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Commons Chamber

Volume 400: debated on Wednesday 26 February 2003

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 26 February 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o?clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Transas Group Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 5 March.

Oral Answers To Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Health Services (Afghanistan)

1.

What recent discussions she has had with non-governmental organisations about rebuilding health services in Afghanistan. [98726]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

My officials are in regular contact with NGOs in both Kabul and the UK. NGOs continue to have an important role to play in service delivery, especially as Government capacity is still weak. They have helped to immunise children against polio and measles, and have saved an estimated 30,000 lives. The Department for International Development has financed a number of these health activities.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does she accept that the continuing insecurity, especially outside of Kabul, hampers reconstruction and aid work? In its discussions with NGOs and aid agencies, has her Department explored their concerns about the capacity of joint reaction teams to bring that much-needed security?

I begin by paying tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done with the Save the Children Fund to raise money for a clinic in Afghanistan. I certainly agree that improving security is one of the key challenges. The aim of the teams to which she refers—they have since been renamed provincial reconstruction teams—is to extend the authority of the Afghan Government, and to help to secure the development of a stable environment in the regions. We have been talking to the NGOs about this matter, and I believe that we are due to have further consultations this week.

Does my hon. Friend agree with the Minister for Women's Affairs in Afghanistan that jobs for women are now absolutely critical, especially given that so many widows are supporting children? Will my hon. Friend undertake to ask her officials to speak to the Minister in Kabul about the possibility of providing funds for some of the many projects that she has identified?

I agree about the importance of tackling gender equality issues and job opportunities for women. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met the Minister for Women's Affairs, and we will certainly take forward discussions in the way that my hon. Friend suggests. Perhaps we can correspond about that issue.

Iraq

2.

What aid is planned for Iraq following the resolution of the current political situation. [98727]

The people of Iraq are already suffering a humanitarian catastrophe. Some 60 per cent. of the people in this naturally wealthy and highly educated country are dependent on handouts from the oil for food programme. One third of children in Baghdad-controlled Iraq are chronically malnourished. If the UN authorises military action to force Saddam Hussein to comply with his disarmament obligations, it is essential that great care be taken to minimise any harm to the people of Iraq, who are already very vulnerable. This means very careful targeting of military action, and ensuring that order is maintained, that food distribution is quickly resumed, and that the health, water and sanitation infrastructure is rehabilitated as soon as possible. Planning is in hand for all of this. My greatest worry is that there is not yet agreement that the UN should have the lead role in a post-conflict Iraq. Without that, there would be significant legal and other difficulties for the working of the international humanitarian system.

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that very comprehensive reply. Last week, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and I travelled to northern Iraq, and we visited the Parliament, refugees and hospitals. The Iraqi Kurds, who asked us to speak for them, support the Prime Minister's moral policy, but they do need protection and aid. Is the Secretary of State aware that only one third of the oil for food programme is getting through to Kurdistan, and what can be done about that? Will she ensure that during and after any conflict, food and medical aid will continue to get through to Kurdistan, and does she agree that Turkish troops must be kept out of Kurdistan, unless the Kurdish leaders specifically invite them in, for humanitarian reasons?

I agree that, if there is to be military action, it is essential that the authority of the UN be upheld. If such action is to be authorised by the UN, making sure that the people are protected, and that feeding continues, will be crucial. The people are in very bad shape, and 60 per cent. of them are dependent on oil for food, which would be likely to break down. It is a very large-scale operation, and it would be essential to act quickly to keep food moving in Kurdistan and in the rest of the country, and to get the medical infrastructure working. In fact, the people of Kurdistan, which has the same UN sanctions and oil for food as the rest of the country, are in much better shape. That shows the way in which Saddam Hussein has manipulated the UN regime against the interests of his people. I note what the hon. Gentleman says about Turkish troops, and I shall make sure that that is conveyed to the appropriate authorities.

My right hon. Friend will know that I paid a separate visit to northern Iraq, where the main concern is that Saddam Hussein may again use chemical weapons against the Kurds. People especially want to know what protection we can give them against those possible chemical attacks. Chamchamal is the mountain top on the road down from Kurdistan to Kirkuk. From there, one can see Iraqi troops on the hills, and they have rockets. The fears of the Kurds are very strong indeed. Will my right hon. Friend say what practical protection we are offering the Kurds?

I agree that the risk, in both Kurdistan and Baghdad, that chemical and biological weapons will be used by Saddam Hussein in a way that inflicts harm on Iraqi people is one of the most serious that we face. I assure my hon. Friend that those risks and dangers are being carefully thought through and that we are trying to minimise them, but I am afraid that no one can give an absolute guarantee that they can be prevented. However, every effort will be made to bring help to any people who might be affected.

On 12 February, the Secretary of State told the International Development Committee that the military had not taken into account all the humanitarian risks that might result from military action. What did she mean when she said that she had struggled to be listened to by the military? Has communication improved?

I take the old-fashioned view that it is right to tell the House of Commons the truth, and not to pretend that all is well. If there have been delays in the military giving consideration to humanitarian risks—and there have—I have to tell the House of Commons that that is the case. There has been improvement, but getting agreement on a UN lead is absolutely key, and that is not in place. More work needs to be done to face up to all the eventualities.

Briefings given to hon. Members for today's debate by non-governmental organisations working in and around Iraq express concern that the Secretary of State has not been working closely with them in preparation for the humanitarian consequences of a war in the area. I recognise the sensitivities of military planning, but will the right hon. Lady explain why there has been so little consultation or sharing of information with NGOs, many of which have years of experience of working in Iraq and extensive experience of humanitarian relief and rehabilitation?

One of the least attractive aspects of some NGO behaviour is the attempt to grandstand and appear in the media when there is a crisis. We have had close relationships over a long period of time with some NGOs working in northern Iraq and with an even smaller number in Baghdad-controlled Iraq. My officials have met representatives of NGOs to talk about the present situation. As I made clear to the Select Committee, NGOs would not be operational in the early stages, as they are not the first call to get things right, but we are in contact with them. I really do not think that anyone should grandstand on these issues.

The whole House is aware of, and sympathetic to, the doubts and concerns that the Secretary of State has publicly admitted about the prospect of war in Iraq. However, does she accept that the effect of those doubts has been to prevent her from engaging properly in all attempts to discuss what humanitarian plans would be in place to mitigate the consequences of war? Does she also accept that, ironically, that could have grave consequences for the people of Iraq?

No. I think that the hon. Lady is engaging in cheap and inaccurate point scoring—another example of grandstanding about this crisis. She put this proposition in a debate some time ago, and I answered her fully. Her simplistic view that we should get on with the war, after which my Department and a few people can clean up, is ill informed. I and my Department have been fully engaged in trying to get the world to face the humanitarian risks and make preparations. I have explained that to the hon. Lady before, but she goes on with her cheap point scoring.

In her discussions with those planning the military contingencies, has the Secretary of State discussed the imperative of ensuring that Basra is occupied at an early stage, is maintained as a safe haven—

Order. There is so much noise in the House that it is unfair to those who are listening to the question.

Has the imperative that Basra should be maintained as a safe haven and a port of supply been considered? Is there an arrangement that might ensure that that is secured, thus avoiding displaced people finding their way into states that are incapable of supporting them?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is detailed thinking about Basra, and I do not think that I can say any more than that.

3.

What contingency plans she has in place for aid to Iraqi displaced persons following possible conflict with Iraq; and if she will make a statement. [98728]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development
(Ms Sally Keeble)

My Department is holding regular discussions with international organisations about contingency planning for a range of eventualities in Iraq. In the event of substantial population movements, we would expect the International Committee of the Red Cross to be the lead international agency in helping internally displaced people and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to take the lead in providing assistance to refugees. In addition to our regular contributions we are giving an extra £3.5 million to support UN contingency planning for humanitarian relief in Iraq.

I thank the Minister very much for that helpful answer, but she will be aware that the UNHCR is predicting that possibly 3 million people will be displaced following a regime change. I fully understand that neither the United Kingdom nor the United States can act alone, but what steps is her Department taking to encourage the UN and other powers to ensure that those people can be cared for after a regime change, which, I believe, is now inevitable?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in addition to any scenario that has been predicted, there are a substantial number of internally displaced persons—between 1 million and 2 million—now in Iraq as a result of the appalling regime there. I do not want to speculate on the outcome of any action, but our Department, as my right hon. Friend has said, is putting every possible effort into strengthening the UN role and response to deal with any humanitarian crisis afterwards.

The Secretary of State told the House on 30 January that, if there is a war in Iraq, and without good organisation, there would be a humanitarian nightmare if large-scale ethnic fighting broke out in Iraq. What action is the Department taking to ensure such organisation in the event of the nightmare of an attack on Iraq?

Quite a number of scenarios are being considered, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal of work to try to make sure that those eventualities do not occur and that we prevent the nightmare that my hon. Friend mentions. We are currently working very closely with the UN to consider what those scenarios might be and to ensure that we have a properly supported UN system in place to take the lead.

It is the Government's position that resolution 1441 already provides the authority to use force against Iraq. If that force is used in those circumstances and UN authority and agreement has not been reached for the post-conflict administration of Iraq, it will be absolutely essential that the Department for International Development is fully involved in assisting with the civil administration of Iraq to ensure that the American military are in that position for the minimum amount of time. Will the Minister assure the House that her Department is making every effort to ensure not only UN agreement, if possible, but the full deployment of all the Department?s resources to make sure that post-conflict Iraq is administered in a way that will ensure a peaceful settlement there?

As usual, the hon. Gentleman has hit on one of the key problems that we face: the legal position of the humanitarian assistance that is provided after any conflict that might take place. We are working very hard to resolve those issues and to strengthen the position and role of the UN. We are also obviously taking careful cognisance of the humanitarian problems that could unfold. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no Department is more focused on that than the Department for International Development and no person in the Government is doing more on that than my right hon. Friend.

Afghanistan

4.

What progress her Department is making towards rebuilding Afghanistan. [98729]

Rebuilding Afghanistan will require strong Afghan leadership, large amounts of aid and policy support for the long term. Much has been achieved: the election of the Transitional Administration; the establishment of revenue and budget systems; the introduction of a new currency; 2 million refugees have returned; 3 million children are now in school, a third of whom are girls; and millions of children have been vaccinated against polio and measles.

There is much more to be done, however, and achieving security outside Kabul is key to speeding up progress.

I thank the Secretary of State for that encouraging answer and the description of all the work currently being done. Does she agree that education must be at the heart of that work? Opportunities for education—especially tertiary education through the universities—are the greatest encouragement that we can give to young people in Afghanistan to remain to help rebuild that country. Will she do all that she can to encourage European and British universities to link with those in Afghanistan, and particularly those in Kabul, to bring those opportunities to thousands of young people in Afghanistan and help them to rebuild?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Expansion of rights to education is a human right, but getting girls to school is also profoundly developmental for any country. Girls who have been to school change their country as they grow up. Our focus is therefore on securing universal primary education, and on ensuring that girls are included. A tradition exists of high-quality higher education in Afghanistan, which is being redeveloped. I take my hon. Friend?s point, however, and I will look into the question of links with our universities, which I have not yet examined.

Despite what the Secretary of State says, she must know that only half the money decided necessary by the World Bank has been pledged to Afghanistan so far. Despite the Prime Minister's promises not to abandon the people of that country, that is precisely what is happening. The USA and her Government have moved on and plan even worse destruction for Iraq. Because she knows that that is true, will she seriously consider joining many of her colleagues and the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby tonight to avert a new disaster?

Order. The Secretary of State will not reply to that. It was out of order.

I very much appreciate the work of my right hon. Friend and her Department, but how much collaborative and cooperative working is being undertaken by her Department with any US Government Departments?

In general, in international development, as in many other things, the US tends to take quite a unilateralist approach. It has a big commitment in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it tends to operate on its own. The UK leads increasingly on rebuilding the institutions of the country, and on building its management of the economy and its capacity to provide services to its people. We collaborate, but we operate in different ways generally across the world, and we try to make sure that that is complementary.

Millennium Development Goals

5.

If she will make a statement on progress towards the millennium development goals. [98730]

The world is on track to meet the overarching millennium development goal of halving the proportion of people in poverty by 2015. That will mean 1 billion people having lifted themselves out of extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. However, progress is not even across the world. Large parts of Africa are not on target, and better progress is possible on many of the goals. In short, the world is making progress, but with a greater effort we could do much better.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, but she will know better than anyone that achieving those goals will require a substantial increase in resources. What are the Government doing to make progress towards a target of spending 0.7 per cent. of GDP on development assistance? What is being done to encourage our European partners to do the same, bearing in mind that they agreed to that back in 2001?

My hon. Friend is right. We have about $52 billion in the international development system. When one reflects on the fact that 1.2 billion people live in abject poverty, half of humanity lives in deep poverty and how much we spend on public services in our countries, one realises that that is a pathetic amount, although it is increasingly effectively deployed. For that reason, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is working internationally to mobilise commitment to an international financing facility that would double the amount of aid available to $100 billion, which is increasingly getting support across the international system. That was the estimate made at the Monterrey conference of the amount needed to support countries to meet the millennium development goals, and we must all work to support the Chancellor in that effort.[Interruption.]

I greatly admire much of what the right hon. Lady is doing to reduce poverty in the world, which was the subject of the question that she has just answered. What more will she and the Government do to remove from office a man who is bringing an increasing percentage of his population into starvation and poverty? I refer to that tyrant, Robert Mugabe.

There is no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe is serious and brutal. Seven million people need food aid. Projections suggest that the rest of the region will probably recover next year, but that things will get worse in Zimbabwe. There are only 11.2 million people in the country now and 9 million of them will need food aid next year.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, international law says that it is not legal for countries to seek to remove individual rulers. However, it is highly likely that the people of Zimbabwe will shortly bring down the leadership of Robert Mugabe. We will then all work to help the people to take their country forward again.

Among the millennium development goals is a significant reduction in HIV infection. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to achieve that reduction, it is important that the global fund for health is a success? Although it is welcome that the US has committed significant extra money over the next five years, there is a problem in the short term. This year, the fund does not have the money to deal properly with the commitments for round 3, which is due later this year. Will my right hon. Friend consider what can be done to ensure that the fund can go ahead with round 3 distributions this year?

I agree that the global fund for health is important, but I am afraid that it is not being as well led as it might be. Its role is to provide drugs and commodities for the treatment of tuberculosis, HIV and malaria, but health care systems must be in place to deliver them. A twin-track approach is therefore required. Unfortunately, the leadership of the fund has over-committed and is operating separately from health reform agendas. The US has just committed the money that it promised originally. However, I am holding back from any further commitments until there is a more clearly targeted effort to collaborate in the strengthening of health systems. Rather than simply giving more money, I am in dialogue with the fund about doing a better job.

I commend the Secretary of State for the excellent work of her Department. Does she agree that the best way to reach vital targets is to encourage each developing country to move towards its own benign governance, the rule of law and a market-based economy? Ultimately, nothing else is sustainable. Will she say a little more about the capacity building measures of her Department to try to bring about such end results?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman—to achieve a growing economy, effective modern governance is needed, as well as a respect for human rights and democracy; also needed are a treasury that works, procures properly and is not corrupt; a central bank that works; and a macro-economic framework that allows the local private sector and inward investment to work. That is why, in developing countries, we put such stress on the building of effective and modern state institutions with democratic accountability. Progress is being made in many countries but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, some are not on that path. We have to make greater efforts.

Education (Developing Countries)

6.

What steps she is taking to improve girls' access to education in developing countries. [98732]

Since 1990, the number of primary schoolchildren who are out of school has decreased from 130 million to 115 million, so progress has been made. However, the number of children who are out of school is still unacceptably high. Globally, girls still represent 56 per cent. of children currently out of school, and 66 per cent. in south and west Asia. We are working with a variety of partners to help to accelerate progress on girls' education. We plan to spend £1.3 billion on basic education over the next five years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging response. She will be aware of the Global Campaign For Education, which is about to report on girls' education—its main campaign focus for 2003. Is she aware that the campaign will be holding a seminar in Portcullis House on 8 April, where my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) will be on the panel? Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the campaign and congratulating the people involved on their excellent work?

I am happy to congratulate anyone who is committed to driving forward the implementation of the millennium development goal to get all children in the world, including girls, into basic education. In the poorest countries, girls tend not to be in school. Getting girls to school and a generation of them through primary education brings the biggest development effect in any country. Girls who go to school as they grow up marry later, have fewer children who are more likely to survive, increase household income, get their own children into school and access health care. That is fundamental to progress in development in the poorest countries.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Ql. [98741]

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 26th February.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Thanks to this Government's increased spending on the NHS, Milton Keynes general hospital in my constituency has increased nursing staff by 27 per cent. since April 2000 and a new 28-bed unit is due to open at the end of next month. However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that Milton Keynes has been designated as a housing growth area, and it is estimated that we will need an extra 400 hospital beds to cope with the needs of the new population. Will he ensure that all Departments take into account the extra needs of Milton Keynes for public services to deal with the needs of our population and look at ways of funding that through the council tax and other funding mechanisms?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will indeed take that into account in allocating resources. That is why in the primary care trust in Milton Keynes there has been, I think, a 10 per cent. real-terms increase. It is not just the number of nurses in her area; over the past few years, 40,000 extra nurses have been employed in the national health service. There are substantially more operations for heart, hip and cataract and there are more doctors and more consultants. That is all a result of the record investment in the national health service—an investment that the Labour party, at least, is committed to keeping.

Does the Prime Minister agree that any country that supported resolution 1441 should support the second resolution that naturally flows from it?

The Prime Minister recently said he would support action without a second resolution only if there was an "unreasonable veto" in the Security Council. Given his answer to my first question, is not the logic of his position now that any veto would be unreasonable?

It certainly would be an unreasonable veto if Iraq is in material breach and we do not pass a resolution, because resolution 1441 made it absolutely clear that Iraq had a final opportunity to comply. If it is not complying, it is in breach. Therefore, that is why I believe that a second resolution should issue and it is also why I believe that, in the end, it will issue.

We all in the House obviously want to see a majority in the Security Council on that second resolution, but the Prime Minister made it very clear yesterday that it is essential that Saddam Hussein knows he faces a simple choice: voluntary disarmament or disarmament by force. Given those remarks, is it now the Prime Minister's position that he will support action even if there is no majority for a second resolution?

I believe that we will have support for a second resolution. As I said in answer to questions yesterday, I do not think that it is helpful to speculate on what might or might not happen. I believe that the logic of our position is very clear. Indeed, Dr. Blix has said today:

"At the moment it is not even clear whether the Iraqis really want to co-operate."
That situation is very clear, and that is why I believe that our strategy of putting down the resolution and then bringing people round to the proposition that this was the final opportunity for Saddam to disarm—he has not disarmed—is so important. However, I point out that, at the present time, we are not at conflict and that Saddam still has the opportunity, if he were to take it, of full compliance. So far, he has not done so.

Q2. [98742]

With the inevitable focus today on the possibility of war with Iraq, does the Prime Minister understand the concern of those of us who have been in Northern Ireland this week that the moment of truth for the peace process is also imminent there? What assurances can he give the House that the prize of peace in these islands will not be lost in the gathering clouds of war with Iraq?

I hope that I can give some reassurance on that score, since I have had meetings both in Northern Ireland and here with the main parties concerned with the Northern Ireland peace process. I am due to have further meetings over the next few days, including with the Taoiseach and the main political parties. I can assure my hon. Friend that, whatever the difficulties, we have come a long way in Northern Ireland over the past five or six years. I shall certainly continue to do everything that I can to bring the process to the right conclusion and a fruitful and just one for all the people in Northern Ireland.

Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that, unless the United Nations weapons inspectorate were to conclude that the inspection process itself had failed, it would be quite wrong for this country to participate in pre-emptive military action against Iraq?

I would put it in this way: it is for the inspectors to give us evidence as to the facts that they find, but what is crucial, because this is what the Security Council has laid down, is that there is full, complete, unconditional and immediate compliance by Saddam. That is what we all agreed when resolution 1441 was passed. Let me read to the right hon. Gentleman what he himself said last November:

"I think that the present resolution that has been passed can be interpreted obviously, as giving further cause for military intervention if there have been material breaches."
The definition of the breach is that there has to be full co-operation, and if there is not, resolution 1441 says that Saddam is in breach. I would have thought on the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman said last November that he would agree with me.

If the Prime Minister is not prepared to rule out precipitate military action against Iraq, is not the greater consequence and danger that the international coalition against terrorism on which he and everybody else lay such rightful importance would itself he shattered?

Surely the right way to proceed is through the logic of the resolution that we agreed last November. The simple case is that, unless the United Nations carries through what it agreed last November, it is the authority of the UN itself that will be undermined. I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman that no one, surely, could accuse us of taking precipitate action when we have been trying for 12 years to get Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction, it is six months since President Bush addressed the UN and four months since the UN resolution, and still he is not in compliance. If the right hon. Gentleman wants any indication of the nature of the regime, I hope that he and others will listen to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who has come back from northern Iraq and will I think give powerful testimony as to the true effects of the regime under Saddam Hussein and exactly what is happening in Iraq today.

Although my right hon. Friend will have many pressing issues to discuss during his visit to Spain later this week, will he take the opportunity to raise the case of my constituent Kevan Sloan, who served 22 months of a sentence for armed robbery based on, in my view, hopelessly flawed legal proceedings? Will he impress upon the Spanish authorities the urgency of the case, since Kevan's application for deportation is due to be considered at the end of this week?

As my hon. Friend obviously knows, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met him and the family of his constituent and we are in close touch with the Spanish authorities about this matter. We will remain in close touch and I hope that the matter can be satisfactorily resolved.

Q.3 [98743]

Does the Prime Minister accept that the manipulative media operation that he installed at No. 10 Downing street after 1997 has eroded the electorate's trust in him? Does he also accept that that loss of trust in him personally is now carrying a huge price as it is partly to blame for his inability to convince the British people over Iraq?

The case that we have set out in respect of Iraq is a good one. I hope that if people listen to it and study it in detail they will accept that if we do have to act and go to war it will not be because we want to, but because of the breaches by Saddam Hussein of the United Nations resolutions. I believe that the more people hear that argument and understand it, the more they will accept it.

Q. [98744]

Has my right hon. Friend heard the concern recently expressed by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia that the crisis over Iraq is distracting attention from international efforts to save the people in his country—between 12 million and 15 million—who are facing starvation? He said that insufficient food has been pledged and that it is arriving too slowly. What assurance can my right hon. Friend give that the international community will not lose sight of the impending catastrophe in Ethiopia?

I met Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia yesterday and we discussed the situation in his country. I assured him that we will remain entirely focused on it. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development agreed a few weeks ago a memorandum of understanding that will pledge somewhere in the region of £60 million over the next few years to help famine relief and development in Ethiopia. I assure my hon. Friend that whatever other issues are going on, we remain completely committed not only to Ethiopia, but to the cause of Africa. Under this Government we will achieve over the next few years a doubling and then a trebling of the amount of aid that was going to Africa when we came to office.

The Prime Minister and his Government promised that families would not have to pay steep council tax rises. Can the Prime Minister tell us by how much council tax has increased since he came to office?

Well, I can say to him that as a result of the additional sums of money that we have given there has been an increase of 25 per cent. in the amount of money that we have given to councils over the past few years, which contrasts with a 7 per cent. cut in the amount of money that was given under the Conservatives.

The answer is that average household council tax—[Interruption.] They do not want to hear it because it hurts. The average household council tax bill has increased by 42 per cent. since the Government came to power. Come April, council tax bills are set to rise by up to 10 times the rate of inflation. This from a Prime Minister who promised:

"We've no plans to increase tax at all."
In the same month the Prime Minister is going to hike up national insurance contributions. Can he tell us how much extra a typical family will pay as a result of his national insurance tax hike and council tax increases?

A family on median earnings will pay just under £4 a week, but that is actually a good deal if it means more money for the national health service and does not mean that they are forced, as they would be under his proposals, to deal with a health service that is underfunded or, as the Conservatives want, forced out into the private medical insurance sector, which would be an absolute disaster for them, and which many of them would not be able to afford.

Well, broken promises, and he discards them very easily. The answer is that the average family will now pay £570 more—the cost to them of the tax hike through jobs and the extra council tax that they will pay, which he promised that they would not pay. This from a Prime Minister who said:

"I vow that the promises we make on tax, we will keep."
After 53 tax rises all those promises have been broken, so people now know that instead of listening to what the Prime Minister says they should look at their wallets to see what they are now having to pay.

First, the tax burden this year will be less than in eight of the 11 years of the Thatcher Governments. That is just to set it in context. Secondly, I agree that we are indeed putting up national insurance contributions by 1 per cent. this April to pay for the national health service. However, the alternative is an underfunded national health service. That means that people will be forced to go outside the NHS and pay for their operations and health care in the private sector. He must explain how the health service will be improved not only through opposing the extra money for it but by imposing a 20 per cent. cut across the board in national health service spending. That would be a disaster for the people of this country, and it is why they rejected the Conservative party in the past two general elections.

Workload

Q5.[98745]

What steps he is taking to reduce his workload; and if he will make a statement.

Given his workload, will the Prime Minister tell the House and the nation what legal or statutory authority he has to commit British troops to war?

I shall act in accordance with constitutional precedent and with the way in which this country has always approached such issues. The Government, including me, will act in accordance with international law.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in Palestine fear that, in the case of military action, the eyes of the world will be distracted from them and that they are at risk of more illegal incursions by Israel? What will the Government do about that?

As part of my workload, it is important to focus on the middle east peace process. The Government have tried to play a part in that by taking forward the process of political reform in the Palestinian Authority. I believe that it is as important as anything else in the world today to try to ensure a just and lasting settlement in the middle east, based on the two-state solution: an Israel that is confident of its security and a viable Palestinian state. We will work towards that outcome.

Drugs Treatment

Q6. [98746]

How many drug addicts in treatment are (a) in residential rehabilitation, (b) on a course of methadone, (c) on a course of naltraxone and (d) on a course of buprenorphine.

The latest published Department of Health statistics show that nearly 2,000 individuals were in residential rehabilitation out of a total of 118,500 people in treatment in England in 2000–01. National figures for those receiving specific drug therapies have not been collected in the past, but they will be available later in 2003 following the introduction of a new recording system. Overall, the number of drug users who presented for treatment between 2001–02 showed an 8 per cent. rise.

As the Government's updated drugs strategy states that for every £1 spent on treatment, there will be a saving of £3 in criminal justice costs, can I have the money to prove that assertion in my constituency? I promise that I will return every penny of the threefold saving to the Chancellor.

It is certainly a better offer than the Chancellor is used to on such subjects. My hon. Friend has lobbied me on the subject and we are considering the areas that the service will cover. We will focus on the 30 highest basic command unit crime areas and we want to ensure the provision of a service that tracks people from the moment of arrest, when they are tested, through bail, when they are given the option of treatment, or refusal of bail, to sentencing, when, in appropriate cases, they will be offered the prospect of treatment rather than custody. Massive resources are going into that; we are increasing the funding spectacularly in the next few years to accommodate the policy. If it works in the 30 main BCU areas, we can roll it out across the country. However, I shall again consider carefully my hon. Friend's request to be included.

In the light of the International Narcotics Control Board?s report, which condemns the country's drugs policy, will the Prime Minister reconsider the reclassification of cannabis from class B to class C?

We did that for the reasons that the Home Secretary set out. We have not decriminalised cannabis for reasons that my right hon. Friend explained well. Of course, there is a big debate about the matter, but it is worth bearing in mind that the priorities for many police officers in this country are hard drugs.

My right hon. Friend will be aware, and no doubt proud, of the Government?s track record on introducing legislation that provides protection for workers in the workplace—

Order. I am sorry but the hon. Gentleman should be asking a question on drugs.

Engagements

Q6.[98747]

On Iraq, does the Prime Minister agree that what lies behind some of the opposition to his policy is a caricature of President George W. Bush which is a gross distortion of the truth? Will he take this timely opportunity to set the record straight?

I suspect that I am surrounded by advice on that particular topic. I have always found in my dealings with President Bush that he has been honest and straightforward. What is more, he chose to go through the United Nations route last year when many expected him not to. We should pay tribute to him for that.

Q8. [98749]

Despite record high levels of police officers both in Nottinghamshire and nationally, concerns remain about the level of antisocial and yobbish behaviour. What further measures does my right hon. Friend intend to take to tackle that real nuisance?

The Home Secretary has two major pieces of legislation for this Session: one is the Criminal Justice Bill; the other is the antisocial behaviour Bill. He and I met some senior police officers yesterday to discuss what could go into the legislation. Both Bills offer us the real opportunity to reform the criminal justice system, which urgently needs reform, and to introduce simple and easy-to-use penalties for police officers to tackle antisocial behaviour. Part of the problem they face is that the law is far too cumbersome to allow them to deal with some of the low-level disorder that makes people's lives hell in local communities. Fixed-penalty notices in particular, which are being piloted in different parts of the country, have been immensely successful in tackling that problem.

There are increasing reports of pupils of high ability and achievement being turned down by universities because of their social background. How would the Prime Minister justify that to the people who are losing out?

The simple point is that I would not. If universities are doing that, they are wrong. What is more, people should go to university based on their merit, whatever their class or background. That is what should happen.[Interruption.] Well, the hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I have given him an answer.

Q9. [98750]

My constituent, Feroz Abbasi, has been detained for more than a year by the American authorities, without charge, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Court of Appeal has described that as a contravention of the principles of law. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to receive and evaluate the evidence against my constituent and to press the American authorities to charge and punish him or return him without delay back home to Britain?

I totally understand the concern that my hon. Friend raises. The Foreign Secretary has indicated to me that he would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the family of his constituent. It is a highly unusual and difficult situation. We have been in touch with and have visited on several occasions those British nationals who are detained in Guantanamo Bay, but the situation is difficult. The one caveat I would enter is that we are still receiving quite valuable information from people who are there. However, I agree that it is an irregular situation and we would certainly want to try to bring it to an end as swiftly as possible.

Q10. [98751]

The Prime Minister promised in 1999 that within two years everyone would have access to an NHS dentist through NHS Direct. Yet in my constituency and many others there are no vacancies on NHS waiting lists. Given that the Government are developing a reputation for saying one thing and doing another, is it any surprise that people do not trust him on the important issue of Iraq?

I obviously do not know the exact circumstances of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. According to the briefing I have, however, almost £700,000 extra has been provided for dental services in his area. The reason we are putting so many additional resources into the national health service is precisely in order to ensure that people get proper access to it. What he will have to explain to his constituents at the next election is why he opposes the extra investment and supports a Conservative leadership that wants to cut investment in the health service by 20 per cent. across the board.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many of his Back Benchers who will support him in tonight's vote on Iraq but who cannot support war against Iraq unless there is a second United Nations resolution? Will he make time for the House to have a debate and a vote before we commit British troops to Iraq?

As the Foreign Secretary has already said, subject to the natural qualification that we must do nothing that would ever put the security of our troops in danger, I have no doubt at all that the House will have an opportunity to vote on this issue many times if we come to military action—and, if there is a second resolution, to do so in relation to that second resolution.

We are not actually voting on the issue of war tonight; we are voting on the issue of the Government's strategy. I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware that many people want the second resolution, and that is exactly what I want. I assure him that I am working flat out in order to achieve it. But the best way in which we can achieve it is to hold firm to the terms of resolution 1441.

Increasingly, the whole issue before the international community really comes down to this. When we said last November that this was a final opportunity to Saddam, when we said that there must be full, unconditional and immediate compliance, did we really mean it—or did we mean that we would come along later and say "Well, let's postpone it again"? I believe that we meant it: that we intended this genuinely to be the final opportunity. That is why I say that the onus is now on Saddam to make sure that he has indeed come into compliance with the United Nations' wishes.

Q11. [98752]

May I return to the issue of the national health service? Is the Prime Minister aware that when members of the public ring the NHS help line, they are greeted by an answering machine which tells them because of staff shortages the service is no longer manned? They are then connected to the Department of Health's inquiry service, which puts them on to a deputy patch manager who connects them with a security guard in a disused NHS building in Birmingham? Can the Government do better?

NHS Direct handles millions of people's calls. It may be that the health service is not improving in the hon. Gentleman's area, but I can tell him from my knowledge of my own constituency and many others I have visited that the health service spending is going in, and it is making a difference. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that those who try to run down the national health service day in, day out do nothing but help the Conservative case to get rid of the health service altogether.

Q12. [98753]

Is there any other Labour party, Socialist party or Social Democrat party anywhere else in Europe that supports the British and American approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein?

If Saddam Hussein was serious about peace, surely he would have released the 605 Kuwaiti prisoners of war who have been held for the last 12 years. What message has the Prime Minister for the young people flying out to Iraq who are going as human shields? What advice has he for any British soldier who might see them through the wrong end of a gun sight? And what will happen to those people after the war?

I very much hope that they do not put themselves at risk, as I think they would be doing so in the mistaken view that they were helping the situation—which they would not be. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to point out that there are still some 600 missing people in Kuwait, but that number goes alongside side the literally hundreds of thousands of people who have died under the regime of Saddam. I received some of the letters that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) brought back from Iraq only today, but I urge people to read them, and to get at least some sense of the appalling brutality of the regime with which we are dealing.

Q14. [98755]

Along with the concern of so many in the country about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, there is real concern among families of our troops who are already in the Gulf. Last night I received a very anxious call from a constituent who had had a letter from her son, who is in the Royal Marines 42 Commando, already in the Gulf. He wrote this to his mother:

"If you wish to let it be known how the forgotten Commando is surviving with no newspapers, no proper shop, no forces radio station, no e-mails"—

Order. Questions should be brief. Can the Prime Minister manage an answer?

First, as I told the House yesterday, some of those reports about the troops and their equipment are misleading and irresponsible. The fact is, the British Army is one of the best and best equipped anywhere in the world. I do not want to diminish in any way the letter that the hon. Gentleman read out from his constituent, but I bet what the vast bulk of British armed forces out there would really like to know is that if they have to go into conflict, they have a united House and country behind them.

Point Of Order

12.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is in an absurd position today, as a long-awaited, oversubscribed and vital debate appears to have to finish at 7 o'clock. Is there any proper reason for that, Mr. Speaker? Is there any reason why, in another place, debate will continue for as long is necessary to hear all the speakers, whereas here we are apparently subject to an arbitrary and unnecessary 7 o'clock time limit? Is there anything that can be done even at this late stage, with your help, Mr. Speaker, and that of the Government, to extend the debate to allow more people to speak on a matter of the greatest importance to hon. Members and everybody in the country?

I am in the hands of the House, and the House has decided that 7 o'clock will be the moment of interruption. There is nothing that I can do about that. However, the right hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to say that he is right—many hon. Members have applied to speak in the debate. Before we go onto the main business, we have the ten-minute rule Bill. It would not be appreciated if hon. Members approached the Chair to ask whether there will be an opportunity for them to be called. That would be out of order on a day like this.

Needle Stick Injury

12.32 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the protection from needle stick injury and resulting infections of persons employed in the health care sector and of other persons engaged in activities at work which carry a significant risk of such injuries and infections; to establish requirements relating to the recording and publication of information about such injuries and infections; to establish standards relating to the supply and use of certain equipment for work which carries a significant risk of such injury and infections; and for connected purposes.

I should like to start—[Interruption.]

Order. It is bad manners for hon. Members to hold a conversation, as the hon. Lady is addressing the House. Hon. Members should leave the Chamber quietly and should not walk in front of her, as that is also bad manners.

A needle stick injury is a puncture wound in which the needle is either whole or broken. Astonishingly, 100,000 such injuries are reported to occur in the NHS alone every year. All workers in a health care setting are at risk—nurses, doctors, midwives, phlebotomists, cleaning staff, portering staff, domestic staff, ambulance staff, community nurses and therapists. However, the problem is much bigger because public sector workers, including refuse collectors, park wardens, road sweepers, police and their support staff, gardeners, builders and teachers—in fact anyone who may come into contact with a hypodermic needle—are at risk.

The injuries themselves are comparatively superficial—it is only a pin-prick, after all—and rarely serious, but that only increases the likelihood of underreporting and failure to obtain necessary testing and treatment. I shall come back to that later. The real danger is the infections that may be transmitted, including blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B and 20 other serious blood-borne viruses. The first ever transmission of HIV to a care worker from a patient happened in the UK. So far, five staff are known to have contracted HIV in that way and, sadly, four of them are dead. The Department of Health study in 2001 found the risk of transmission following a needle stick injury to be one in three for hepatitis B, one in 30 for hepatitis C, and one in 300 for HIV.

It is astonishing to learn that needle stick injury is second only to violence and aggression as a cause of occupational injury in the NHS, but it is not only NHS staff who are affected. Between July 1997 and June 2002, the Public Health Laboratory Service received reports of more than 1,500 exposures to blood-borne viruses, of which 734 cases—140 a year—were caused by hollow bore needles, which are the riskiest. Nurses and doctors account for an astonishing 77 per cent. of those reports.

The Royal College of Nursing is involved in an excellent monitoring study called Epinet, and is working to improve our understanding of the size of the problem and its causes. As I said, the figures show that at least 100,000 needle stick injuries occur every year. Between January and June 2002 across 19 sites, the Epinet study found that 925 incidents were reported. Figures for the six months covered show that on average per 100 beds, 12.74 needle stick injuries will occur each year. With under-reporting estimated at about 60 to 80 per cent., the actual figure is probably much higher than 100,000.

The highest cost of all is the distress caused by such an injury. As a nurse with 25 years' experience, I know only too well how much anxiety is caused as a result of needle stick injury. For some, it can take a year of routine testing before they know whether or not they have contracted a life-threatening infection. For most, thankfully, the test results finally come back clear, but for others the news is devastating, life-altering and sometimes life-threatening.

There are financial implications. The Safer Needles Network, which has spearheaded the campaign, has done a huge amount of work around the financial impact on the NHS of such injuries. We already know that people outside the NHS can be at risk, and they may have no idea of the level of risk that the needle with which they have been stuck could cause them.

What happens when someone suffers such an injury, whether it be high or low risk? Some of the implications are time off work, blood tests, occupational health time, vaccination, treatment, counselling, administration time on the part of managerial staff, and of course compensation. The cost to the NHS of a low-risk accident is £310. The cost of a high-risk accident could be as high as £35,000. Taken as a whole throughout the NHS, the cost of needle stick injuries is £300 million. The estimated cost of introducing safer needles into the NHS is £49 million. The figures speak for themselves.

Much of our current legislation and Department of Health guidance is about protecting patients from infected health care workers, and rightly so, but we must ensure that any public sector or health care worker who may be at risk is protected. Safer needles cannot do the job alone. Good education and training for groups at risk is a must. I commend the work of the Federation of Master Builders, which last October issued excellent guidance to its 13,000 members. In 2002, the World Medical Association called on all national medical associations to work with their Governments to develop effective policies on the safe and appropriate use of injections. That is why I am pressing for change today.

Many people are involved in the Safer Needle Network. It is made up of the trade union Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, clinicians, professional organisations and, of course, the manufacturers of the devices themselves, all of whom have been working extremely closely with the Department of Health, the Medical Defence Association and Her Majesty's Prison Service. I particularly want to thank Bob Wade for all the help that he has given. I should also like to thank the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) for the personal interest that he has taken in this matter, and for receiving a delegation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham).

The Bill deals with an important issue that needs to be taken on board by the Government. It is time to protect all workers who are at risk from used needles by improving existing health and safety legislation. For that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Laura Moffatt, Mr. Michael Clapham, Mr. Ben Chapman, Mr. Neil Gerrard, Ann Keen, Anne Picking, Helen Jones, Jonathan Shaw, Mr. Kelvin Hopkins, Judy Mallaber and Ms Julia Drown.

Needle Stick Injury

Laura Moffatt accordingly presented a Bill to make provision about the protection from needle stick injury and resulting infections of persons employed in the health care sector and of other persons engaged in activities at work which carry a significant risk of such injuries and infections; to establish requirements relating to the recording and publication of information about such injuries and infections; to establish standards relating to the supply and use of certain equipment for work which carries a significant risk of such injury and infections; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 4 April, and to be printed [Bill 61].

Iraq

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment tabled in the name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).

12.42 pm

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Command Paper Cm 5769 on Iraq; reaffirms its endorsement of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, as expressed in its Resolution of 25th November 2002; supports the Government's continuing efforts in the United Nations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction; and calls upon Iraq to recognise this as its final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.

This motion means what it says. It is not an endorsement of military action by United Kingdom forces. No decision to deploy British forces in action has yet been taken. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out a few moments ago, we will put any decision on military action to the House, and the timing will be subject only to the usual caveats about the safety of our forces. It is as much in the Government's interest as it is in the paramount interest of the House that we should do that before the start of any hostilities. In addition, there will be oral statements to the House on the business of the Security Council, and a full opportunity to debate and vote on the outcome of proceedings on any second resolution.

Let me commend to the House the Command Paper "Iraq", which I presented yesterday. For the convenience of the House, this contains in one document the reports of Dr. Blix and Dr. el-Baradei, statements on the Iraq crisis by the European Union and by NATO, my statements at three recent Security Council meetings, and, above all, the full texts of 13 of the principal Security Council resolutions on Iraq passed since August 1990.

The situation that we face is plainly grave. It is a matter that, across a range of beliefs, arouses great concern and anxiety. So in this debate I want to answer what I think are the central and continuing questions in people's minds. Why Iraq? Why now? Why not more time, more inspectors? Why a second resolution? Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? And finally, is not the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel/Palestine?

Let me deal with those questions in turn. First, why Iraq? The best answer to that question is to be found in the 42 pages of text of the 13 Security Council resolutions that form the first section of the Command Paper. There we see, paragraph by paragraph, the exceptional danger posed by Iraq, and its continued defiance of the United Nations. On 2 August 1990, resolution 660 tells Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. On 29 November 1990, resolution 678 offers Iraq a "final opportunity"—interesting words—to comply, which it fails to take. On 3 April 1991, resolution 687 gives Iraq until 18 April 1991 to make a full declaration of the "locations, amount and types" of all chemical and biological weapons and of all medium and long-range ballistic missiles. That resolution bars Iraq from ever developing biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

On and on the resolutions go. Resolution 688 is "gravely concerned" about the repression of the civilian population in many parts of Iraq. In 1994, resolution 949
"condemns military deployments by Iraq in the direction of the border with Kuwait",
three years after the original invasion. In 1999, nine years after the invasion of Kuwait, resolution 1284 establishes a further inspection regime
"as a result of Iraq's failure to implement the Security Council Resolutions fully".
Iraq flatly and completely refuses to comply.

Last November, resolution 1441 recognised
"the threat which Iraq's non-compliance with Council Resolutions and proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and long range missiles poses to international peace and security"—
and gave Iraq its "final opportunity to comply".

So, for the United Nations, the answer to the "Why Iraq?" question is very clear. Iraq is the only country in such serious and multiple breach of mandatory UN obligations. It is the only country in the world to have fired missiles at five of its neighbours, the only country in history to have used chemical weapons against its own people, and the only country in the region that has invaded two of its neighbours in recent years.

As I have explained to you, Mr. Speaker, normally I take many interventions in debates. Because of the intense pressure on time on this occasion, I do not intend to do so, but I will take a few. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

As a question of fact and before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of documents, did the dossier that owed so much to that Californian student have the authority of Peter Ricketts and the Joint Intelligence Committee? Did the Joint Intelligence Committee authorise that dossier?

Mr. Ricketts ceased to be the secretary of the Joint Intelligence Committee about two years ago. All the information that was attributed as intelligence came from intelligence agencies and the whole of that dossier was accurate. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to ask me whether we had accepted his advice about taking the issue to the United Nations, because this matter has been the subject of 12 years of United Nations resolutions and 12 months of the most intense and proper debate in the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall.

Last March, when there was some speculation about the course of events and whether, for example, the United States would put its case to the United Nations, my hon. Friend said:
"Incidentally, if there is to be any action, it should be taken through the United Nations." —[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 6 March 2002; Vol. 381, c. 70WH.]
Several other colleagues who have put their names to the amendment agreed. All I say is that on this matter we have listened carefully to what the House has said. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has talked to President Bush and much discussion has taken place about putting the matter to the United Nations. That is exactly what we did and, on 8 November 2002, we obtained a Security Council resolution. All we are asking now of the international community, Iraq and this House, is that we follow through on the words that were agreed by the United Nations on 8 November and by this House on 25 November.

No.

The next question that I raised was, "Why now?" All the resolutions of the Security Council, 12 years of them, also help us answer that question.

Saddam's aim is that "now" shall never arrive. His tactics all along have been to prevaricate in the hope that by exploiting people's natural anxieties about military action he can string out the process for ever and keep his arsenal for good.

Let us look at the recent evidence. On 10 September last year, Iraq declared—I was there in the General Assembly when this was said—that it would never, ever readmit weapons inspectors under any circumstances. Then President Bush made his important and most welcome speech to the General Assembly. Four days later, Iraq said that it would after all readmit weapons inspectors, but made its offer subject to 19 spurious conditions of the kind that it has often come forward with. Fortunately, those were rejected.

There were then two months of intense negotiations inside the Security Council. In response, the international community united, resolution 1441 was passed unanimously and the Security Council agreed to back its diplomacy with the credible threat of force. The inspectors finally entered Iraq on 27 November, looking, as the resolution required, for full, active and immediate co-operation from Iraq.

But since the inspectors' return the story has been all too familiar. We saw first a 12,000-page Iraqi declaration, which Dr. Blix called
"rich in volume but poor in new information … and practically devoid of new evidence."
There have been concerted Iraqi efforts to prevent unrestricted interviews with scientists. The issue of interviews with the scientists is not a trivial matter. It is the most important way in which we can arrive at the truth of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Iraq refused any interviews to begin with. Since the weapons inspectors pressed the Iraqis, there have been three private interviews, all within the closing days up to Dr. Blix's report on 14 February, and, despite what we see in some newspapers about increased co-operation by the Iraqis, not one interview has been granted since. Time after time after time the Iraqis seek to impose conditions that make free and fair interviews almost impossible.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in a moment.

There have been categorical Iraqi denials that the al-Samoud missile has a range in excess of the 150 km limit prescribed by the United Nations, an assertion since disproved by an independent panel of experts from the five permanent members of the Security Council and by UNMOVIC.

Crucially, there have been no answers to the outstanding disarmament issues listed in UNSCOM's final report to the Security Council in February 1999.

As a result, as Dr. Blix himself indicates, in 15 weeks, the inspectors have not been able to close a single outstanding issue. There have been no answers to what has happened to the 8,500 litres of anthrax; no answers to what has happened to the 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent; no answers to what has happened to the 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; no answers to what has happened to the 1.5 tonnes of the completely deadly VX nerve agent or to the 6,500 chemical bombs identified by Dr. Blix on 27 January. The intimidation of scientists and their families so that they do not give full evidence has continued.

On 6 February, the same day as the dodgy dossier was exposed as a fabrication, the Prime Minister said on "Newsnight", in front of a studio audience, that the only circumstances in which force would be used without a further UN resolution were if the inspectors concluded that they could no longer do their work and if a further resolution was passed by a majority in the Security Council but was subject to an "unreasonable" veto by a single country. Is that still the position of the United Kingdom Government or has it changed again?

I heard the interview too. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also made clear was that our policy is 100 per cent. support for and full implementation of resolution 1441. What the hon. Gentleman is now trying to do— having got resolution 1441 and having signed up to it, having asked for the United Nations to be brought in, having asked us to take the United Nations route—is to rewrite the terms of the resolution.

Can my right hon. Friend explain why we have the motion today and not next week, following the statement by Dr. Blix on Friday? We would all like to know why it is so important.

We have sought to have as many debates as possible, and, on the entirely proper request of hon. Members on both sides of the House, to do so on substantive resolutions, so that hon. Members are not voting on an Adjournment, but are voting on the substance of the issue. Normally the complaint is that we have not had a debate soon enough. I plead guilty to the fact that we have not delayed this debate. We are having it today because we thought it entirely appropriate, given that we have submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. As made clear in my opening remarks, once there is a conclusion to the Security Council proceedings—and it may well be before that, too—we shall have a further debate and a vote in the House.

I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, so the House will have to excuse me if I do not give way.

The next question that I raised was about more time and more inspections. I understand why there are calls for more time and more inspections, but Saddam has not shown that he is ready to break with the past. That is exactly what Dr. Blix said today. At present, it is not even clear whether the Iraqis really want to co-operate. In these circumstances, in the absence of active and immediate Iraqi co-operation, more time will not achieve anything of substance. Nor, without that active co-operation, can it be a question of more inspectors.

It took just nine inspectors to verify the disarmament of South Africa's nuclear weapons programme at the end of apartheid. It did not take 12 years. It did not take hundreds of inspectors. It did not take endless Security Council resolutions. It took three years, nine inspectors and no resolutions. Why? Because South Africa was complying with the inspectors.

It is critical that, in respect of Iraq, we all accept one reality above all, which is that what grudging concessions on process there have been from Saddam have been secured only because of the military build-up. What is the difference between the circumstances now and the circumstances when resolution 1284 was agreed at the end of 1999, the resolution that set up the organisation of weapons inspectors, UNMOVIC? There is some difference in terms of the powers of the weapons inspectors. But the only significant, material difference is that, back at the end of 1999, the world said, "Let us try giving them more time. Let us try by a completely peaceful route to secure the disarmament of Iraq. Let us plead with the Iraqis to do the decent thing. Let us impose some sanctions, too, and hope that they will work."

Saddam's answer was to slam the door in the face of the international community. The only reason for the difference between Saddam's refusal to co-operate with one dot or comma in resolution 1284 and his very reluctant co-operation on some process today, his statement that he will co-operate, is the build-up of the credible threat of force, something clearly recognised by the United Nations charter.

I was glad to note that President Chirac of France—and I pay tribute to him—conceded in an interview last week inTime magazine that it was the military build-up that had made the difference. There is a logic that follows—

I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. I always do. I do not know why.

There is a logic that follows from what I have said that cannot be avoided and is for everybody in the international community. We are now close to the crunch point. Saddam must either embark immediately on voluntary and full disarmament or the Security Council must face up to its responsibility to see that he is disarmed by force. That is the truth. That is the reality.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way.

My point is in connection with what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of his speech, which seems to contradict what he told the House on 7 November. When he was asked what "serious consequences" in resolution 1441 meant, he replied:
"consequences up to and including military force"—[Official Report, 7 November 2002; Vol. 392, c. 436.]
Is it not right that anyone who votes for the main resolution today will in fact be voting for war?

For one moment, I was worried that I had said something inconsistent back in November—that sometimes happens, even with me—but on this occasion I agree entirely with the words that I uttered then. Indeed, I could not have been more accurate. I wanted then to spell out to the House what "serious consequences" meant. I wanted to tell the House without any dubiety that in voting to support resolution 1441, which we did by a huge majority, we were voting to recognise the serious consequences that would flow from a further material breach by Saddam Hussein, up to and including the use of force.

I repeat for my hon. Friend what I said at the beginning of this debate. The United Nations is responsible for its resolutions, but the House as a whole is responsible for the motions that it passes. Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's invitation that we should seek a mandate for military action, we are not seeking one today because the Government have not yet got to that point. If we do reach that point, we will come back and seek a vote, through a debate in this House, on a substantive motion.

No. I am so sorry, but as my hon. Friend knows, there is great time pressure.

The next question is why do we need a second resolution now? Resolution 1441 required Iraq's full, active and immediate compliance, as indeed did resolution 687, which was passed 12 years ago. Fifteen weeks after 1441, Saddam's response has been neither full, nor active, nor immediate. He has not complied, and not a single member of the Security Council says otherwise. In place of active voluntary co-operation, we have had a string of cynically timed concessions that are calculated to divide and to delay.

We saw more token concessions last night. According to the newspapers, Iraq has now told Dr. Blix that it has—and I quote—"found" a bomb. Iraq has found a bomb containing biological agents—it simply popped up from some gooseberry bush. Some will be tempted to regard this as evidence that Saddam is being successfully contained, and that the inspectors should be given endless time. However, this latest "find" is the same old game of dribbling out small concessions at the last minute.

It is completely ludicrous for the Iraqi regime to talk of "finding" weapons of mass destruction, as if it were someone else who made a 12,000-word declaration, claiming that the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

I seek the advice of the Chair on whether it is in order for the Government to table at this late stage a business motion to suspend the 7 o'clock deadline, which would allow the Secretary of State time to take interventions.

The conclusion that we ought to draw from this overnight admission by Iraq is that we are right to say that it does have weapons of mass destruction, that it has lied about them, that it has tried to hide them, and that it is determined to keep them behind a charade of cynical concessions. Unless we bring this game to a halt, it will go on for as long as Saddam wants. I will not be surprised if, by the end of the week, Saddam is offering concessions on the proscribed al-Samoud missiles—having said that he will never destroy a single one—in the hope, once again, of playing for time. However, if the words "final opportunity", in operative paragraph 2 of resolution 1441, have any meaning, it is that this time we must not let Saddam lure the international community into endless indecision. Resolution 1441 called for disarmament "immediately". We have waited 110 days already, which is stretching the meaning of "immediately" to breaking point.

I ask our friends in France and Germany—who share our goal of Iraqi disarmament, and who fully support resolution 1441—why Saddam is more likely to cooperate actively, fully and immediately in the further 120 days that they now propose than he was in the past 110. What does he need 120 days for: to have a look for the weapons that he says he has not got, in case he has overlooked something; to search the homes of scientists for the incriminating papers that he ordered them to hide there; to tell those scientists to attend interviews and tell the truth that, through intimidation, he has instructed them to conceal?

I shall give way in one second.

No. Saddam would use a further 120 days to bring the authority of the United Nations lower week by week, to tie the weapons inspectors in knots, and to create further divisions within the international community. We know that this is what he will do, because it is what he has always done.

I shall also give way to my hon. Friend in a moment.

Worse, this delay would send Saddam the clearest possible signal that his strategy is succeeding. It would tell him that the international community lacks the will to disarm him, and it would tell all those who threaten our security that Saddam Hussein has broken the United Nations as an instrument for defending peace through the force of international law.

The Foreign Secretary is making a most powerful speech, but in the light of everything that he and the Prime Minister have said, can he clarify for the House, for the people of Britain, who are confused, and for the members of our armed forces, who may be about to lay their lives on the line for this policy, whether there are any circumstances in which this crisis can be resolved with Saddam Hussein's being allowed to remain in power? Is it not a fact that our objective is, and has to be, regime change in Iraq?

There are such circumstances, as it happens, and the important point is this. We are committed to implementation of 1441. I do not like the Saddam Hussein regime—I regard it as one of the most revolting and terrible regimes in the world—but the focus of 1441 is not regime change per se, but the disarmament of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

In his statement yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out that if there is full, active and immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein with the full terms of 1441 and the other resolutions referred to, Saddam would remain in government, but his power would be greatly reduced because those weapons of mass destruction would have been removed.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. On the question of timing and taking a decision, can he tell me why half the UN staff involved in the oil-for-food programme have been withdrawn?

I cannot tell my hon. Friend directly, but I am happy to look into the matter. They certainly have not been withdrawn on any advice given by us. I have been involved in discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the humanitarian crisis that has existed in Iraq for the past 12 years, and about the circumstances that would arise if military action had to be taken. All the Security Council partners are of course concerned about that issue, and so is the Secretary-General.

No. With the greatest of respect, I have given way a good deal.[Interruption.] I am sorry; I would love to give way, because I always enjoy doing so.

Time is pressing, so let me turn to the next question, which in many ways is at the heart of the amendment. Why not persist with the policy of containment, rather than contemplate military action? After all, some argue that Iraq has not invaded any of its neighbours or used chemical and biological weapons in the past 12 years, and that these weapons have either been destroyed, or do not present a sufficient threat to Iraq's neighbours or to the wider world to justify the use of force to remove them if Saddam refuses to do so peacefully.

I understand the containment argument, even if I do not agree with it. However, let no one be under any illusions: the policy of containment is not the policy of disarmament as set out in resolution 1441 or any of the preceding resolutions. There can be no stable, steady state for Iraq unless it is properly disarmed, and nor can there be stability for the region and the international community. What may appear to be containment to us is rearmament for Saddam.

We do not need to speculate on this, as we have witnessed it. A de facto policy of containment existed between 1998 and 2002 following the effective expulsion of inspectors by Iraq, and Iraq's refusal to comply with resolution 1284.

Far from keeping a lid on Saddam's ambitions, that period allowed him to rebuild his horrific arsenal, his chemical and biological weapons, and the means of delivering them against his enemies at home and abroad. UNMOVIC inspectors chart in their recent reports, which are before the House, how Iraq has refurbished prohibited equipment that had previously been destroyed by UNSCOM, the earlier inspectors. That equipment included rocket motor casting chambers and chemical processors. UNMOVIC has also found that Iraq used the four-year absence of inspectors—the so-called period of containment—to build a missile test stand capable of testing engines with over four times the thrust of the already prohibited al-Samoud 2 missile. All this happened during containment. There is no steady state—the choice is between disarmament or rearmament.

Thankfully, the so-called policy of containment ended on 8 November last year. Containment requires a degree of trust in Saddam that we cannot risk and which runs contrary to all the evidence. It means leaving Saddam as a standing example that defiance pays. We cannot allow Saddam further time and space to strengthen his capabilities and to rearm further. Only disarmament—the aim of all these UN Security Council resolutions—can deal with this issue.

I turn now to the next question. I am often asked, "Isn't the west guilty of double standards, especially in relation to Israel and Palestine?" [HON MEMBERS: "Yes."] Some of my hon. Friends say yes. I accept, as does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that there has been a considerable amount to this charge, and to the perception of double standards, which extends well beyond the Arab and Islamic world. However, we deal with this charge not by ignoring outstanding UN obligations, but by working even harder to see all of them implemented. The key ones on Israel/Palestine—242, 338, 1397—impose obligations on three sets of parties—on the Palestinians to end terrorism, on the Arab countries to end support for terrorism and to recognise the state of Israel, and on Israel fully to co-operate in the establishment of a viable state of Palestine with borders broadly based on those of 1967.

In difficult circumstances, we are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden).

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I welcome the Government's efforts to restart the peace process. However, the allegations and anger about double standards are not only to do with the lack of talks. They arise from the fact that, when a house in Gaza is destroyed, perhaps with the people in it, the destruction has probably been caused by an F-16. That aeroplane has probably been supplied by the US and may have parts supplied by Britain. Moreover, when the olive grove is destroyed, the destruction is probably carried out by a bulldozer bankrolled from the US. If we are to avoid the allegation of double standards, we must get talks going, and ensure that UN resolutions are upheld and respected.

As my hon. Friend knows, I entirely agree with that. We have to ensure the full application of international law by Israel, and—as I have told our friends in the Palestinian authority—we have to ensure as well that the Palestinians take even further action to stop the terrorist organisations in their areas. There is no alternative to that. The Arab states must also end giving terrorist organisations active support, finance and supplies.

All those things must happen, but we are committed to ensuring the implementation of the Security Council resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine.

We are working actively to implement this UN policy, including the early publication of the roadmap.

It must also never be forgotten, however, that the obligations on Saddam are singular, unilateral, and not for negotiation by him. We increase, not undermine, respect for the authority of the UN as a whole—and the prospects of a peace settlement in the middle east—if we implement fully the resolutions on Iraq, and do not shy away from their consequences.

I thank my right hon. Friend. I think that the House will concede that I have been as outspoken as any hon. Member in condemning Israeli policy, and I shall continue to be outspoken on the matter. Given that, does my right hon. Friend agree that anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein gives a twopenny damn for the Palestinians, the Kurds or the Marsh Arabs is living in self-delusion?

As ever, I agree with my right hon. Friend. I knew that it was a wise move to give way to him.

International terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the crucial strategic questions of our time. Our answer to these threats will determine the stability of the world for decades to come. This is an awesome responsibility. It calls for courageous leadership. And it requires the vision and foresight to act decisively and, if necessary, with military force.

Once Saddam's invasion of Kuwait had been turned back by the international community, the international community, with our agreement, put on hold the military option, preferring of course to resolve the continuing crisis peacefully, first through weapons inspections and then, from December 1998, through a policy of containment. However, neither of those approaches has worked.

Following the adoption of resolution 1441, Saddam has now to be under no illusions that there will be no further resolutions calling for containment, no further attempts to tinker at the margins rather than to remove his weapons. This has to be a moment of choice for Saddam and for the Iraqi regime.

However, it is also a moment of choice for the UN. As I told the Security Council on 5 February, the UN's pre-war predecessor, the League of Nations, had the same fine ideals as the UN. Yet the League failed because it could not create actions from its words: it could not back diplomacy with a credible threat and, where necessary, the use of force. Small evils therefore went unchecked, tyrants became emboldened, then greater evils were unleashed. At each stage good men and women said, "Not now, wait, the evil is not big enough to challenge." Then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We had slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late. We owe it to our history as well as to our future not to make the same mistake again.

This is the hardest issue that I have ever had to deal with. I know that it causes very great anxiety to the British people and to Members of this House. It does to all of us. However, the issue of what we do about tyrannical states with poison gases, nerve agents, viruses and nuclear ambitions, and which defy international law and the principles of the UN, will not go away. We have to face the issue. We have to give Saddam Hussein a categorical choice, and after 12 long years he has to give us his answer now.

I commend the motion to the House.

1.17 pm

The Opposition support this motion. In many ways, it is a rerun of the debate in this House on 25 November last year, in which we also supported the Government motion. This motion poses no new questions or challenges. We have therefore tabled no amendment.

None of us wants war. For those of us who have spent a significant part of our political lives working to establish peace, it is a desperately sad prospect. However, sometimes conflict is necessary in the short term to achieve peace through the defeat of aggression, and sometimes it is the threat of conflict that can establish peace.

The current situation that exists in Iraq today is not peace. It is conflict waiting in the wings. It has been there for the past 12 years. As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, that is what containment has meant. To prolong it in the absence of genuine disarmament would be to prolong the uncertainty and suffering of the people of Iraq. It would leave the conflict and the crisis unresolved. It would also send a message to Saddam Hussein that the urgent requirement to disarm was no longer urgent, that the determination to secure immediate compliance with resolution 1441 was no longer immediate. It would not be peace. It would be the procrastination of a conflict that would be more vicious and more damaging when eventually it came.

I will give way in a moment, but I want to make a few introductory remarks.

I believe that the Prime Minister's last push for peace is important. It is the language that Saddam Hussein understands. It is based on the clear understanding that Saddam Hussein only begins to comply when his feet are held to the flames and the heat begins to take effect. Equally, it is based on the knowledge that, the moment the heat is turned off, he returns to his old threatening ways, as we have heard from the Foreign Secretary.

The peaceful disarming of Hussein may, in the event, not be possible, but I believe that it has been right to try to do it. The Foreign Secretary has painted a very pessimistic picture in that regard today, but we know that, if there is to be a peaceful outcome, it will happen only if the determination of the international community to resort to force if necessary is clear and unambiguous.

Saddam Hussein has always taken ambiguity as a sign of weakness, so the last push for peace depends on his understanding clearly that there is no way out other than to disarm, and that the final opportunity that the Security Council signed up to in resolution 1441 means precisely what it says.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that public opinion would be greatly reassured if Her Majesty's Government undertook to ensure that, before UK and US troops attacked Iraq, a specific resolution authorising war was tabled to the Security Council, and that a specific resolution was put before the House of Commons as well?

If my hon. Friend checks the resolutions that are already before the House in the Command Paper, he will find that there is plenty of cover in every one of them.[Interruption.] I will come to the reason why I say that in a moment because it is very important; but we have supported the idea that a substantive motion should be put before the House, and we have also supported the second resolution before the UN because, although we do not believe it to be legally necessary, it is desirable to have it.

I will in a moment.

I want to ask whether the Government have asked France—politely, of course—what it understands by the phrase "final opportunity". I took the trouble to look up the French version of resolution 1441, and it talks about the "dernière possibilityé". Although my French may be a little rusty, I believe that both phrases mean exactly the same thing. The French signed up to resolution 1441, but when I saw their counter-proposal, which they tabled on Monday, it seems anything but final in the proposals and demands it makes. It must give Saddam Hussein a very real hope that he might just get away with it once again, and with his weapons intact.

I hope that France and those who are tempted to support her position will think very clearly about the importance of the message that they signed up to in resolution 1441, as it is crucial to the last push for peace. It is worth recalling that the Arab League, the European Union and every member of the Security Council, as well as all the parties in the House, expressed their support for resolution 1441.

A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was the Conservative party's policy to seek a substantive motion in the eventuality of hostilities breaking out. Will he confirm whether that substantive motion would be tabled in the House before the commencement of hostilities, not after?

We in the Opposition will obviously not be as aware as the Government are of when military action is likely to start. We have made it clear that, ideally, we would like that to happen before any such action, but there may be circumstances—the hon. Gentleman was a Defence Minister, so he must know this—where military action, for all sorts of security reasons, might have to begin before the House can debate it, and we should be very careful to do nothing that undermines the ability and security of our armed forces by setting improper and unworkable conditions.

The concern in the country about any future action against Iraq runs right across all sectors of our community, not least among the 1.5 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend support me in a request to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he will meet Dr. Siddiqui—my constituent and the leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain—to listen to the views of those Muslims as expressed through the Muslim Parliament?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary will have heard what she said, but it is vital in the days and weeks ahead that hon. Members on both sides of the House continue to make it clear that this is a conflict not with Islam, but with a gangster who has weapons of mass destruction and who needs to be dealt with.

Today's debate will be one of deep but conflicting views. I have the greatest respect for those who hold strong and principled views on this difficult issue, even if those views may differ from mine, but I have no time for those who might seek to play politics with this issue, although it would have been easy to do so. It is far too serious for that. I also have very little time for those who have sought to face both ways. I look down the Benches to my left, at the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Yesterday and today, he criticised what he called the pre-emptive draft resolution. Is this the leader of a party which, ever since resolution 1441 was passed, has insisted on a second resolution? Indeed, is this the leader of a party whose foreign affairs spokesman, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), told the House last year that
"legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687."
He went on to say
"that from a political and diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential".—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43–44.]
s

Well, he was talking not about a second resolution, but about the resolution that turned out to be 1441, which he had already said was not legally required for force to be used. It really is time that the Liberal Democrats decided what their position on such resolutions is. Is this the party leader who told the recent anti-war rally that he would not support military action without a second UN resolution, only two weeks after his defence spokesman, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), when asked, in my presence, whether he would feel bound by a second resolution endorsing military action announced that his party's foreign policy would not be dictated by the UN? What a tangled web! The House has a right to know the clear and unambiguous position of the Liberal Democrats, and I hope that we will hear it today.

No, I will give way to the hon. Member for Hereford if he wishes to explain what he meant when he was talking to all those students the other day.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that invitation. It simply demonstrates why the official Opposition are so concerned about the Liberal Democrats: this party has been calling for support for our troops in the Gulf. As for what I said during Westminster Day, it has never been the case that the UN is the sole repository of international law. Indeed, if we had waited for a UN resolution, we would not have deployed troops into Kosovo—an action by the Government that this party rightly supported.

Hon. Members: More.

I am even more confused about the Liberal Democrat position than I was before the hon. Gentleman intervened, but it is absolutely clear that they behave like weather vanes: every time the wind changes, