations on Iraq, the threat posed by it and the fact that, year by year, its defiance of the UN has become greater. At the European Council yesterday we did not discuss humanitarian relief if military action takes place, but that is the subject of intensive discussions, not least with the Secretary-General of the United Nations

What is the Foreign Secretary's knowledge of the reported attempts by the US Government to bully, bribe and blackmail members of the Security Council into supporting the new US-UK draft resolution? Do those activities form part of the Government's moral case for war against Iraq?

My knowledge of such activities is zero. All members of the Security Council seek support for their positions, but I hope very much that they will all recognise that, after the decisions of 8 November, Iraq has been, and remains, in material breach of a string of very clear obligations that have been imposed on it. It has had a final opportunity to deal with those violations of international law but continues to pose the clearest possible threat to international peace and security through its possession of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its defiance of international law. I hope that the whole of the international community will recognise the responsibilities borne by it and by individual members of the Security Council to ensure that international law means what it says. I still hope that we can gain enforcement by peaceful means but, if we cannot, the serious consequences that we spelled out in operative paragraph 13 of resolution 1441 will have to follow through.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when I ask the spokesmen for the Scottish National and Liberal Democrat parties what credible alternative they have for dealing with Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, they do not have an answer?[Interruption.] That is why they are shouting. Is not it clear that their approach is irresponsible opportunism—not for the first time—

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at reports in last weekend's press that, because Germany did not support this country's stance with regard to military action in Iraq, the US was threatening to withdraw troops from that country, with all the economic consequences that would ensue? Does my right hon. Friend support America in that?

There have been some sharp exchanges between individuals in Germany and in the US. I regret the nature of those exchanges on both sides, and believe that we all have to acknowledge our overwhelming responsibilities to act in a diplomatic way and to continue to search very hard, even at this stage, for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Liberal Democrat Members believe that the draft resolution tabled by the UK and US Governments is premature. At a time when the international community should be coming together to maximise the opportunity for peaceful disarmament of Iraq, the measure is completely divisive. Will the Foreign Secretary explain why the weapons inspectors are not to be allowed to continue their work for as long as they believe that it is worthwhile and productive? Will he set out why he is opposed to the alternative approach tabled by France, Russia and Germany?

Well, Mr. Speaker. I hope that that question gives me a legitimate opportunity to respond, through you, to the points made earlier about the position of the Liberal Democrats. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was unfair to say that they had no answer to the issue. They have a number of answers, and they vary day by day, as the record shows—not least on the question of whether a second resolution is needed.

There is no suggestion—and I do not know where the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) got the idea—that we are saying to the inspectors that they must stop. We have put forward the draft resolution, and said that a vote should not be held on it until we have received the next set of reports from Doctors Blix and el-Baradei. We must be clear about that, but it must also be understood, not least by the Liberal Democrats, that there is only one reason why the inspectors have been readmitted to Iraq. That reason is not, sadly, all the words in the 13 or more resolutions passed by the Security Council. It is because we in the UK, the US and some other countries have been willing to follow through chapter VII of the UN charter and to back our diplomacy with a credible threat of force.

As for the proposals from France, Germany and Russia, I shall put them before the House and ask hon. Members to consider them. We always take proposals of that kind seriously. However, I have to say to those of our colleague countries on the United Nations Security Council who are now praying in aid the importance of Security Council resolution 1284 that it should be remembered that it was we in the United Kingdom who pushed 1284 and finally got a vote. As a matter of record, it so happens that France did not support 1284. In any event, the inspection regime that was established by 1284 in December 1999 was inoperable until we got 1441 through and backed the process with a credible threat of force. I submit to the House that the only way in which to disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully is the strategy that this House has endorsed and the position of the Government.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people hope that when he has discussions with our partners in the European Union, he will bear in mind the grave reservations of the Kurds in northern Iraq about the new-found role of Turkey, given Turkey's human rights record and its treatment of the Kurds in the past, both of which leave a great deal to be desired?

Yes. One of the paragraphs of 1441 and one of the paragraphs of the draft resolution that we submitted for consideration to the Security Council yesterday says explicitly that the territorial integrity of Iraq, including the Kurdish area, has to be preserved, and we will make sure that that happens. As. my right hon. Friend will know from his contact with Kurdish representatives, they are the first fully and actively to support the strategy of the Security Council as endorsed by this House.

In relation to Question 3, will the Foreign Secretary join me in condemning the increasingly arrogant and bullying behaviour of the French President? Will he make it clear to President Chirac that threatening to veto applicant countries if they do not toe the French line is intolerable in a union of sovereign nations? Does he agree that fundamental divisions in Europe on the meaning of resolution 1441 can only give comfort and encouragement to Saddam Hussein? Surely the words "une dernière possibilité" and the words "a final opportunity" mean one and the same thing, and did not France sign up to those words last November? Is not the only silver lining in France's otherwise murky behaviour that it demonstrates once and for all that a unified European foreign policy is an unachievable fantasy?

As far as the right hon. Gentleman's first remarks are concerned, I repeat what I said earlier. If we are to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, we all have a responsibility to moderate our language. There will be no way in which serious negotiations can take place unless we do that.

On divisions in Europe, it is sad that divisions have been exposed, and all the sadder given that every single member of NATO and every single member of the European Union signed up fully to the terms of 1441. It is not the case, as people sometimes suggest, that this is the US versus Europe—that is a parody. Of the total number of countries that are due to enter or already in the European Union, just over half are fully in support of the strategy followed by the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and a number of others, and just under half are not.

The last point that the right hon. Gentleman raised concerned the terms of operational paragraph 13 of 1441. That says, in French, in English, and in all the other official languages of the United Nations, that this is a final opportunity. Paragraph 13 then says that if Iraq fails to take that final opportunity, serious consequences will follow. That underlines the full terms of 1441 and underlines the fact that while we would prefer to achieve a second resolution, and we want to see further consensus inside the Security Council for action that is necessary to resolve the matter peacefully, the full terms on Iraq, including the consequences that will follow, were laid out on 8 November when the Security Council unanimously passed 1441.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify a point that I believe he just made? Last night, the news reported that a vote on the new resolution would be sought on 10 March and that a further inspectors' report would be presented on 15 March. Will a vote be sought before all the inspectors' scheduled reports have been made?

We have not been specific about the dates for putting the resolution to a vote. I continue to hope that a vote can be avoided because the purpose of the resolution is to serve very clear notice on Saddam. Its intention is to give him two weeks' notice that the final opportunity has nearly passed. I have not heard speculation about 15 March, but I assure my hon. Friend that the inspectors' reports will be presented before a vote is taken. Reports are due by the end of the month.

Convention On The Future Of Europe

6.

If he will make a statement on his policy aims in the Convention on the Future of Europe. [98787]

The Government's aim in the Convention on the Future of Europe is to build a Europe that is better understood, more democratically accountable and works better.

The convention's recommendations will be discussed in an intergovernmental conference, when Heads of State or Government will make decisions, acting by unanimity. The outcome will be put to Parliament before ratification.

As the Minister knows, the convention has published a draft constitution, which is organised on a federal basis, as it puts it, with massive new powers, especially over economic policy, and with full legal incorporation of the EU charter of rights. Since all that is contrary to the Government's previously expressed policy positions, will he either explain why they are making all those concessions in the convention or instruct the Government representative, who is not in his Department, to start saying no, clearly and unambiguously, to the new constitution? It will be impossible to retrieve all the new concessions at the intergovernmental conference that the Minister mentioned.

The key noun in that question was "draft". Member states have already tabled more than 1,000 amendments to the proposal. It will be changed and emended by all the interested parties, including the British Government, the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members of the House of Commons and the other place who represent British interests on the convention. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will make a doughty job of presenting his point of view.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the convention's great emphasis on developing parliamentary democracy, with regard not only to the European Parliament but to national Parliaments?

Indeed. I hope that that avenue will be explored further in the remaining months of the convention's work. The Government and, I believe the House, want to see national Parliaments brought fully into play in terms of subsidiarity and in terms of oversight of what the EU does.

Given the far-reaching changes envisaged in the constitution, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) alluded, will the Minister explain whether the Government intend to put the matter not only to Parliament, but to the people in a referendum—and if not, why not?

This country does not have a tradition of plebiscites that allow populists to range over plebiscitary politics, using their weekly magazines to pump out endless anti-European propaganda. Every previous treaty from the treaty of accession in 1973 to Maastricht, Nice and Amsterdam has been debated properly in the House, and I think that ratification by Parliament is the right way forward.

Reference has already been made to the charter of rights. Can my hon. Friend say whether it is still the position of Her Majesty's Government that they want the EU to sign up to the European convention on human rights and want that convention to be the primary human rights document for Europe as a whole? Are the Government prepared to introduce the necessary changes into the European convention, along with our allies and other members of the European Union, to ensure the possibility of accession by the EU?

As my hon. Friend knows, that issue has been discussed; indeed, I discussed it recently with parliamentary delegates at the Council of Europe. The Government of France, for example, have grave reservations about the proposal. We have incorporated the European convention on human rights into our domestic legislation. The issue of whether the European Union as a whole should adhere to it is very technical, and it will be properly examined and discussed by the convention. Finally, of course, it will be decided by the intergovernmental conference.

Will the Minister confirm that a European constitution containing a legally enforceable charter of fundamental rights, the creation of a separate legal personality for Europe and the subjection of our foreign and defence policy to European jurisdiction would constitute a crossing of the rubicon between a Europe of sovereign nations and a federal Europe? Does he accept that no democratic Government have the right to surrender such fundamental areas of sovereignty without the specific consent of the people? Given that the Government support referendums on mayors, the euro and regional assemblies, will he now accede to the demand of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) for a referendum before any new European treaty containing such a surrender is agreed or ratified, so that the British people can reject it out of hand?

Let me say this:

"I do not think that one can have a federal Europe. The Creation of a United States of Europe is not realistic, because not a single nation is prepared to give up its identity."
I was quoting the President of the French Republic, Monsieur Jacques Chirac, and I agree with his words. However, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with this quote:

"I'm very worried about enlargement … the European Union is … going to get much worse when we try and absorb a lot of other countries with different cultures."
That is an extract from remarks made on the BBC by the Conservative party's representative on the European Convention, the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). I should like him now to say that the Conservative party supports enlargement and that we should not insult and patronise our friends in Poland and the Czech Republic with such extremist, anti-east European nonsense.

In view of the wide-ranging significance of the draft constitution for Europe, does the Minister think that it is appropriate for the United Kingdom to adopt it simply through the exercise of a treaty-making power? Is it really appropriate for the proposal to be made binding upon us simply through exercise of the royal prerogative in this matter, bearing it in mind that, by doing so, one limits significantly the ability of this House to consider the proposal? Is it still appropriate in this day and age to regard the European Union as a foreign country?

I was not in the House at the time, but I recall the folklore memories of nights and days spent debating the Maastricht treaty. It will be the House of Commons and Parliament that will decide whether to ratify any treaty that is the outcome of the intergovernmental conference and the convention. I have complete confidence that the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will deal with the matter in the traditional British parliamentary way.

Middle East

7.

If he will make a statement on the implications for global security of securing a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.[98788]

A settlement of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians would plainly enhance global security, including the security of the immediate region and of Europe and the United Kingdom. We are in active support of the Quartet of the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations in working for renewed negotiations, including the publication of the road map to give effect to President Bush's vision of a two-state solution by 2005.

This morning, I spoke with Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority to welcome the constitutional changes that he has announced and press for the early appointment of a credible Prime Minister with effective powers.

The whole House will be grateful to the Foreign Secretary for reconfirming that he views the peace process as central to future global security. Do his close allies in the United States take the same view? Does he think that there is any possibility of the central importance of the peace process being compromised in any way by action against Iraq?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is that the United States takes broadly the same view. However, it certainly does not take precisely the same view. We have been encouraging it to be more forward in recognising the need to implement fully the very welcome statements that President Bush made last June and the very welcome United Nations Security Council resolution that was passed at the behest of the United States and that laid down for the first time that there should be a clear two-state solution. We continue in very intense dialogue with our American and other friends.

As far as conflict with Iraq is concerned, all Palestinians—including Ministers—to whom I have spoken have made it crystal clear that they are the last people in the world to have anything good to say on behalf of Saddam Hussein. The case for advancing the peace process and trying to continue to get both sides together stands on its own merits. However, I accept—given the allegation of double standards—that the case for pursuing it is all the greater when set against the possibility of military action in Iraq.

Given the current readiness of the United States and the United Kingdom to discount UN Security Council vetoes, can my right hon. Friend estimate how many UN resolutions there would have been on Israel and Palestine over three and a half decades, and of what seriousness, had it not been for the use or threatened use of the US veto?

We are not discounting the use of the veto. As has every member state of the United Nations, we have had to acknowledge that there could be circumstances in which we would take action without a second resolution. However, let us be clear. As the Command Paper that has been published this morning makes clear, the authority for any military action in respect of Iraq is based very firmly on UN Security Council resolutions that have already been passed. It is of profound importance that that point is understood. I invite my hon. Friend to read, in particular, resolution 687, which agreed a conditional ceasefire, and resolution 1441, including its final operative paragraph.

As far as Security Council resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine are concerned, we want to see those implemented fully. What I know is that, if we stand by and fail to implement the resolutions in respect of Iraq—where the violation of the United Nations authority is the greatest—there is no prospect of getting resolutions implemented in respect of other conflict areas, including Israel and Palestine. The reverse is also the case.

Our intentions, inevitably, are principally to do with Iraq. However, I agree with the Foreign Secretary and with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) that the peace process in the nearer middle east is crucial to the prospects for peace in the wider region. Those who think that the two cases can be treated separately are fooling themselves and risk making the world a more dangerous place.

Will the Foreign Secretary give the House his assessment of the security situation in Gaza and the west bank over the past few weeks—areas that have seen the deaths of quite a lot of Palestinians? Given that Ariel Sharon has been talking to Abu Ala, that he has at last formed a majority Government with Shinui and the National Religious party, and that—as the Foreign Secretary has said—Mr. Arafat is prepared to accept a more ceremonial role, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that constructive talks are at last resuming and that they stand some chance of staying on track?

The security assessment in Gaza and the west bank is serious. In recent weeks, according to a count made yesterday, there have been 41 deaths of Palestinians, principally at the hands of the Israeli defence force, and one death within the state of Israel itself. I greatly regret those deaths; I regret the deaths whatever side they are on. We have called on, and continue to call on, the Palestinians to condemn terrorism and take effective action to control terrorists within the occupied territories and Israel. At the same time, we call on the state of Israel to act proportionately and in accordance with international law in the actions that it takes.

On the second matter that the hon. Gentleman raised, I have been in active discussions with a number of representatives of the Palestinian Authority—they were over here last week, led by Yasser Abed Rabbo of the Palestinian Authority—and although the situation is dire, there are some improving signs because of the position now taken by the Palestinian Authority. But now that a Government have been formed in Israel, we look to Israel and the United States to agree to the early publication of the road map that was endorsed by President Bush on 20 December.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House how he expects to be taken seriously in his determination to deal with the very real problems that Iraq poses to the rest of the world when we have assembled an army and, for the second time, flown it past the most blatant example of daily repression and breaking of international humanitarian law by a Government who are signatories to the convention? Can he tell me why he expects that country to act proportionately, when it has never done so in the past, when there is another right-wing Government in Israel?

I understand, as I said earlier, the argument about double standards and the fact that it has some resonance based on fact, not only in the Arab and Islamic world, but in the wider world. But what I would say to my hon. Friend is that Security Council resolutions such as 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 impose obligations not only on the Israelis, yes, to recognise a viable state, to withdraw from the settlements, to negotiate the future of East Jerusalem and to deal with the issue of refugees, but on the Palestinian Authority properly and effectively to control terrorism and on all the surrounding Arab states to recognise the state of Israel and not to support terrorism themselves. The answer to the terrible issue of the middle east is for us to continue to apply pressure to all sides to achieve an effective negotiated settlement.

The Foreign Secretary has just said that the Government urge Israel to be consistent with international law. How many Palestinians have been killed since September 2000 by Israel's policy of extra-judicial assassination? Do the Government believe that that policy is consistent with international law?

I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an exact number, but I am certainly happy to write to him about that. As to whether that is consistent with international law—no, and we have made our view very clear to the Government of Israel.

International Criminal Court

8.

What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the USA about the International Criminal Court.[98789]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

There have been no discussions on the International Criminal Court with US counterparts since 17 October. On that date, officials met at US request for preliminary discussions on the US request for a bilateral agreement under article 98.2 of the Rome statute. We await a further approach from the US side.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but he will be aware that the US Government have sought bilateral agreements with other countries that revoke article 98 of the Rome statute to exempt US officials from prosecution by the international courts and, as has been already alluded to earlier, to strengthen economic sanctions such as the termination of military aid to countries if they do not comply with US demands. Does he agree that such action undermines the process to establish an effective International Criminal Court and that, without ratification by the US, the International Criminal Court will essentially be a toothless tiger?

We are strong supporters of the International Criminal Court and, of course, we will do nothing that conflicts with the statute. We understand US objections to the court, but we simply do not share them. Of course article 98.2 provides a procedure, and therefore acting within that article would comply with the statute. However, we will act on the basis of the guiding principles agreed by European Union Ministers on 30 September: no immunity for US citizens, no exemption for UK citizens and exemptions only for US citizens sent by their Government. Unfortunately, there is no common EU position on that. It appears that the French have opted for their soldiers to be excluded for seven years. The French seem to be taking a more American position on this issue.

It has been suggested that one solution to the Iraq crisis would be for Saddam and his clique to go into exile. How would that be affected by the existence of the International Criminal Court in the unlikely event that he decided to go into exile, but did so in a country that had signed up to the ICC? Would not there be a clash between the terms of his exile and the possibility that someone could rightly bring him before the ICC for the many crimes that he has committed?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, which I shall consider in detail. Of course, Iraq is not currently a party to the ICC statute, so the court can exercise its jurisdiction only following the referral of an allegation by the UN Security Council under chapter VII of the UN charter. Therefore, if somebody was in a country that was adhering to the statute, I assume that the procedure would still be to use the UN charter chapter VII. I would have to consider in detail the legalities of that, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Eu Enlargement (Czech Republic)

9.

If he will make a statement on enlargement of the EU; and what progress is being made in respect of the Czech Republic's application to join the EU.[98790]

Following the conclusion of negotiations at the European Council in December, the existing EU members, the Czech Republic and nine other candidates will sign an accession treaty on 16 April. Subject to treaty ratification, the Czech Republic will accede on 1 May 2004. That is good news for the UK, the EU and the Czech Republic.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he share my concern that the nations seeking to join the EU were invited to the summit in Brussels last week to discuss Iraq, but were not allowed to participate? It seems to emerge that, after that meeting, President Chirac was threatening those nations wishing to join with a veto if they did not agree with his views on Iraq. Would not a better way of taking forward EU membership be whether they meet the criteria, rather than whether they agree with the President of France?

The Minister will be aware that coalition discussions in Austria have centred in large part around the issue of nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. Threats have been made by the far right, extremist Freedom party to block Czech membership of the European Union. Does he agree that it would be much more welcome for the Austrian Government to discuss issues of substance rather than accede to the extremist designs of Jörg Haider?

When negotiating with partners for the accession of the Czech Republic and other applicant countries, will my hon. Friend ensure that the rights of Roma people in those countries, which are not upheld at the moment, will be fundamental to conditions for accession to the EU? That will prevent us from ending up in a situation in which the problems of the Roma people are settled by them resettling in our country and other parts of the EU.

My hon. Friend raises a sensitive point. Since the end of communism, steady progress has been made on dealing with all the different minority questions in central and eastern Europe. The issue of the treatment of the Roma people figured largely in the assessment about new member states joining the European Union. My hon. Friend is right that we must keep a careful eye on the matter.

Serbia And Montenegro

10.

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Serbia and Montenegro. [98791]

The Serbia and Montenegro state union was proclaimed on 4 February. Elections to the new Parliament are taking place there. We urge the new Government, when in place, to press ahead with reforms, including co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Does the Minister agree that one of the biggest problems facing Serbia and Montenegro is the huge number of refugees and internally displaced people within its borders? That exerts a great deal of pressure, and will possibly lead to political instability. What will the Government do to try to return those people to their rightful homes?

The hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in the region and contributes positively to the House's discussions and debates on it, raises an important point. We still have a large number of British troops in the region to try to ensure that people can go back to their homes and villages. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the best contributions that might be made is for the new Serbian and Montenegrin Government to surrender to The Hague all the alleged and indicted criminals, given the actions that took place. That is the most important step that could be taken to bring peace and stability and to restore confidence to the region as a whole.

Is my hon. Friend aware that 1 have represented the Council of Europe as an election observer in the last two presidential elections in Serbia? Because of a ruling introduced under Milosevic that means that there has to be a turnout of 50 per cent, the clear wishes of the people of Serbia were not met. Such a turnout was not achieved on either occasion. Therefore, when my hon. Friend next meets the Serbian authorities, will he say that that ruling does not meet the wishes of the people of Serbia and that it needs to be changed?

I am not quite sure that it is for the British Government to dictate the electoral system for the election, under the old arrangements, of the President of Serbia. We now have a new entity, Serbia and Montenegro, and elections to its Parliament are taking place today. Perhaps if there were a candidate who could command sufficient support because he or she was saying the right things for a new Serbia and Montenegro, that person might receive the support to overcome the technical barrier to which my hon. Friend referred.

Afghanistan

12.

If he will make a statement on the political situation in Afghanistan. [98793]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Afghanistan has made progress towards implementing the Bonn agreement, but the situation remains fragile. Over the coming year the transitional Government will focus on improving security, including through the development of the new Afghan national army, the development of a new constitution and, of course, preparations for elections in 2004.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Very obvious security issues affect Afghanistan, but to what extent does political instability hinder the reconstruction of this tragic country? What more can be done to deal with that?

There is a large amount of work being done to ensure that we give political support to the Afghan Government, and they are responding enormously well. I was in Kabul some months ago and saw the very high calibre of many Afghan Ministers. They are doing a very good job. One of the key advantages that we have seen in recent months is that there are now 4.5 million children in school in Afghanistan, and half of them are girls. Few schools operated under the Taliban, and girls could not go to them. Steps are being taken forward not only on security, but on education, health and other issues. The position is precarious but the steps forward show the benefit of the steps that the British, American and others Governments were prepared to take in intervening in Afghanistan.[Interruption.]

Does the Minister agree that a satisfactory security situation is crucial to a positive political development in Afghanistan? Can he assure the House that there is no question whatever of the Federal German Government withdrawing their peacekeeping contingent as has been mooted in many quarters of the press?

We are in discussions with the Germans, as are other countries. We very much hope that they will remain there until the change to other forces is undertaken. We believe that there will not be the gap or lacuna that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Iran

13.

What steps he is taking to assist in tackling human rights abuses in Iran. [98794]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mike O'Brien)

We regularly raise human rights issues with the Iranian authorities at all levels. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did so most recently with the Iranian Foreign Minister this month. We support the EU dialogue on human rights with Iran and also provide practical bilateral assistance for a range of projects.

A hundred thousand people have been executed in Iran since 1981 and many of them were stoned to death for adultery and homosexuality. The United Kingdom Government have not specifically condemned stoning. Will they do so and will they continue to work with those pursuing serious human rights concerns with Iran?

We and our European Union partners have repeatedly expressed concerns about stoning, and are working to deal with some of the changes that need to take place in Iran. Reform has been called for, especially by women's groups in Iran that have campaigned on the subject for years. We therefore welcomed the announcement at the end of last year by the head of the supreme administrative court that the practice of stoning had been suspended.

Iraq

12.30 pm

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a further statement on Iraq.

Let me again, for the benefit of the House, briefly recap the history of this crisis. In 1991, at the conclusion of the Gulf war, the true extent of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programme became clear. We knew that he had used these weapons against his own people, and against a foreign country, Iran, but we had not known that in addition to chemical weapons, he had biological weapons, which he had denied completely, and was trying to construct a nuclear weapons programme.

So on 3 April 1991, the UN passed the first UN resolution on Saddam and weapons of mass destruction, giving him 15 days to give an open account of all his weapons and to co-operate fully with the UN inspectors in destroying them. Fifteen days later, he submitted a flawed and incomplete declaration denying that he had biological weapons and giving little information on chemical weapons. It was only four years later, after the defection of Saddam's son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered. In all, 17 UN resolutions have been passed. None has been obeyed. At no stage did he co-operate as he should have done. At no stage did he tell the full truth.

Finally, in December 1998, when he had begun to obstruct and harass the UN inspectors, they withdrew. When they left, they said that there were still large amounts of weapons of mass destruction material unaccounted for. Since then, the international community has relied on sanctions and the no-fly zones policed by US and UK pilots to contain Saddam. But the first is not proof against Saddam's deception and the second is limited in its impact.

In 2001, the sanctions were made more targeted, but around $3 billion a year is illicitly taken by Saddam, much of it for his and his family's personal use. The intelligence is clear: he continues to believe that his weapons of mass destruction programme is essential both for internal repression and for external aggression. It is essential to his regional power. Prior to the inspectors coming back in, he was engaged in a systematic exercise in concealment of those weapons.

That is the history. Finally, last November, UN resolution 1441 declared Saddam in material breach and gave him a "final opportunity" to comply fully, immediately and unconditionally with the UN's instruction to disarm voluntarily. The first step was to give an open, honest declaration of what weapons of mass destruction he had, where they were and how they would be destroyed. On 8 December, he submitted the declaration denying that he had any weapons of mass destruction, a statement, frankly, that not a single member of the international community seriously believes. There have been two UN inspectors' reports. Both have reported some co-operation on process; both have denied progress on substance.

So how to proceed? There are now two paths before the United Nations. Yesterday the UK, along with the US and Spain, introduced a new resolution declaring that

"Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution 1441".
But we will not put this resolution to a vote immediately. Instead, we will delay it to give Saddam one further final chance to disarm voluntarily. The UN inspectors are continuing their work. They have a further report to make in March, but this time Saddam must understand: now is the time for him to decide. Passive rather than active co-operation will not do. Co-operation on process but not substance will not do. Refusal to declare properly and fully what has happened to the unaccounted for WMD will not do. Resolution 1441 called for full, unconditional and immediate compliance: not 10 per cent., not 20 per cent., not even 50 per cent., but 100 per cent. compliance. Anything less will not do. That is all we ask: that what we said in resolution 1441, we mean; and that what it demands, Saddam does.

There is no complexity about resolution 1441. I ask all reasonable people to judge for themselves. After 12 years, is it not reasonable that the UN inspectors have unrestricted access to Iraqi scientists? That means no tape recorders, no minders, no intimidation, and interviews outside Iraq, as provided for by resolution 1441. So far not one of those interviews has taken place.

Is it not reasonable that Saddam provides evidence of destruction of the biological and chemical agents and weapons that the UN proved he had in 1999? So far he has provided none. Is it not reasonable that he provides evidence that he has destroyed 8,500 litres of anthrax that he admitted possessing, and the 2,000 kilos of biological growth material, enough to produce over 26,000 litres of anthrax? Is it not reasonable that Saddam accounts for up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agents, 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and over 30,000 special munitions?

To those who say we are rushing to war, I say this: we are now 12 years after Saddam was first told by the UN to disarm; nearly six months after President Bush made his speech to the UN accepting the UN route to disarmament; nearly four months on from resolution 1441; and even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime—I hope most people do—but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully.

I do not want war. I do not believe anyone in the House wants war. But disarmament peacefully can happen only with Saddam's active co-operation. Twelve years of bitter experience teaches us that. If he refuses to co-operate, as he is refusing now, and we fail to act, what then? Saddam in charge of Iraq, his weapons of mass destruction intact, the will of the international community set at nothing, the UN tricked again, Saddam hugely strengthened and emboldened—does anyone truly believe that that will mean peace? And when we turn to deal with other threats that we know confront our world, where will our authority be then? When we make a demand next time, where will our credibility be then? This is not a road to peace, but folly and weakness that will only mean that when the conflict comes, it is more bloody, less certain and greater in its devastation.

Our path laid out before the UN expresses our preference to resolve this peacefully, but it ensures that we remain firm in our determination to resolve it. I have read the memorandum put forward by France, Germany and Russia in response to our UN resolution. It is to be welcomed at least in these respects: it accepts that Saddam must disarm fully, and it accepts that he is not yet co-operating fully. Indeed, not a single member of the European Union who spoke at the summit in Brussels on 17 February—not a single one—disputed the fact of his non-co-operation.

But the call is for more time—up to the end of July, at least. They say that the time is necessary to "search out" the weapons. At the core of this proposition is the notion that the task of the inspectors is to enter Iraq to find the weapons, to "sniff them out," as one member of the European Council put it. That is emphatically not the inspectors' job. They are not a detective agency, but even if they were, Iraq is a country with a land mass roughly the size of France or Spain. The idea that the inspectors could conceivably sniff out the weapons and documentation relating to them without the help of the Iraqi authorities is absurd. That is why resolution 1441 calls for Iraq's active co-operation.

The issue is not time. The issue is will. If Saddam is willing genuinely to co-operate, the inspectors should have up to July, and beyond July—as much time as they want. if he is not willing to co-operate, equally time will not help. We will just be right back where we were in the 1990s. Of course, Saddam will offer concessions. This is a game with which he is immensely familiar. As the threat level rises, so the concessions are eked out. At present, he is saying he will not destroy the al-Samoud missiles that the inspectors have found were in breach of 1441. But he will, under pressure, claiming that this proves his co-operation. But does anyone think that he would be making any such concessions, or indeed that the inspectors would be within 1,000 miles of Baghdad, were it not for the US and UK troops massed on his doorstep? And what is his hope? To play for time, and to drag the process out until the attention of the international community wanes, the troops go, and the way is again clear for him. Give it more time, some urge on us. I say that we are giving it more time. But I say this too: it takes no time at all for Saddam to co-operate. It just takes a fundamental change of heart and mind.

Today the path to peace is clear. Saddam can cooperate fully with the inspectors. He can voluntarily disarm. He can even leave the country peacefully. But he cannot avoid disarmament. One further point: the purpose in our acting is disarmament, but the nature of Saddam's regime is relevant in two ways. First, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a regime of this brutality are especially dangerous, in particular because Saddam has shown his willingness to use them. Secondly, I know that the innocent as well as the guilty die in any war. But let us at least not forget the 4 million Iraqi exiles, and the thousands of children who die needlessly every year due to Saddam's impoverishment of his country—a country which in 1978 was wealthier than Portugal or Malaysia but is now in ruins, with 60 per cent. of its people on food aid. Let us not forget the tens of thousands imprisoned, tortured or executed by his barbarity every year. The innocent die every day in Iraq—victims of Saddam—and their plight, too, should be heard.

I also know the vital importance in all of this of the middle east peace process. The European Council last week called for the early implementation of the road map. Terror and violence must end. So must settlement activity. We welcomed President Arafat's statement that he will appoint a Prime Minister—an initiative flowing from last month's London conference on Palestinian reform. I will continue to strive in every way for an even-handed and just approach to the middle east peace process.

At stake in Iraq is not just peace or war. It is the authority of the United Nations and the international community. Resolution 1441 is clear. All we are asking is that it now be upheld. If it is not, the consequences will stretch far beyond Iraq. If the UN cannot be the way of resolving this issue, that is a dangerous moment for our world. That is why, over the coming weeks, we will work every last minute that we can to reunite the international community and disarm Iraq through the United Nations. It is our desire, and it is still our hope, that this can be done.

I thank the Prime Minister for updating the House on the latest situation. The decisions that are taken over the next few weeks and months will, perhaps, determine the course of world events for years to come. Twelve years and 17 resolutions on, it is crucial that we understand exactly why we are pursuing the course that we are. Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people and poses a threat to the safety and stability of the middle east. There are few people in Iraq or in the surrounding area who would at any stage mourn his passing. When Iraq's prisons are opened and the stories of persecution and repression can truly be told, many people inside and outside the House will wonder why we waited so long to take such action.

However, Saddam Hussein is not the only example of evil in our world. The difference is that he has the means, mentality and motive to reach beyond his own borders and pose a threat to the safety and security of many—crucially, to British people at home and abroad.

As we head towards the process outlined by the Prime Minister and tabled at the United Nations last night, several questions arise. The Prime Minister told the House on 15 January that the only way he would support military action without a second resolution would be if any country used an unreasonable veto. I assume that that is still the Prime Minister's position. For example, would a French veto at the Security Council constitute an unreasonable veto? What if there is no majority in the Security Council? Would that also be considered an unreasonable position?

France and Germany have today outlined a plan for dealing with Iraq, to which the Prime Minister referred, with a specific timetable for the inspectorate that would take us deep into July. The Prime Minister clearly said that he does not agree with them on the timetable or the plan. Could he specify exactly what timetable should exist as part of the draft resolution announced last night and tabled by Spain, the United States and the Government?

If Dr. Blix tells the Security Council on 7 March that Iraq is not complying with resolution 1441, will Britain and America push for an immediate vote on a second resolution—and will that constitute the timetable? This morning, the Foreign Secretary seemed not too clear about that matter. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to clear it up.

Saddam Hussein is reported today as saying that he will not comply with his obligation to destroy his alSamoud missiles. The Prime Minister made it clear in his statement that a failure by Iraq to do that would constitute a material breach of resolution 1441. However, if at the last moment Saddam Hussein destroys his missiles but still does not produce the evidence to show that the biological and chemical stockpiles that we know he had in 1998 have been destroyed, will the Prime Minister confirm that the destruction of the missiles is not enough to avoid a vote on the second resolution?

At this time, the thoughts of the whole House will be with our servicemen and women but they need to be assured of certain things. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that equipment failures alluded to by the National Audit Office and the shortage of personnel equipment reported have all been rectified and that our troops will have the very best equipment by the time they get into place? If military action takes place, it is vital that we are clear what may happen after that action concludes. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) has consistently been critical of United Nations contingency planning for humanitarian relief in Iraq and the Government's part in that. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that all those shortcomings have been addressed and that mechanisms are now in place? Of perhaps most critical importance now is the need to understand what contingencies the Government have planned for a representative Government in Iraq. Have the Prime Minister and his US counterparts discussed that at any stage, and will he now give an indication of what those discussions have entailed? He rightly spoke about his plans for the middle east and the peace process. Can he now go further and give any specific details of his plans to bring those two sides together beyond what he said in his statement?

This issue is not about time, as the Prime Minister said, but about Saddam Hussein's attitude. There are many in the House who legitimately fear the consequences of military action in Iraq and therefore urge us not to take it. However, I put it to them that there is a greater fear—the failure to deal with Saddam Hussein now will lead to greater suffering, not just for the people of Iraq but for the whole world. We still believe that Saddam Hussein holds in his hands the power to pull his country and his people back from the brink of war, which any soldier will tell you, must always be the last resort. This is a crucial test, not just for the UK or the USA, but for the United Nations. For the sake of the United Nations and the peace of the world, such a tyrant must be left in no doubt that if he does not disarm after years of terror and evasion, he must finally face the consequences of his actions.

First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the Government's general approach. He talked about the circumstances in which countries might use their veto—I am still hopeful that that will not be the case. I reject the timetable set out by France and Germany for the reasons that I gave. I do not think that it deals with the central point—whether Saddam is willing to co-operate fully. As for our own timetable, it is obviously open, but we have already said that this has to be resolved within weeks, not months. The coming report of Dr. Blix will evidently be extremely important in that, but the precise moment at which we put the second resolution in the UN to a vote is something that we are discussing with key allies.

To deal simply with the issue of Army equipment, about which there are many stories, I should say that those stories are categorically denied both by people in the military and ourselves. I urge people not to take everything that they read at face value. I very much hope that people understand that not only are our armed forces among the finest in the word but they are also among the best equipped. The best testament to that comes from members of the armed forces themselves.

In relation to humanitarian considerations and what type of Government might succeed the Government of Saddam, again that is something that we are discussing closely with allies and the UN. I should like to emphasise that in my view if it comes to conflict, the UN's role in the resulting humanitarian situation and in finding the right way through for Iraq will be immensely important, so we will continue to work with allies, even if there are differences on the military side of things, to find the right answers to those questions.

Finally, on the middle east peace process, I very much hope that we will be in a position to announce further steps on that in the not too distant future. It is tremendously important in its own terms, but it is also obviously important in the broader context of giving a very clear statement to the Arab and Muslim world that we approach these issues in an even-handed and just way. There is nothing more important but that they understand that, and our commitment to taking that process forward remains absolute.

Given that there is unanimous agreement in the House about supporting the United Nations in its efforts to rid Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, and that the best route for doing so is the UN-authorised weapons inspectorate, will the Prime Minister amplify his opening remarks, as there will be considerable anxiety in this country and others that in tabling what could be construed as a pre-emptive draft resolution, Britain is in fact undermining the very work of the weapons inspectors? Given Dr. Blix's explicit statement that he feels that the inspectors are meeting with a degree of success but that more time is required, should not we as a country subscribe to that view rather than conducting ourselves as we are?

Why is the Prime Minister so fundamentally hostile to the memorandum that the French and others have now tabled? Should we not respond more positively? Would that not offer a better way forward? On several occasions, senior military opinion in this country has been publicly expressed to the effect that the best route for disarmament is the location, detection and dismantling of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by the weapons inspectors themselves. Is that not preferable to a precipitate war?

Is the essence of what the Prime Minister has told us today that there are now no circumstances in which, if the Americans decide to take action against Iraq, Britain will not be there in support? Is that not the fact of the matter, whether it is UN-authorised or not?

As for the conflict itself, which seems increasingly inevitable, will the Prime Minister clarify an issue that he has not chosen to clarify thus far? What will be the operational military chain of command? Will British forces that this House of Commons will ask to go into battle in our name be under an American chain of command? I think that those forces and the House have a right to know the answer.

Finally, what post-war scenario do the Government envisage? Would they prefer a United States-administered post-conflict Iraq or some form of UN protectorate? What will our contribution be in such circumstances?

The fundamental anxiety felt by many in this country is that the argument has shifted from regime change last summer, through the UN route—which we strongly support—to the Prime Minister's most recent utterances about the overwhelming moral case for this action. When the argument keeps shifting like that, there can be little doubt, and every reason for people in this country to remain highly sceptical about the wisdom of the current approach.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about post-conflict Iraq, if it comes to conflict. I have made it clear that the UN must have a key role; exactly what that role will be is another thing that we are discussing with the UN and with allies now. As for the military chain of command, it will be as it has been in previous military conflicts. We will set out all the answers to those questions very plainly if it comes to military conflict. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is any problem in the military chain of command itself, because I think that that would be irresponsible and unfair to our armed forces.

There is one issue on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He said that it would be preferable for the disarmament of Iraq to take place by means of the UN route. I agree: that is exactly why we have tried to use the UN route. With respect, however, the question is this: if disarmament cannot happen by means of the UN route because Saddam Hussein is not co-operating properly, then what? We shall be left with a choice between leaving him there, with his weapons of mass destruction, in charge of Iraq—the will of the UN having therefore been set at nothing—and using force.

The right hon. Gentleman described the resolution as pre-emptive. I must take issue with him. Resolution 1441 has this logic—to which I see no answer in what the right hon. Gentleman said. It called on Saddam Hussein to disarm voluntarily, and to comply fully, unconditionally and immediately with the inspectors. It said that he was in material breach, and that this was a final opportunity. Now, is Saddam Hussein co-operating fully? No. Not a single person disputes that. He is therefore in breach of resolution 1441. This was supposed to be his final opportunity. With the greatest respect, it is not us who have to justify why we are putting down a resolution stating what is a fact—that he is not co-operating fully and is in breach of resolution 1441—it is for others to say why, having given him the final opportunity that he has not taken, we still should not act. My worry in that situation—no doubt it is Saddam's hope—is that what people really mean when they put forward these alternatives is that we are not prepared seriously to force him to disarm.

On the chances of conflict, I should tell the right hon. Gentleman that the bitter irony of some of what has happened in the past few weeks is that unless Saddam gets a clear and united message—unless he knows that there is no alternative to voluntary disarmament—he will not disarm. That is the history of 12 years in which we played this game of to and fro, back and forth with him.

Let me deal with one other point. The argument about regime change has not changed. I have always said that the purpose of any action has got to he the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. That is the purpose, but the nature of the regime is relevant in two ways. This is not a regime that has weapons of mass destruction but is otherwise benign; it is—as I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees—a deeply murderous, barbaric regime that subjects its people to terrible humiliation, and which, every time it has been able to do so, has conducted external aggression.[Interruption.] Well, some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues may disagree, but I think that objective people will agree with that proposition. Those people who say that the regime is not relevant ignore the fact that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam are a greater threat precisely because of the nature of the regime, and because of the fact that he has used them.

The second point is that there is a reason why I responded to a moral case, namely, that a moral case was being put against action. It was being said that, of course, innocent people will die in conflict, and that is true. Innocent people do die, which is why we have striven so hard over 12 years to avoid going back into conflict with Saddam. However, it is also right, in responding to that moral case, to point out the utter misery and deprivation of the people in Iraq, and to state what is a fact: that those who have most to gain from the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein are the Iraqi people themselves.

As we enter a crucial three weeks that will decide whether there is peace or war, my right hon. Friend has made a very powerful case. It is clear that Saddam Hussein responds only to pressure, and that his aim is to divide the Security Council and to buy time. My right hon. Friend and the Cabinet have tabled a motion for tomorrow, so he clearly agrees with its observation that Iraq has a

"final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations."
Does he equally accept that, as the likely amendment to it states, the case for military action is as yet unproven, until Dr. Blix reports to the Security Council this Friday and during the following week on whether Saddam Hussein has complied with his disarmament obligations?

The truth is, of course, that it is clear that Saddam is in breach of resolution 1441, because he was supposed to co-operate fully and is not doing so. However, because we want—consistent with the attitude that we have taken throughout—to give every single possible chance for him to co-operate fully, we are prepared, even at this stage, to delay in order to give him that chance. What my right hon. Friend implies is absolutely right: Saddam is not co-operating fully, and there is no great mystery in what is being asked of him. Anyone would think that the problem with Saddam is a failure to communicate with him adequately—that, somehow, he is not quite sure what this disarmament process means. He is probably more familiar with the ins and outs of UN inspectors and with the demands of UN resolutions than any one of us. However, the fact is that at the moment he believes that he can trick us back into the game that he played in the 1990s. That is why I honestly say that if there is any chance of getting him to change his mind and his heart, it will happen only if we send the strongest possible signal at this stage.

Will the Prime Minister accept—[Interruption.] This may not help him, but will he accept from a long-standing critic and opponent that his policy is absolutely in the interests of this country and the wider world? Will he explain to the leader of the Liberal Democrats that British and American forces have been familiar with a shared chain of command since D-day in 1944 and before? Will the Prime Minister stress that any lifting of the threat of invasion of Iraq would set Saddam Hussein off once again on the search for nuclear weaponry, with probable success? On the implications for European policy making, does the Prime Minister consider that if an EU diplomatic service—as will be proposed by the Convention on the Future of Europe—were now in existence, it would be lobbying for his resolution or against it?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support and for showing us what we are all missing—[Interruption.] Including me. I agree with the points that he makes, but I wish to make one thing clear about the European convention. There is no way that the foreign or defence policy of this country will be conducted by an EU diplomatic service. It will carry on being conducted by the Government of the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend's statement did not refer to what must be the main argument for a potential war—the nature of the threat that Saddam Hussein's regime poses to this country and others, especially through weapons of mass destruction and whether they might fall into the hands of terrorists. I would also like some analysis of the level of that threat and what happens to those threats in the event of a war that is not supported by the international community, especially given the backdrop of the current bloody conflict in Palestine. Would we end up, post-war, in a world more threatened by terrorism, not less?

On the nature of the threat, it is the UN resolution that described Saddam Hussein's programme of weapons of mass destruction as a threat, so that was established by the international community. I have not gone into the arguments about the link with international terrorism again, but I believe that link to be real. It is important that we understand that if we allow rogue or unstable states to develop or proliferate weapons of mass destruction, the links with international terrorists who are trying to acquire those weapons will be all too clear. I agree with my hon. Friend that if this is done with a unified UN and against the background of progress in the middle east, it will become easier to unite the international community. That is why I am trying to ensure that both things are done.

We should know enough about terrorists to realise—although I understand why people worry when we take a strong profile on the issue that we may make our country a target in some way—that they will strike at us wherever and whenever they can. A trial took place in the last few days in Germany of international terrorist groups. A big cache of arms was found near Charles de Gaulle airport in France a short time ago. All over the world such groups are being arrested. Who would have said that Indonesia was a great supporter of America, or the war against terrorism? Who would have said that Bali had made itself into a threat? The terrorists will not leave us alone if we are pleasant to them, but will come after us whenever they can. That is why the best signal to send them is a signal of strength.

What does the Prime Minister say to the statement by Hans Blix the day before yesterday that after eight years of inspections and four years of no inspections, to call it a day after 11 weeks of inspections seems a bit short?

I would say to him what I have said to him and others throughout—the time is relevant only if the will is there to co-operate. If it is not, nobody seriously suggests—and in my conversations with Dr. Blix, he has not suggested—that if Saddam is not co-operating, the inspectors can go in and search out the weapons. The best proof of that is what happened in the 1990s when there was a complete denial of the existence of an offensive biological weapons programme. For four years the inspectors were in there searching for it and they did not find it, because it is very difficult to find it if there is no co-operation from the authorities. Then Saddam's son-in-law defected to Jordan and said that there was an offensive biological weapons programme. The Iraqis then admitted as much, and at that point the programme was at least partially shut down. The son-in-law was then lured back to Iraq and murdered.

I think that all the evidence of the past 12 years shows that disarmament cannot be accomplished without the full co-operation of the Iraqis. That is why I say that time is not the issue. The issue is that Saddam must decide to change the nature of his regime from one that relies on weapons of mass destruction to one that does not. All the evidence that we have, and all the intelligence evidence, shows that he has no intention of doing so.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the strong emphasis that he continues to place on the utterly essential nature of a peace process in the middle east between the Israelis and the Palestinians? In light of the daily almost casual slaughter of Palestinians by Israelis, and of the threat to the Israelis from terrorism, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, regardless of the outcome of this crucial confrontation with Iraq, he will continue to ensure that this Government will yield to no one in their assurance that there will be a middle east peace process that will give dignity and safety to the Palestinians, and security to the people of Israel?

Does the Prime Minister agree that, where major issues of security are concerned, the clear responsibility of the elected Government is to lead, and not to follow, and that this is the moment for clear-sighted and brave leadership?

I recognise the huge efforts that the Government have made to work through the UN, and to encourage and persuade the Americans to do the same. I also recognise that without the threat of action the inspectors would not be back in Iraq. However, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that the timing of the renewed push against Saddam Hussein arises from evidence and knowledge of his activities, and not from a political agenda on the part of President Bush?

I can assure my right hon. Friend on those points, which are precisely the ones that concern people. That is why we decided to take the issue back through the UN last year. In his speech to the UN—which was, I think, very well received—President Bush corrected a lot of the problems that had existed between the US and the UN. At the time, I had conversations with President Bush in which I said—and he accepted entirely—that, if the UN ended up being able to disarm Saddam voluntarily, that would be an end to the matter, detestable though the regime is. That is why we took such care to ensure that the resolution made it clear that it offered Saddam the truly final opportunity to disarm. The difficulty is that he has not taken that final opportunity. I think that that is because he believes that it is still possible, somehow, to divide the international community and play us all off against each other, and thereby to manage to retain his capability. However, I assure my right hon. Friend that when we went back through the UN, we did so in the full knowledge that if Saddam Hussein complied, that had to be an end to the matter. That is precisely why I still hope and believe that the UN can be the instrument for resolving it.

The Prime Minister has made a very convincing argument, with which I wholly agree. I agree especially about the need to threaten war in order to try prevent it and to make Saddam comply. However, although we all hope that there will not be a war, it is becoming ever more likely. Is it not perhaps time for the Prime Minister to share with the House the overall aims of the war? He says that the objective is disarmament, but does he expect that to be achieved by allied forces occupying Iraq and seeking out weapons of mass destruction, or simply by defeating the present regime and installing one that will comply with 1441?

The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point. The objective is the ridding of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and while Saddam's regime stands in the way of that it is an obstacle that has to be removed if it is not prepared to disarm voluntarily. Whatever successor regime comes in must of course comply with the UN instruction, because it is an instruction to Iraq, and whoever the Government of Iraq are, the WMD programme has to be dismantled. I am sure that that can be achieved—if Saddam maintains his present position—by a different regime. What is more, in those circumstances the sanctions can be lifted and the country can revive, grow and prosper. It is potentially a very wealthy country.

My right hon. Friend has the whole House with him on the fact that Saddam's regime is an odious one. However, what he has not demonstrated, not only to many hon. Members but to the country as a whole, is the fact that the threat posed by Saddam to us and to his neighbours is sufficiently serious to warrant the act of war—a war that will have many human casualties. Does my right hon. Friend believe that between now and any potential military conflict that evidence base will be put into the public domain in this country?

The threat from Saddam is serious, and the fact that the UN has tried so hard over such a long period shows that the international community accepts that it is serious. When the UN came together last November, the whole basis of resolution 1441 was that he did indeed constitute a threat, as he still does. Moreover, there is a whole set of related dangers to do with unstable states developing or proliferating such material and with potential links with terrorism. That is why, in the end, the world has to take a very strong view of the matter and deal with it.

I agree, of course, that the dangers of military conflict are clear. That is why it should only ever be a last resort. That is why, as I stand here today, we are not at war—there is not a military conflict in place at the moment. What is important is to ensure that the will of the United Nations is upheld. Otherwise, what we will have said as an international community is that yes, the threat is serious, but we lack the will to do something about it. I assure my hon. Friend that if there is any military conflict we will do everything that we possibly can, as we have in previous conflicts in which this Government have been engaged, to minimise any potential civilian casualties.

I note the Prime Minister's reference to his part welcome, at least, for the German, French and Russian memorandum, and I welcome his reference to continued efforts to disarm Iraq via the UN. I nevertheless contrast that with the publicly known behaviour of America towards Germany and the current bribing and cajoling of other Security Council members in order to secure a UN mandate. How can that be part of the right hon. Gentleman's moral case for war? Does he realise that such behaviour will not only undermine the UN, but may well be the beginning of the end for the UN?

Despite what is put across in various conspiracy theories, I have had many conversations with UN Security Council members—those who are in the permanent five and those who are not—and each of those conversations has related simply to the justice or otherwise of the case against Saddam. The idea that this is about bargaining, commercial contracts or any of the rest of it is nonsense. It is a genuine desire to make sure that Saddam ceases to be a threat to the world.

As for the UN, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that the UN's authority is upheld, but I still cannot understand the answer to this point: we gave Saddam a final opportunity with which he was supposed to co-operate fully; nobody accepts that he is cooperating fully, so why has he not taken his final opportunity?

Someone asked earlier, "Is not war now inevitable?" Of course it is not. However, part of the reason for such a question is that nobody, even those who oppose military action, seriously believes that Saddam wants to co-operate fully. People sense that matters may come to conflict because they know that he has no intention of changing his heart or mind. However, that is his choice, not ours. Our choice, preference and desire are to resolve matters peacefully through the United Nations.

Can my right hon. Friend see any special circumstances in which the Americans might attack Iraq without this country's support?

We have worked closely throughout with the United States and we shall continue to do that. There is no point in my speculating about various matters that may not happen. However, the international community made a request to President Bush last year to go through the United Nations. He agreed and did that. If Saddam fails to comply with the UN demand, it is important to take action, not only for the sake of all our other objectives but to show that the UN means what it says.

During the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has held many meetings and conversations with President Bush. Has he raised with him the status and future of the eight UK citizens who are now held in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba? What steps is the right hon. Gentleman personally taking to ensure that those people are either charged or released, and that they otherwise have their status defined and receive the full protection of the law?

May I support all my right hon. Friend's comments today? I especially welcome his response to the question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about the middle east. Will he assure the House and the country that dealing with Saddam Hussein will not be the end of UN and international community action on weapons of mass destruction? Will we move on to deal with North Korea and the Indian subcontinent and to create a nuclear-free zone in the middle east?

My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, disarming Iraq must not be the end of the international community's effort and activity to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction that are held by unstable states. Many such issues will be tackled differently, but they need to be dealt with. It is also true, as I believe my hon. Friend implied, that if we fail to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, it will be much harder for us to make our will plain and implement it in respect of any other nation.

I welcome the careful and cautious way in which the Prime Minister is leading his Government in order to avoid war at all costs, and his consequent determination to use every avenue of diplomacy that is open to him. Will he do what he can to shake the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council from their seeming lethargy and helplessness and ask them to play a greater role in jointly and severally persuading Saddam Hussein of the necessity for him and his wicked cronies to go, thereby avoiding visiting terrible suffering on the rest of the middle east?

There is a real role for the Arab world and I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments. It remains possible to envisage circumstances in which matters can be resolved peacefully in the way he describes. However, the best chance of doing that is through the international community demonstrating a strong and unified will and the Arab world demonstrating an equally strong resolve. We are in close contact with many Arab nations to achieve that.

In the unlikely event that Saddam decides fully to co-operate with the UN weapons inspectors, has my right hon. Friend had time to consider what UN processes would be involved following that co-operation and whether it would simply involve weapons inspectors or whether there would be any attempt to impact on human rights abuses in Iraq?

That is a very good point. Yes, of course, we would try to ensure that there was also an impact on the human rights situation. Of course, there are UN resolutions in respect of that situation as well, all of which are being breached. There is a sense, certainly on the part of Saddam, which indicates that he sees the maintenance of the weapons, which he has used against his own people, as essential to the machinery of repression. The truth is that the regime would be a different type of regime without those weapons of mass destruction. That is why it is certainly important that we highlight the human rights aspect of the situation as well.

The briefings—[Interruption.] Those Members could not silence me when I was on the Labour Benches, and they certainly will not silence me on the other side of the House. The briefings given to the United Nations on 14 February said that there was no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme, that access was freely being given for the 400 inspections without any problems and that the 300 chemical and biological samples taken were completely consistent with the Iraqis' declarations. Therefore, surely the answer is to give the United Nations inspectors many more months to let them do their job and bring about a peaceful change, rather than enter into a war that will kill thousands of men, women and children.

The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is, of course, a point that people frequently make, but if he looks at the UN inspectors' reports, he will find that both Dr. el-Baradei and Dr. Blix make it clear that full co-operation is not happening yet. The point about testing whatever they manage to find simply comes back to what I think is the central fallacy of those people who simply say "Give the inspectors more time." Unless there is full co-operation, the time will not work because the inspectors could stay in the country for months and years. Simply trying to search out the weapons is a hopeless task to expect them to carry out. That is why, when the UN passed resolution 1441, it said that there had to be not merely passive co-operation, but active co-operation with the inspectors in every way—and there is simply no such co-operation at the moment.

Every day, particularly in the American press, it seems that a report emerges about how the Americans will administer Iraq, and which particular general will do so, after the war is over. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he has not been party to any such agreements and that he agrees that the consequence of taking the UN route is that Iraq, after the war, will be administered by the United Nations until a democratic state can be set up there?

Again, the point that my hon. Friend makes is entirely right and justified. All I can say to him is that no decisions have yet been taken on the nature of how Iraq should be administered in the event of Saddam's regime being displaced by force. I said earlier that I thought that the role of the UN had to be well protected in such a situation. The discussions that we are having on that matter are proceeding well. When we have reached conclusions and decisions, we can announce them so that people can discuss them.

The Prime Minister rightly raises the credibility of this Government as being at issue if we do not act after 12 years of bitter experience. If he took Saddam Hussein with him to Belfast next Monday, what reaction does he think Saddam Hussein would have if he did not outline sanctions against republican and loyalist terrorists who have not disarmed over the past five years?

I do not really think that it is fair, whatever the difficulties in Northern Ireland, to compare Northern Ireland with Iraq. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the peace process in Northern Ireland over the past few years, unemployment there is 6 per cent. today—it is no longer the region that has the highest unemployment in the UK; inward investment and money are coming in; and many people's lives have been transformed. There is still a long way to go, but I do not think that we can read across between the two situations.

I can absolutely understand my right hon. Friend's wish to stand firm alongside our friends and allies in the United States—who have, after all, sacrificed much in the cause of wider humanity over many years. However, is not the role of a true friend, in present circumstances, to be candid with the President of the United States and tell him that the evidence is not yet compelling, that the work of the inspectors is not yet done, and that the moral case for war—with all its consequences—has not yet been made?

I agree—it is indeed our function to be candid with the President of the United States and. indeed, with all our allies. I have to say to my right hon. Friend, however, that I think that the evidence is indeed compelling. That is the reason the United Nations passed resolution 1441 last year. The evidence of the resolution is there for all to see. The evidence that Saddam is not co-operating fully is accepted by everyone. Indeed, the statement yesterday by France and Germany accepted that he was not yet fully co-operating. There was not a single person in the Council of the European Union who said anything other than that the co-operation was less than full. Dr. Blix has said the same.

Surely the position is really this: if we meant what we said in resolution 1441, that it was Saddam's final opportunity to disarm and that he had to comply fully, unconditionally and immediately—and everybody accepts that he is not fully complying, not unconditionally complying and certainly not immediately complying—then surely our statement that Iraq is in material breach is clear. We have delayed action to go through the UN—even again now—in order to give Saddam a final chance. However, that is not going to happen unless he has a real change of heart and mind.

The other point that I would make to my right hon. Friend—I know that he has thought about these issues very deeply—is this: if we were dealing with a regime where this was the first time that this issue had arisen, and if there were no history of dealing with Saddam or weapons of mass destruction, one might think that there was some problem in the way that the inspectors were communicating their wishes to him, or that there was some difficulty in what he understood he had to do. However, this regime has had 12 years of this. It knows perfectly well what the UN is asking it to do. When Saddam's son-in-law defected to Jordan and disclosed the regime's offensive biological weapons programme—a programme that it had utterly denied the existence of, saying that it was all a CIA and British intelligence conspiracy—Iraq suddenly discovered the means to co-operate fully, and did co-operate fully for a time. There is no mystery for Iraq about what it needs to do.

I know that there is a very delicate balance about the time, but the danger is that, if we give a signal of division at the moment, it will allow Saddam to go straight back into the game that he has played before, and will allow him to pull the international community into months of delay. Once the international community's attention has gone, he is back, free to do what he has done again. That is my worry.[Interruption.] Yes, of course, I should be candid with the President of the United States, but my strong view is that we have given Saddam, time and time again, the opportunity to comply. Now is the time when we have to force the issue to a decision, making sure that he does comply or face the consequences.

In providing the national leadership for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir John Stanley) called—and which the Prime Minister is providing with exemplary calmness and courage—will he consider making a broadcast to the nation, explaining to all the doubters that, if we do not stand firm on this issue, the United Nations will go the way of the League of Nations?

Whatever way we may communicate will be a decision for a later time. I will bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman says. The point that he makes is obviously right.

My right hon. Friend has constantly used the expression "full co-operation". However, does he understand that many people in this House want to see a sufficient degree of co-operation by Saddam Hussein to achieve a peaceable decommissioning of the weapons of mass destruction of that barbaric regime? Does he accept that the people who are in the best position to say whether that degree of co-operation is being achieved are the weapons inspectors themselves?

It is precisely for that reason that the weapons inspectors have made it clear that, at present, there is not that full co-operation. My hon. Friend says "sufficient co-operation", and it is important to go back to the words of resolution 1441. Presumably, when we passed it, as an international community, we were aware of what we were saying, and we said that the co-operation had to be full, unconditional and immediate. The reason for that is that we had 12 years of trying to have a sufficient degree of co-operation, but it has never actually been sufficient to disarm Saddam, so that is the problem that we face.

I agree that the very reason why we went through the UN route is precisely so that the inspectors could go into Iraq and witness the facts of what is happening, but the reason why Dr. Blix has sent a whole series of further questions and demands to the Iraqis is that they know that they are not co-operating. The best test of that is twofold. First, the leftovers were unaccounted for in 1998—all that is properly documented—and we need to know what has happened to them; we have not the faintest idea because Saddam has denied the existence of the stuff.

The second issue relates to the witnesses and the way to deal with such programmes. For example, when South Africa was disarmed, nine inspectors went in and they interviewed the scientists—the people concerned in the programme—and they were told all about it. There have been, as I understand it, only about half a dozen interviews so far. Not one of those interviews has been without either a minder or an insistence that it is tape-recorded. The fact is that I cannot seriously believe in those circumstances that they are free and fair interviews. So those are the tests. If Saddam is prepared to come forward and say that they will deal with all those issues, it would put the thing in a different framework.

I asked earlier—as a number of hon. Members have done—about contingency plans for government if military action takes place in the event of Saddam Hussein being deposed. Will the Prime Minister now clear up some of that confusion? First, will he say whether contingency plans for future government are being discussed and formulated right now between members of the UN and the US and UK Governments? I understand that Kofi Annan has described those arrangements to members not just of the Security Council, but of the General Assembly, so will the Prime Minister share with the House and for the benefit of the British people what such contingency plans may well entail, so that they can secure in their minds whether there are not just short-term plans, but long-term plans as well?

Such contingency plans are being discussed. The reason why I have not given the details of those discussions is that they are not yet concluded. There is no point in us speculating about them before their conclusion, but, yes, they are being discussed among members of the UN, with the key allies. I would like to make it clear that whatever disagreements there are—for example, among European countries at the moment—it is still important, when all this is done, that we try to reach the broadest common agreement in the UN as to what the nature of any future regime in Iraq may be if it comes to conflict and, in particular, how we make sure that there is the proper humanitarian provision for people in Iraq.

Protection Of Freedoms

1.38 pm

I beg to move.

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require each item of legislation to be subject to a statement as to how each measure included in it affects the freedom of expression, assembly, conscience and association; and why the benefits of the measure outweigh any loss of freedom.
Despite the current noise caused by Members leaving the Chamber, I am pleased to say that the Bill has attracted considerable support on both sides of the House. Not only has it received support from within the House and, indeed, the other place, but I am pleased to say that it has secured the support of the free country campaign inThe Daily Telegraph and the campaign group, Liberty, and its director John Wadham.

It is fair to say that the natural instinct of any Government, of whatever political persuasion, is to seek more powers. However, the flow of legislation has grown dramatically in recent years. During the 1970s, the average number of measures passed by the House equated to between 1,000 and 1,500 per annum. Yet in the past five years, the average annual number of measures passed is now 3,866, or 15 new laws every working day, and that figure excludes what I can only describe as a continuous tidal wave of directives from Brussels.

That ceaseless flow of rules and regulations has eroded the true role of the House as a champion of liberty. Instead of a presumption in favour of freedom, there is a constant demand that "something must be done". All too often, that "something" is to interfere in or intrude into our lives, to restrict, to restrain, to control and to direct. In short, we have become a legislative factory in which producing more laws is an end in itself.

Of course, in the current uncertain and insecure climate, it is not surprising that people wish to see strong government. After all, the terrorist threat is at home, as the Prime Minister highlighted in his earlier statement. The problem, however, is that all too often legislation strays from its original purpose. Members will be familiar, for example, with the draft Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which came before the House late in 2001. That Bill included powers that would have enabled intrusive investigations not into someone found guilty of perhaps a terrorist crime, but into anyone suspected of any crime whatever. Fortunately, after considerable pressure, that ill-considered and authoritarian part of the Bill was removed. The fact that it was included in the first place and was defended robustly by Ministers, however, highlights the potential danger of security measures. In seeking to protect us, Government can undermine the freedom that they seek to defend.

My case is not to deny that there will be times when a Government need to take on new powers. My argument is rather that, when the Government of the day judge that they need to act, there must be a counterbalance and a specific requirement that they justify why we should relinquish our freedom. My Bill would protect our freedom by creating a liberty test. That test would be simple to administer, but it would have the widest of implications.

My Bill would require a sponsoring Department to identify how each measure affects our freedoms. The Bill lists four specific freedoms, as those are already established in law, but they should not be regarded as exclusive. The responsible Minister would have to publish the assessment and state to the House why the benefits of the measure outweigh any loss of liberty.

The advantages of the Bill would be threefold. The first advantage would be openness. As I said earlier, with nearly 4,000 Bills or statutory instruments passing through the House each year, it is impossible for us to identify, let alone challenge, each incursion into our freedom. The issue would be forced into the public domain by including the results of the liberty test in the Bill. While we all tend to focus on the big issues—for example, compulsory identity cards—we should not lose sight of other laws that erode our freedom bit by bit. Those include the following: the laws allowing closed circuit television; the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; the heavy-handed regulation of parish councillors under the Local Government Act 2000; the banning of hunting; and, of course, the sweeping powers of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Each of those measures chips away at our freedom to go about our lawful daily lives without fear of Government interference. This Bill would enable everyone—Members of the House, media and public alike—to understand how each and every proposed law would affect us.

The second benefit of the Bill would be to effect a lasting cultural change in Whitehall and to re-establish a presumption of freedom. At present, there is no requirement on our civil service or Ministers to give specific consideration to the impact of legislation on freedom, or for Ministers to explain why a new law is justified in diminishing our liberty. My Bill would help to change that culture, and would put every demand that "something must be done" into the context of a presumption in favour of existing liberties.

The third benefit would be improved accountability. The ministerial statement that I described earlier would, of course, help the House in its efforts to scrutinise each and every measure. Just as importantly, however, the Bill would enable us to measure the overall impact of new rules and regulations, right across Government. This measure—what I call a "liberty audit"—would enable us and those we represent to understand how the balance is changing year on year between our personal freedom and the power of government. After all, we already count the cost to business of legislation in the form of regulatory impact assessments, so is it not now time that we measured the effect of government on our freedom?

All too often, Parliament today resembles a legislative factory, acting always with good intentions but often in the misguided belief that new laws are the answer when all too often they are the problem. This Bill would reverse that trend. By making our freedom an explicit factor in the preparation of Bills, the Bill would help to change the culture of Whitehall. By requiring Ministers personally to justify any loss of freedom, it would improve accountability, and, by applying this test across all UK laws, it would, for the first time, allow us to measure the overall impact of laws, rules and regulations in our lives.

I believe that this Bill would provide a simple, but effective means of restoring the true role of Parliament as the champion of liberty in our country. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Prisk, Mr. Graham Brady, Mr. Peter Lilley, Angela Watkinson, Mr. George Osborne, Peter Bottomley, Mrs. Marion Roe, Mr. Bill Wiggin and Mr. Stephen O'Brien.

Protection Of Freedoms

Mr. Prisk accordingly presented a Bill to require each item of legislation to be subject to a statement as to how each measure included in it affects the freedom of expression, assembly, conscience and association; and why the benefits of the measure outweigh any loss of freedom. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 March, and to be printed [Bill 60].

Orders Of The Day

Communications Bill

As amended in the Committee, considered.

New Clause 3

Composition Of Services In Radio Multiplexes

(1) Section 54 of the 1996 Act (conditions attached to radio multiplex licences) shall be amended as follows.

(2) For paragraph (h) of subsection (1) (conditions as to composition of service) there shall be substituted—

"(h) that, while the licence is in force, at least the required percentage of the digital capacity on the frequency or frequencies on which the service is broadcast is used, or left available to be used, for the broadcasting of services falling within subsection (1A)."

(3) After that subsection there shall be inserted—

"(1A) The services falling within this subsection are—

  • (a) digital sound programme services;
  • (b) simulcast radio services;
  • (c) programme-related services; and
  • (d) relevant technical services."
  • (4) In subsection (2) (meaning of services referred to in paragraph (h) of subsection (1))—

  • (a) for "paragraph (1)(h)" there shall be substituted "subsection (1A)"; and
  • (b) in subparagraph (i), for the words from "(within" to "1990 Act" there shall be substituted "(within the meaning of section 240 of the Communications Act 2003)".
  • (5) After that subsection there shall be inserted—

    "(2A) In subsection (1)(h), the reference to the required percentage is a reference to such percentage equal to or more than 80 per cent. as OFCOM—

  • (a) consider appropriate; and
  • (b) specify in the condition."
  • (6) In subsection (3) (power to vary percentage in subsection (1)(h))—

  • (a) for "subsection (1)" there shall be substituted "subsection (2A)"; and
  • (b) for "paragraph (h) of that subsection" there shall be substituted "that subsection".'—[Dr. Howells.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    1.47 pm

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 158, page 265, line 12, [Clause 303], at end insert 'and'.

    No. 159, in page 265, line 13 [Clause 303], at end insert `and music'.

    No. 160, in page 265, line 16 [Clause 303], at end insert

    'taking into account the way in which the existing range of programmes and music (taken as a whole) is calculated to appeal to a variety of tastes and interests'.
    No. 181, in page 266, line 6 [Clause 304], leave out from 'services' to end of line 8.

    No. 182, in page 266 [Clause 304], leave out lines 20 to 30.

    No. 162, in page 267, line 4 [Clause 304], after 'news', insert 'and music'.

    Government amendment No. 65.

    Government amendment No. 68.

    I will deal first with new clause 3. At present, clause 239 allows the Secretary of State to set a minimum percentage of television multiplex capacity that must be devoted to broadcasting services and not, for instance, to data services. The Office of Communications may set a higher percentage in a particular licence, but not a lower one. There is a no similar provision for radio, and consequently any change in the percentage for broadcasting material on a radio multiplex can be made only by order.

    We now think that it would be more sensible to bring these provisions into line by replicating the television provisions for radio multiplexes. This would allow Ofcom, rather than the Secretary of State acting through Parliament, to set a higher percentage for the minimum amount of broadcasting data that must be carried on a particular radio multiplex. The percentage set by the Secretary of State would still represent the lowest percentage that could be specified in a licence.

    Amendment No. 65 corrects a minor omission from earlier drafting. Paragraph 3 of schedule 18 is a transitional provision to ensure that contracts and agreements between relevant parties are not terminated because the prevailing regime of licensing changes to one of general authorisations in cases where the contract or agreement depends on one or other of the parties holding a particular licence. Although it is mainly aimed at the holders of telecommunications licences, it also covers cases in which a Broadcasting Act licence may no longer be needed for a particular activity as a result of the Bill.

    Paragraph 3(2) of schedule 18 defines "relevant licence" for the provisions of the paragraph. The list should also include satellite radio services as defined in section 84(2)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1990. Such licences will be abolished and most services will be provided under radio licensable content service licences. However, it is conceivable that some services that currently need a satellite radio service licence might not need a radio licensable content service licence. That outcome will be made more likely because the Bill changes the jurisdiction rules. Our minor amendment rectifies that omission so that the list of licences to which the provisions apply is comprehensive.

    Amendment No. 68 is to schedule 19 and repeals section 54(7) of the Broadcasting Act 1996 which is now superfluous.

    I am interested in amendment No. 65. The Minister will be aware that many hon. Members, especially those in the cross-party music group, are concerned that local radio stations play the same music throughout the country and that there is no diversity. Will he reconsider our concerns and those of the industry and require Ofcom to ensure that local music is treated in the same way as news?

    We discussed that at great length in Committee and will revisit it on Report. I know that my hon. Friend cares passionately about the subject. I assure her that we want to do all that we can to promote and strengthen the localness and regional identity—by which I mean the cultural identity as much as anything else—of areas. As music is such an important factor in the health of broadcasting, especially radio broadcasting, we will give her suggestion serious consideration.

    Section 54(7) provides for section 94 of the 1990 Act to apply to radio multiplex services. Section 94 gives Ministers power to require radio broadcasters to include specified announcements in their services or to refrain from including specified matters in those services. The Bill reproduces section 94 in clause 326 and repeals it. The application of section 94 by section 54(7) of the 1996 Act is therefore no longer needed.

    New clause 3 seems sensible and will help to ensure that Ofcom has the flexibility to set higher percentages devoted to radio multiplexes which match the television arrangement, as the Minister said. However, as I said several times in Committee, we want a greater sense of urgency and a greater priority afforded to the roll-out of digital radio. The new clause would allow Ofcom to provide more digital radio opportunities if more of the multiplex was devoted to radio. I hope that the need to ensure a faster uptake of digital radio is well registered in the Minister's mind. We will need to consider his explanation of amendments Nos. 65 and 68, but we are happy to accept that they are minor drafting amendments.

    I shall speak to amendments Nos. 181 and 182, which relate to the new provisions in the Bill now renumbered as clause 304, which seek to define localness for commercial radio stations. It is fair to say that the clause is the cause of deep resentment in the commercial radio industry. The clause was not included in the original draft Bill and was added after the Scrutiny Committee did its excellent work on the draft Bill, not as a result of anything that the Scrutiny Committee said about the original draft Bill, but as a result, we strongly suspect, of the decision by the Secretary of State—a decision that we wholly applaud—to change the original three-plus-one requirement to only two-plus-one.

    That could be said to have given rise to concern that there may be a greater concentration of ownership, but the question for the House is whether the change justifies the far-reaching and, some would say, draconian powers given to Ofcom in respect of clause 304. The clause has been described by the Commercial Radio Companies Association as
    an astonishing leap from a proposed duty to protect output to a recipe for interfering in microregulation."
    The CRCA is also critical of the fact that the clause makes no reference to the views of listeners. It is surely more important to base judgments on localness—on what the listeners think—than on the entirely subjective judgment of Ofcom, notwithstanding the requirement for it to consult with persons whom it thinks may have a view.

    As my hon. Friend knows, I have a long-standing interest both in communications, having served on the Committee that considered the previous Bill when we were in government, and in commercial radio. I endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the concerns of commercial radio companies, and urge him to press the Government hard. It would be hugely damaging if the regulator had powers that were so draconian, yet could not take account of the views of local people. That is the crucial point.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I hope that by the time I sit down, he will think that I have pressed the Government sufficiently hard on the matter. He intervenes at an extremely interesting point. I was about to explain to the House how we approached the issue in Committee. I commend the debates in Committee on the matter, particularly the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and East Maldon—sorry, Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). We had seven weeks to get that right, but I still got it wrong.

    In Committee, we sought to persuade the Minister to drop the clause. If I recall correctly, we even had a vote—quite a rare vote—in the Committee—[Interruption.] which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) says we lost. That is correct. We were not able to persuade the Minister. He insisted that the clause should be retained.

    Not only did we win the argument, but with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), we tried to persuade the Minister to make the provisions of the clause more akin to a longstop power for Ofcom to intervene, but to allow a self-regulatory approach, which is a key objective for Ofcom. Again, the Minister was unmoved, so today we are suggesting another approach which, although we do not agree with it, acknowledges that the clause might have some value. Let us take that as a base and assume that the clause has some value. We want to remove the elements that we and the commercial radio industry believe to be potentially the most damaging, and for which no real justification has been made—namely, the power of Ofcom to interfere in the day-to-day running of a local radio station to the extent that the station must employ local people, provide local training and development, and use
    "premises within the area or locality"
    served by the station.

    2 pm

    We are in complete agreement with the general objective that local commercial radio stations should provide a local service. The vast majority thrive because that is precisely what they do. Since serving on the Committee, I have had the opportunity to visit Scotland. I went to Radio Clyde, and I commend a visit to it to the Minister. Everyone there would be very pleased to see him, and I am sure that they would apply to him the same arguments that they applied to me. At the end of our discussion, however, it was clear that we agreed with them, whereas, at present, the Minister would not.

    Some years ago, Radio Clyde invested heavily in substantial new premises in Clydebank, and it runs its two radio stations from those excellent studios. The programming that it offers has huge appeal to local listeners, and provides the most popular radio stations for the two age groups: Clyde 1 for the younger generation, and Clyde 2 for the older generation. I asked the presenter of a lunchtime programme why they were so popular, and why people listened to them and not to Virgin Radio, Radio 1 or other BBC stations. The answer was, "We relate to the local community. Our output relates to it, and the nature of our whole programme is local. We talk about things that people are talking about locally, rather than nationally." Notwithstanding that, the main item for discussion on the news that day was the fact that there were tanks at Heathrow airport, although I did not see any when I was there.

    As someone who lives only a mile and a half away from the studios that the hon. Gentleman visited, I hope that he drove through Glasgow, Anniesland and that he enjoyed that. May I ask him to cast his mind back to when we were discussing these matters in Committee? The great fear was that commercial radio would leave itself open to takeover by concerns outside this country. Working on the basis of what had happened to radio in America, it was felt that it would become centralised but still have a localness about it. Radio Clyde has been so successful owing to the fact that it is a west of Scotland radio station—or stations, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says that caters for local people. This American import, which could happen—I am not saying that it will, but it could—would get rid of stations such as Radio Clyde.

    There is so much that one could say in response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention. Yes, I did enjoy my visit to Glasgow. I particularly enjoyed going to Hampden Park for the Scotland-Ireland match, although not many locals enjoyed the result. The point that I would make to him, however, is that the Radio Authority does not have such powers now, so why is it thought necessary to give them to Ofcom? The Radio Authority has not found it necessary to intervene in this way. The idea that some gabby cabby in New York could have a 10-minute phone-in to Radio Clyde because it was now being transmitted from the United States of America is complete nonsense. Radio stations will be able to provide a local service only by using people on the ground locally. The issue is whether we should be asking Ofcom to micro-manage what the commercial radio stations do to such an extent as is provided for in the Bill, or whether we should point out that local radio stations have been hugely successful and that the most successful are those that provide the most local service. Why do the measures need to extend so far?

    Is not the simple reason for tighter regulation that media ownership rules are loosening? Does not the hon. Gentleman fear the experience in the United States, where Clear Channel has removed most concepts of localness from many of its stations?

    No. There are real dangers in trying to predetermine what commercial radio stations may need to do. The issue for the regulator is content, to which the licence granted relates. That is the most important issue and the Bill provides for the powers that are needed. I urge the hon. Gentleman to read the three or four sentences that we seek to omit, which relate only to micro-managing of employees, training and premises.

    I am encouraged by the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the radio stations of Scotland. I am sure that Radio Clyde is listening carefully to his remarks. As to local content, the hon. Gentleman seems to be referring only to the spoken word. Does he not agree that music is also important and that local acts should be included?

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiment and will mention music later. It should not come as a surprise to any hon. Member that a Conservative party spokesman is familiar with the United Kingdom as a whole because we believe in precisely that.

    Given the track record of local commercial radio stations such as Radio Clyde and Radio Forth, it is something of an insult—at the very time when the Government are promising a light-touch regulatory future—to give Ofcom such far-reaching powers as would allow it to question and determine who a station employs, how much and where employees are trained, and how premises are used. Those issues are not central to whether or not a station can be defined as providing a local service—which is determined by reference to content and the relationship between a station and its listeners. Those are matters that the broadcasters themselves should be allowed to determine. As long as a broadcaster provides content output that listeners believe to be local, that should be the test when determining whether or not a station meets the local content requirement.

    In Committee, members of the Front Benches across parties agreed that Government and Parliament must be careful not to impose regulatory requirements on commercial television and radio broadcasters that may not be capable of being resourced in future. I understand the point made by the hon. Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) that a greater concentration of ownership may mean that some studios may not be as local as now. However, given the harsh commercial realities under which many stations operate, surely that is for them to determine. They will not be successful in providing a local service unless they have local people on the ground. Interestingly, Radio Clyde—having moved to Clydebank—would now like a studio in Glasgow city centre, as that is where many of the people they want to interview are based. Scottish Television makes great use of its studio in Edinburgh for interviewing MSPs for local news and current affairs opt-outs. It seems physically impossible to provide a local service without a local presence but that is for the broadcasters to sort out, not a matter for interference by the regulator.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that in the early days of successful local commercial radio the commercial freedoms that he has argued for both on Report and in Committee made smaller stations most effective? He has given examples from Scotland, and I would point to a station that I knew well in the past—Radio Wave in Blackpool, which was successful because it had the very freedoms that would now be micro-managed, as proposed by the Government. We are opposed to that.

    As ever, my hon. Friend is extremely helpful and has added to my argument.

    Commercial radio is not hugely profitable. To make money, it has to be extremely successful. Success is achieved by offering something different—the local service. We should give broadcasters more credit for what they have achieved and ensure that the obligations—the longstop powers for Ofcom—agreed in the Bill are proportionate and necessary. The provisions in clause 304 are too prescriptive and give Ofcom too much power to micro-manage the workings of individual radio stations. As I have already said, I know of no difficulty experienced by the Radio Authority in ensuring localness in the past, and no case has been made for Ofcom to have such powers of interference in future. We therefore urge the Government to think again. I believe that they will encounter difficulty in relation to the clause in the other place, and it would be helpful if the Minister could signal his willingness to reconsider the matter, especially as the clause, as I have already said, was not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.

    Turning briefly to amendments Nos. 158 to 160, and amendment No. 162, I sympathise with hon. Members who are concerned about the interests of the music industry, especially about local music. Local bands feature prominently on local radio, more so on commercial radio than on the BBC as a matter of fact. I hope that Ofcom will keep in mind the views of the House when assessing and judging the quality of local service provision. It is unthinkable that "local material"—the definition used in clause 304—should be interpreted to exclude local music. Putting it more positively, music is the mainstay of much radio content, to answer the point made by the hon. Member for North Tayside in his intervention. Local music contributes greatly to the local material on local radio.

    Perhaps it needs to feature more, but I would be surprised if the Minister said that local material, as defined in the Bill, should not include music—it should. Whether the word "music" needs to be added to that definition is a matter for the House to determine when it has heard the arguments that are about to be made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson). However, we have considerable sympathy with the concerns of the music industry. As I have already said, in my experience, commercial radio stations—clause 304 applies to them, not to the BBC—are doing more to promote local music than the BBC.

    I should like to draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests. May I also add that British Music Rights gave me a ticket to last Thursday's Brit awards, which helped me to compile the information that I am about to use? I had an excellent time.

    May I tell the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) that while he was enjoying the Scotland-Ireland game in Glasgow, I was in my office in London enjoying the England-Australia game on television? I know that he would get back to me if I did not mention that.

    2.15 pm

    I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 158 to 160, and amendment No. 162, which I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who unfortunately cannot be here as he is away on constituency business. The Bill could damage British music creators if it is not amended. A letter, which was also sent to me, has appeared in theFinancial Times. In it, Mr. Tony Hadley, who used to be the lead singer of Spandau Ballet, said:
    "Looking at the music business now, I realise how lucky we were when we started Spandau Ballet in the early eighties. We found our audience through a vibrant live music scene and through national and local radio stations playing music which, like ours at the time, was outside the mainstream. Musicians today have far fewer opportunities, and the Government's approach to the Communications Bill threatens them still further when it should instead be a great opportunity."

    Will the hon. Gentleman go further back in time and acknowledge the role of stations such as Radio Caroline and Radio London, without which we would never have heard of the Who or even the Beatles?

    The hon. Gentleman is all too familiar with those radio stations. I could mention Radio Scotland, which was based somewhere in the Irish sea, and Stuart Henry, who was a great DJ from our parts. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and commend those stations.

    Mr. Hadley continued:

    "Opening up our radio market to US competitors"—
    I alluded to that in my intervention on the hon. Member for Ryedale—

    "when the US does not grant the same rights to European operators is just foolish. US operators will do here what they have done in their home market—buy up stations, merge their operations, centralise and computerise their programming, and generate their playlists entirely from computers."
    I expressed concern about that in my intervention. Mr. Hadley concluded:

    "UK artists will undoubtedly lose out to US artists and both musical diversity and local character will also suffer. Fewer operators means fewer stations, fewer types of records played, fewer opportunities and lower earnings for UK performers. All for absolutely no corresponding benefit whatever for UK music or audiences."
    A letter inThe Guardian today signed by 29 professional artists says:

    "The government's proposed changes to the radio sector make it all the more crucial that the BBC deliver on its local and regional remit to support the arts. The current bill offers a great opportunity for the government to do something. Yet it seems deaf so far to our pleas."

    I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. What he has just said about the BBC and its responsibility for its remit leads me to ask whether he has received letters from his constituents complaining bitterly that the BBC is dumbing down and chasing ratings, and that we are losing the best public service aspects that used to be the hallmark of the BBC? I am receiving lots of letters like that—is he?

    I have received letters. If they were only about the BBC, I would not be so concerned, as we could tackle that, but they are about problems across the board, including those experienced by commercial radio stations. However, the hon. Gentleman is correct.

    The letter inThe Guardian continues:

    "An NOP opinion poll in January found that 68 per cent. of 15 to 24-year-olds want to hear a wider variety of music played on general radio stations, and some 72 per cent. of people would support measures to encourage local radio stations to cover local music. It is time this government started listening."
    Following my contribution today, I hope that that will be addressed.

    The Bill may have been amended to provide reassurance to other creators, primarily independent television producers, but the introduction of relatively stiff content regulation has not been extended to cover music. Given the Government's deregulatory approach to foreign ownership and consolidation, particularly in relation to the radio sector, the omission of any consideration of, or means of redress for, music creators isworrying. If one asks people what single thing has had the biggest influence or effect on them, most would say music. The young in particular are influenced by the music industry. At a time when politics is not, shall we say, high on their list of priorities, is it any wonder that they switch off when we cannot even be bothered to consider their favourite pastime?

    The amendments to clauses 303 and 304 are intended to counteract the potential for consolidation in the local radio market undermining musical diversity and local character. They are intended to act as a vital counterbalance to the power that the regulation will give the larger players to control access to, and thereby access within, the UK music market. The Bill defines a local radio operator as one who broadcasts to a specific locality or region within the United Kingdom, not nationwide. Given the technology that exists even now in both digital and internet radio, enabling people to listen to some so-called local stations from anywhere in the country, that premise is surely outdated before even being introduced. No matter how we seek to define it, for music creators local radio is a crucial route to national exposure.

    My amendments are important for two reasons. They would provide support for music at grass-roots level, encouraging local stations to cover local musicians and musical events and, more crucially, to support the British repertoire. The more airplay our artists are given, the more likely they are to succeed in the United Kingdom, in Europe, in—importantly—the United States and, indeed, in the world as a whole, and the more likely they are to contribute to the UK economy.

    I stress that this is not about setting quotas, as the French do. It is simply about giving our artists a better chance of breaking through. As was pointed out by the living legend Tom Jones, whom I saw at the Brit awards last week, "If you don't get played you don't have a career—it's as simple as that."

    Amendments Nos. 158, 159 and 160 are intended to enable Ofcom to prevent the diversity of music from being diminished. Diversity of service results from careful approval of a range of programme applications.

    I, too, had the good fortune to attend the Brit awards on Thursday night; it was indeed a very enjoyable event. When I listen to local radio stations. however, I struggle to detect much local character and content, and presumably more foreign investment and ownership will cause local programming to decline further. Can the hon. Gentleman suggest any ways of encouraging local radio stations to include much more local content in their schedules?

    The hon. Gentleman is a former member of Runrig, a band whose compact discs I have in my house. I enjoyed his music, along with that of his fellow artists.

    It is difficult to force people to play certain music, and some would say that we were misusing our power if we did so. Last night I was present at a meeting with a telecom group, attended by the new chair of Ofcom. He agreed that local music must be given a chance, and said he would look favourably on any complaint that that was not happening. Perhaps the Minister will consider that when reports are produced on the extent of diversity among radio stations throughout the country. Who knows? Perhaps one day a private Member's Bill will be presented here with the aim of bringing about what the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) wants.

    My amendments are intended to tighten the conditions that an applicant must meet in order to secure Ofcom's approval of mid-term changes in the character of a programme service. That would mean a requirement for Ofcom, before approving any mid-term licence changes, to be satisfied that the departure would not narrow the range of programmes and music available, by way of relevant independent radio services, to persons living in the area or locality for which the service was to be provided. Service providers should honour their licence commitments in regard to diversity, unless Ofcom is genuinely satisfied that all the conditions under clause 303(3) have been taken into account in a properly balanced way.

    Clause 304 gives Ofcom a general duty to promote and protect the local content and character of local radio, specifically news broadcasts. However, the current definition of local material regrettably fails to provide the crucial safeguard for musical creativity and diversity. It is interesting to compare the conclusions of recent research carried out by commercial radio companies that want the clause removed—the hon. Member for Ryedale mentioned that—with those of the music industry, which wants it amended to mention music specifically. I wholeheartedly agree with that proposal.

    The radio industry survey revealed that most young people no longer consider radio to be an important source of news. As I said earlier, however, an NOP world poll found that 68 per cent. of those aged between 15 and 24 would like to hear a wider variety of music on the radio. Perhaps if we supplied that variety the young would see radio stations in a different light, and as well as making local music available to young listeners we politicians might become accessible to them.

    Having implicitly criticised the BBC Light programme when I mentioned Radio Caroline and Radio London, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman agrees that Radio 1 is performing a valuable role in broadcasting more experimental and less mainstream music than many independent stations.

    I shall have to take the hon. Gentleman's word for that. I have now reached the age at which the music broadcast by Radio 2 becomes more one's kind of music. Radio 1's slot on the dial is sadly ignored these days: I am obviously getting very old. I understand what the hon. Gentleman means, however. I do not share the fears apparently felt by some of his colleagues about the BBC; I quite enjoy its coverage. My greatest fear is that it will be dumbed down, and will become a national rather than a local and regional service—covering, of course, not just regions but nations. That is intended for my nationalist colleagues on the Opposition Benches.

    While music may be given appropriate recognition by Ofcom as material relevant to the definition in clause 304, I do not think the clause properly reflects the significance that music clearly has for the public—particularly younger audiences—in the context of local radio services. For the avoidance of doubt, Ofcom should be specifically required to take account of local music when drawing up guidance for radio stations on local material.

    In amendment No. 161, which unfortunately was not selected, and in amendment No. 162, which was, I have sought to incorporate a safeguard for local jobs and skills in the music sector. The employment or use of local people is one of the determining factors in the requirement for local links to have been observed, but it is also important for that to reflect the way in which local radio provides a vital platform for the performance of local musicians and new bands that are establishing local fan bases.

    I commend what the Government have done and the scrutiny of the pre-legislative Committee. Along with many Members on both sides of the House, however, I was disappointed by the omission of music. Music is singularly the most important thing in most people's lives, as I have said. We think that it is nice to talk about politics, but then again, we would, wouldn't we? Fortunately, I doubt whether there is a single Member of this House who does not regard music as one of the greatest influences in their lives, particularly during their formative years.

    I hope that the Minister will take on board what I have said about our amendments, and that he will examine the issue and ensure that the word "music" appears in the Bill, and that musicians and local radio stations are encouraged to ensure that we develop a strong and vibrant music industry.

    2.30 pm

    I rise to express sympathy with the amendments moved by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), and to express our view that the amendments on local commercial radio moved by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) should be resisted. As it stands, clause 304 provides quite a good arrangement for Ofcom's powers in respect of local radio. The hon. Member for Ryedale was right to point out that these discussions are continuations of those that began in Committee.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland was right to point out that news may no longer be the principal item of local interest on radio stations. He put me in mind of a report that I read yesterday on the transition that is taking place in South Korea, where younger people in particular are turning to the internet as their primary source of news media, and a similar shift may well occur in the UK. As we write legislation, we must be aware that if we define local content in terms of news, even though people are no longer turning to radio stations to look for news, we may be missing the point. That strengthens the hon. Gentleman's argument that local music may be a primary determining factor in people saying that they want a local service, rather than a national one. They know that on a local radio station, they will get the local music content that they may not get anywhere else.

    The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) rightly mentioned the fear of the worst-case scenario—of what might happen if these powers are not given to Ofcom and that is why we want to resist the amendments moved by the Conservatives. In a sense, we have to return to the underlying principle, which is that a radio spectrum broadcasting licence is a privilege. There is a limited supply of such licences, and conditions can be associated with the awarding of them that express certain public goods that go beyond those that the market alone might provide. Indeed, where the market alone does provide local radio stations that use local people, work from local premises, provide local music content, and so on, there is no reason for Ofcom to intervene. However, we have a legitimate fear, based on the experience of other countries, that that might not always remain the case. Owners of radio stations could seek to break down the local infrastructure, which is why provisions that extend the public good beyond mere content by referring to other requirements are significant.

    The hon. Member for Ryedale said that we should talk only about content, but we disagree. In other areas, particularly local television production, we are going beyond the field of content by saying that a licence can have associated conditions that go beyond mere content of the material put out by referring to the media infrastructure. The awful phrase "media ecology" was used in Committee—I do not know whose fault it was; I certainly do not want to claim ownership of it—but it is true that elements such as the skill bases in local media and the associated training take a very long time to build up.

    As I said in Committee, I am particularly sensitive to this issue. I come from Sheffield, which has quite a good media environment. A couple of local universities—Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam—have great media schools, but we are not the regional capital. The regional capital is Leeds, and even a reduction in local content that moved everything up to Leeds would be significantly to our disadvantage. As a result, a young Sheffielder who wanted to get into music. the media or broadcasting could be discouraged, because there would be nothing on his or her doorstep. It is essential that we retain localness, and 1 hope that we can keep clause 304 as it is. We hope that these powers will not have to be used in any significant way, and that Ofcom can adopt a very light touch. The media environment will be such that local radio licence holders will in any case want to do all the right things. However, we have to be prepared to use back-stop powers in situations where owners decide to do things differently and seek to withdraw local services for financial reasons. I do not believe that Ofcom would be so silly as to realise the fear that has been expressed by making the conditions so onerous that they put everybody out of business. That would be a nonsense. The reality is that there are plenty of bidders for limited spectrum local licences that are, as I said, in effect privileges. It is entirely right that we have a regulating public body that ensures that, in return for that privilege, we extract certain public goods that the market on its own may not deliver in all circumstances.

    I want to offer a word of support for my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who spoke to amendments Nos. 181 and 182, and to speak briefly about the other amendments. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) advanced a very good argument for the inclusion of music in material for local radio broadcasting, and I do not disagree with the desirability of that. Of his various amendments, I hope that the House and the Government will incline towards amendment No. 162, so as to make it clear that music is comprised especially within the definition of local material. I cannot go along with him on amendment No. 160, however. If we start to litter the Bill with references to the desirability of appealing

    "to a variety of tastes and interests",
    one wonders why that objective was elevated to a general duty in clause 3. If that duty is included in clause 3, it should be one of Ofcom's strongest considerations in taking into account a range of other matters. I therefore see no need to repeat the provision in clause 303.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale put forward a very strong argument concerning the manner in which Ofcom should regulate the local content and character of services. Given the desire expressed in clause 6 to maintain only those regulatory burdens that are necessary, it seems entirely inconsistent for Ofcom to be asked elsewhere in the Bill not only to pursue a purpose—the maintenance of local programming and content—but to specify precisely how that is to be achieved. My hon. Friend is seeking to remove from the Bill not the purpose of local programming, but Ofcom's effective obligation to specify training, employment, premises, and so on. In setting up Ofcom, it is clear that we must try to move away from that, and try instead to extend commercial freedom in terms not only of ownership, but of the manner in which such stations are run.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland will recall from our deliberations in Committee examples such as 'Clear Channel', in Australia. It may have set out with a commercial desire and an imperative to cut costs that led to centralisation, but in so far as the result was a reduction in localness, it proved to be a commercial danger and a handicap to those services. The argument rests on the commercial imperative of localness as part of local radio stations. In the absence of it, any amount of legislation will not lead to localness. If it exists, we do not need to legislate for it to happen. If we pursue local content as a purpose, Ofcom will be able to regulate with a very light touch, because it will discover that that is what the radio stations themselves are setting out to achieve.

    The Minister took us briefly through new clause 3 at the beginning of his comments, but I must confess that I am still unsure about the purpose of it. The Broadcasting Act 1996 provides for a 90 per cent. prescribed percentage for digital multiplex services. In 1998, that was reduced to 80 per cent. by way of statutory instrument. The nature of the argument is how far can one go while still retaining the necessary digital capacity to ensure not only the provision of services, but the CD quality of digital audio broadcasting, and the bit rate available for it. Those matters are quite technical, and it can happen over time that the parameters change, not only commercially but technically.

    Section 54 of the Broadcasting Act made it possible for the Secretary of State to come to Parliament to change the percentage up or down, but the Minister is asking us to remove the ability to take that percentage below 80 per cent. I cannot construct an argument for why it would be necessary to go below 80 per cent., but changes in technology could mean that the requisite quality for digital audio broadcasting could be achieved with a lower bit rate and, at the same time, the simulcast of television services was considered desirable. It does not automatically follow that because something is broadcast on television, there is no demand to listen to it. For example, some people like to listen to news programmes from the television and others are happy to listen to soaps, perhaps with additional commentary, but not to watch them. Such services are not included in the list. It does not automatically follow that 80 per cent. is now and for all time the minimum percentage of capacity on the digital multiplex that is required for those particular services. I am, therefore, slightly concerned that the Minister is attempting to remove that flexibility.

    One of the attractions of the Bill was the light touch that it would give to Ofcom, so I am a little concerned that there will now be a little too much prescription. Hon. Members have made some interesting points. I especially liked the comments from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson), who mentioned the need for experimentation in music. It is its unique funding—as the BBC would call it—that enables Radio 1 to support that, and it is to be congratulated on it. Other, commercially funded, radio stations are attempting to do the same. However, it would be wrong for the Government or Ofcom to try to prescribe programming policy.

    Ofcom makes the decision when it issues the licensing agreement in the first place. Once the agreement is made, it must be up to the independent radio broadcaster to decide for itself how to maximise its audience. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said, the imperative for independent broadcasters is to be commercial. Ofcom can legislate as much as it likes, but it will do no good if a radio station goes out of business—as has happened with Centre FM, which was based in Leicester, and Gwent Broadcasting in Wales. The old Independent Broadcasting Authority tried to prescribe too much the sort of programming that those radio stations should put out. As a consequence, their overheads were too high and the advertising revenues they received were not enough to sustain cashflow and allow the stations to broadcast.

    The hon. Gentleman is making an important point about the commercial aspect of radio broadcasting, but that is only one side of the coin. The spectrum is owned by the nation and sold or licensed to those who wish to make profits from it. That is an effective use of the market to deliver a service to a wide number of people, but we must acknowledge an ongoing public service remit throughout all aspects of broadcasting. It is stronger in the BBC and weaker in commercial radio, but still present. We must ensure that the Bill contains a framework sufficient to ensure the relevance of local broadcasting, whether commercial or not.

    The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. It is almost a philosophical question. One could argue that if a radio station is popular and pulling in a large audience, it is providing a public service. One could also argue that if a radio station is broadcasting in the Reithian tradition of programmes that people ought to hear but it has no listeners, it is not providing a public service. As in all things, it is a question of balance. The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question is right. There is a duty of care, including the need to ensure that the spectrum, which is one of the nation's assets, is used wisely. That includes the content of programming, such as music and news, and its localness—or indeed its Welshness, as the hon. Gentleman would have it.

    If a radio station is solely funded through the sale of advertising time, it must be popular. It is not for Ofcom to impose conditions that would force the station into bankruptcy, because it would provide no public service if that happened.

    2.45 pm

    We need a balance between what is local and what is popular. I am concerned that the popular takes over and the local is forgotten. Therefore, we need someone who oversees the matter and Ofcom will be in an excellent position to do that. It will have a light touch, but it is necessary. One of the great successes of the local radio stations that have survived is their identification of local audiences. The radio stations that fell by the wayside made the mistake of trying to be too popular.

    I disagree with the hon. Gentleman when he draws a distinction between local and popular as though they were mutually exclusive. They are not. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire pointed out, Clear Channel in Australia—if not in the United States—discovered that a more centralised programming format, with all its output coming from Melbourne, proved to be unpopular. The whole point is that local can be popular. Ofcom should be a regulator, but it should have a light touch. The House would be right to resist anything that would mean Ofcom could interfere in the day-to-day programming of radio or television broadcasting.

    I wish to set the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) straight on the origin of the appalling phrase "broadcasting ecology". I suspect that it was born on the media pages ofThe Guardian, but it was nurtured on the south-facing slopes of the Rhondda by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who took an inordinate interest in that ecology. The hon. Gentleman reminded us of the great difficulties in trying to balance the question of localness and the worthy Reithian principle, with the hard realities of broadcasting in a commercial world. I congratulate him on having done that with great clarity.

    Amendments Nos. 158 to 160 were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson). Among other things, clause 303 sets out the factors that Ofcom must take into account before agreeing to a request for changes to the character of a licensed radio service. A licence will contain conditions that are appropriate to securing that the character of a licensed service, as proposed by the licence holder when making his or her application, is maintained. Ofcom will be able to vary those conditions if, and only if, the departure would not substantially alter the character of the service or narrow the range of programmes available, which is an important consideration. The departure in the case of local licences would need to be conducive to maintaining or promoting fair competition or require evidence of significant local support for the change.

    The final two elements added by the new clause are new factors for Ofcom to consider. The Government accept the case for some further relaxation to make it easier for licence holders to respond to local audience expectations and demand. In well-developed major markets, Ofcom will now also be able to allow format changes in mainstream stations to facilitate competition. That could result in stations going head to head, where it is felt that that would be beneficial to competition and to listeners.

    Amendment No. 160 proposes that Ofcom should take into account the effect of any proposed changes on the range of programmes and music offered by a service. I have sympathy with the intention behind the amendment. It is clearly important that Ofcom takes into account the effect of any changes on the range of a station's music output. However, that in essence is what Ofcom will have to do under the new clause as drafted, as its purpose is to guide Ofcom in its consideration of changes to the character of commercial radio services.

    We all know that commercial radio is about music. It would be impossible for Ofcom to consider the effect of a change in the range of programmes without also considering the range of music on offer. In this context, the two are virtually synonymous, and I do not consider that the amendment would add anything substantial or usable to Ofcom's range of powers. However, I fully expect that, in considering these issues, Ofcom will consider the implications for music.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland on raising a matter on which discussion of the Bill has been slow to touch. However, I spend much time travelling around the country, as do many hon. Members. I always listen to my car radio, and there is an incredible sameness and blandness about the music on offer everywhere.

    I recently attended the biggest meeting of representatives from the music industry that I have ever attended. They banged their gums about the need to protect local music on radio. I asked what they meant by the term "local music", and no one came up with a clear answer. Does it mean British music or European music? Wherever I go, I hear the same sort of music on the radio.

    I have great respect for the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), but I got lost when he compared the BBC and commercial stations, which have different set-ups. Classic FM is an exception among commercial stations, as I think it was bailed out by American money when no British money was available. I think of Radio 3, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland—who is getting old and past it—has talked about Radio 2. The subject of music and creativity is often discussed on Radio 4, which also some very good arts programmes. I do not see that variety in commercial radio in general. Indeed, I have gone on record with my disappointment about what has happened to Jazz FM. There is an incredible blandness through the day. It still has some decent jazz after 7 pm, thank God, but it disappoints people looking for variety in music, and for specialist music on some channels.

    I was also present at last week's Brit awards, which demonstrate what British music is capable of. The BBC has a duty to promote different sorts of music. Radio 1 is a good example, but commercial stations, in the end, are obliged to attract listeners. This debate is more a commentary on the sad state of British music, a lot of the blame for which I attach to programmes such as "Pop Idol" and the various reality TV shows. London has a number of good commercial stations, such as XFM. It provides a very different type of non-chart music and is an example of how a commercial station can provide opportunities that are not always available on the BBC, let alone any other station.

    I agree, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is an avid listener to contemporary music on the radio, as he told us so in Committee. His analysis is broadly correct, and I was careful to say that, in general, the commercial stations around the country to which I listen have a sameness about them. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are exceptions, and they prove the rule.

    I should like to mention one such exception. I listen to Radio 1 on my way back to my constituency on a Thursday evening, because it opts out and becomes a Welsh station. Bethan Elfyn's two-hour programme covers the Welsh music scene. The programme is very popular, with live bands, reports and reviews and so on. It shows that the BBC can do such things, in contradiction of the contention from the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). Commercial radio could act in the same way.

    Yes, indeed. I shall take no more interventions on the matter, as I am sure that many stations could be mentioned, but the hon. Gentleman is right: the programme is excellent and a real innovation. I hope that the policy of BBC Wales to nurture local bands and talent will continue, and that it will be replicated around the country. That is happening in some areas.

    I note that it has been stated that the amendment would also ensure that Ofcom must be satisfied that all conditions are fulfilled before agreeing to any changes in licences. That is not so, but let us look at the intention. The proposed change would be more restrictive than the current legislation. I have heard no convincing reason why we should take such a retrograde step, which would mean that there could be no departure from the character of a station, even if a change would promote competition, or if there was evidence that people in an area would significantly support that change.

    The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) gave an example of a programme that has a cult following in Wales. If it were a commercial station, and the amendment were accepted, would we say that the change was not in the original licence condition? We must be very careful and flexible about such matters, so that we do not tie ourselves down to a regime that would not allow the degree of flexibility and innovation that the hon. Gentleman described. If there is considerable local demand for a change, why should the regulator be prevented from agreeing to it? That would be self-evidently wrong.

    The hon. Member for Ryedale moved amendments Nos. 181 and 182. We discussed the issues involved at some length in Committee. There is no difference of opinion between me and the hon. Gentleman about the importance of local radio to the community that it serves, nor about the overriding need for local radio to be genuinely local. We do not disagree either about the need for a code to safeguard localness—at least, I do not recall any such disagreement in Committee. We agreed that the code should be designed to ensure that programmes consisting of local material would be included in local services.

    I am pleased that the importance and desirability of such a code is widely recognised. That should go a long way towards protecting the vital localness of local radio, regardless of who owns it. That very important point was stressed by the hon. Member for Ryedale, as that localness is what we have to protect. The disagreement hinges on what else the code should contain. We agree that it should cover outputs, but not about whether it should also cover what we call inputs. I want to concentrate on the nub of the disagreements—the importance of inputs—as all the rest is broadly agreed.

    First, I shall explain what I mean by the terms "inputs" and "outputs". A station's output is essentially what one hears coming out of the speakers—the music, the news, the travel and weather updates and local information, and everything else that one hears on switching to a local radio station. We all agree that such material should have a genuine local flavour and relevance. We believe that the code will ensure that.

    The inputs are the things that happen on the other side of the speakers. They are not necessarily heard directly, but they contribute to a station's distinctive character and give it a vital, physical presence at the heart of its community. I was perplexed by the example given by the hon. Member for Ryedale. He is right to stress how important it is that Radio Clyde feels that it should be right in the middle of the city—that it should be part of the public that it serves. That is why we have to consider carefully the inputs, which are the vital elements he talked about. They have a good effect on the character of a radio service and are good for the community that it serves.

    3 pm

    Just for clarification, what are the inputs? The Minister defined output as being that which comes out of the loudspeakers, but what does he mean by the inputs?

    The hon. Gentleman has such a vital and energetic brain that he is leaping ahead.

    Clause 304 identifies a number of possible inputs that could be covered by the code, namely locally made programmes and local advertising, local employment opportunities, local training opportunities and the use of premises in the area. The amendment would remove some of the items from the code. The code should be able to include local employment opportunities, local training opportunities and the use of premises in the area. I stress the words "be able to". The code does not have to include them—the clause merely allows Ofcom to include them if it considers it appropriate to do so. That is an important proviso, because whether they are included is very much in the hands of the industry. The code should be able to include those matters for two reasons. First, local radio stations get their spectrum for free, as the hon. Member for Ceredigion reminded us, and therefore have an obligation to the local communities they serve that goes beyond simply playing popular music. Secondly, those factors can have a perhaps unquantifiable, but not insignificant, effect on the character and ultimately the sound of a station.

    On the first point, local radio stations are awarded licences by the Radio Authority on the basis of a beauty contest based largely on their ability to appeal to the tastes and interests of those in the area, to broaden local choice and in recognition of the degree of local support for their proposals. Unlike national licences, those licences are awarded for free—apart from the application costs, which can be hefty. In those circumstances, it is not unreasonable that certain requirements should be placed on licensees. Those stations have, in a less explicit way than TV, certain public service broadcasting obligations, and it is reasonable to expect them to have a physical presence and to provide employment opportunities and training in the locality from which, after all, they generate their profits.

    Does the Minister accept that smaller radio stations may find that to be a particular burden? Although he is right to say that a local radio station should have a presence, it may be based out on an industrial estate—and why not, because the outputs that he spoke about will be just the same? Does he recognise that if the burdens are too tough the radio station's output will become nil, because it will not survive?

    I entirely agree. That is why I stressed that Ofcom will have to take those issues into account when it considers particular radio stations. As both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Ceredigion have said, there are two sides to the coin—a tightrope has to be walked, and it is not easy.

    It is not unreasonable to expect local stations to be genuinely, not virtually, local. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about being stuck out on an industrial estate, as many stations are. However, they often employ local people and despite the fact that they are on an industrial estate they are nevertheless regarded as part of the infrastructure of the community. In my experience, those are important elements.

    On my second point, real links with the local community can have a subtle impact on the quality of stations. In other words, the more physically local a station is, and the more roots that it has in its community, the better it will reflect the community's needs and wishes. It has long been recognised in broadcasting regulation that inputs have a clear and definite effect on outputs. To quote the Commercial Radio Companies Association in another context, "You are what you eat." That is why we have quota requirements for public service broadcasting in terms of television and regional production.

    The industry has argued that localness is its bread and butter—its unique selling proposition—and that it does not need the regulator or the Government to tell it how to be local. However, the fact that the industry is opposed to the code including inputs shows that its view of localness is narrower than ours. We are about to enter a new world for radio, as my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) said. The ownership rules have been and are being radically overhauled. We listened to representations from the industry and relaxed our original proposals, which were tighter than our latest proposals, and which already represented an enormous liberalisation so as to allow for the possibility—I hope that it does not come to pass—of two large radio groups dominating the UK market. If we do not take steps to prevent it, that level of concentration could lead to a drift away from localness. Many local radio stations strive to be more local. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam gave an important example when he pointed out that there is an enormous difference between the idea of localness if one lives in the city of Sheffield and the idea of localness if one regards Leeds as the most vibrant commercial centre of the region—in effect, its capital.

    Localness is the most expensive part of programming, so there is arguably a commercial incentive to do as little as one can consistent with maintaining audiences at a viable level. We have already seen nationwide playlists for local stations, the removal of local station managers in favour of national brand managers and extensive computer-driven automation of services. That has not been mentioned, but it is up and running. In the situation of a national near-duopoly, there could be a further drift away from the parts of programming that are expensive. One may think that if the other side is doing it, it is better from a business point of view to do the same and to cut costs accordingly, especially if one believes that local listeners are mainly interested in music—in international music, if I might use that expression. We need a localness code to prevent that from happening.

    That brings me to an important aspect of the code. It does not have to include factors to which Opposition Members object, but it can. The extent of its coverage will depend largely on the actions of the radio industry itself. I am already on record as having said that the code should, as far as possible, be co-regulatory. That is also the view of the industry and the regulator. Clause 6 will place Ofcom under a duty to review regulatory burdens and it will have to have regard to the extent to which its duties can be secured or furthered by effective self-regulation.

    Amendment No. 162 would make it clear that music should be specifically included in the definition of local material. I have a great deal of sympathy with that sentiment. Music is central to the output of any local radio station, and a degree of local music would be desirable in any station's output, if we are to believe the rhetoric that is put out by the commercial radio station owners. They say that localness is very important to them, so there should be no problem with their wanting to play local music. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent Ofcom from including music in the definition of local material—the hon. Member for Ryedale rightly made that point—and I would be rather surprised if it did not do so. Among other things, that would guard against playlists being concentrated in too few hands, with the result that it becomes difficult for new bands to be heard on the radio. The question turns on whether we need to put the point beyond doubt by making provision in the Bill.

    There is always a danger that the more aspects that are specified in the definition, the greater the presumption that those that are not mentioned are excluded. That is the problem, although I have a great deal of sympathy with the point. I know fanatical members of the Cabinet, whom I could ring any time, night or day, when I worked with them, but never on a Sunday evening when they listened to "Poetry Now" on Radio 4. I never rang them at that time.

    Local sport constitutes a good illustration of the Minister's case. I am sure that he would not want to miss local commentary on Pontypridd.

    I have never heard of it. I understand my hon. Friend's point about music, but his argument could apply to politics and news. Why include those subjects in the Bill? Why not simply refer to "programmes"? We believed that the definition should include news and politics. I believe that music should also be included. "Music" covers an enormous range. It could not be interpreted to exclude something because it encompasses so much. I implore my hon. Friend to reconsider and include the word "music" somewhere in the Bill.

    I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, I am not convinced that music should be included and I am wary of over-prescription. There is no need to specify music, although I support the sentiment behind my hon. Friend's amendments. I repeat my hope and expectation that Ofcom will consider music to be an important element of local material.

    I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 4

    Investigation Of The Bbc By The National Audit Office

    `() In Part 2 of Schedule 4 to the National Audit Office Act 1983 (c. 44), the words "the British Broadcasting Corporation" shall be omitted.'— [Mr.Leigh.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 6—BBC research on television licensing

    it shall be the duty of the BBC annually to commission and publish independent research into the efficacy, cost effectiveness and public acceptability of television licensing in the United Kingdom subject to such conditions and restrictions as the Secretary of State may by direction require.'.
    New clause 7—OFCOM research on television licensing
    It shall be the duty of OFCOM annually to commission and publish independent research into the efficacy, cost effectiveness and public acceptability of television licensing in the United Kingdom subject to such conditions and restrictions as the Secretary of State may by direction require.'.
    New clause 8—Preserved rights in respect of certain concessionary television licence;fees—

    `(1) Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) Regulations 1997 (S.I. 1997/290) shall be amended as follows.

    (2) After entry 5 in column 1 (type of licence), there shall be inserted—
    "Television licence (including colour) (Accommodation for Residential Care (preserved rights))."
    (3) After entry 5 in column 2 (description of licence), there shall be inserted—
    "A licence to install and use television receivers at such parts of accommodation which, in whole or in part, previously met the requirements specified in entry 5 in this column, where the resident of a unit of accommodation was resident in that accommodation at the time that the accommodation or part of that accommodation met the requirements specified in entry 5 in column 2 and was paying the issue fee specified in entry 5 in column 3."
    (4) After entry 5 in column 3 (issue fee), there shall be inserted—
    "£5 for each unit of accommodation occupied by a resident, as defined in Part II of this Schedule, meeting the requirements specified in column 2.".'.
    New clause9—Public services fluid—

    '(1) The Secretary of State shall by order make provision for the establishment of a fund to be known as the Public Services Broadcasting Fund.

    (2) There shall be at least 3 trustees of the Fund and the order shall make provision for the terms of their appointment, including their remuneration.

    (3) The primary function of the Trustees shall be the making of financial contributions to groups or organisations which make or propose to make programmes of local, regional or sectional interest for inclusion in a programme service.

    (4) The Trustees shall have such other powers as may be conferred on them by the order.

    (5) The BBC shall pay to the Trustees for the Fund in January of each calendar year in accordance with the provisions of the order made under subsection (1) an amount equal to 1 per cent. of the licence fee received by the BBC in the preceding calendar year.

    (6) The Secretary of State may by order vary the percentage for the time being specified in subsection (5).

    (7) An order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.'.

    The purpose of the new clause is to enable the Comptroller and Auditor General to enjoy full value-for-money access rights to the BBC and thus to open it up to exactly the same scrutiny on Parliament's behalf as all other bodies that are funded by tax.

    I stress from the outset that we are not considering a party-political issue. There is total consensus among members of the Public Accounts Committee, on which I serve, and in both Houses that the BBC's position outside the Comptroller and Auditor General's remit is a matter for concern.

    The new clause is supported by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), who is in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who is Chairman of the Liaison Committee and one of the most senior Members of the House, the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies), who is in his place, the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), my hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), and for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Jenkins), my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth).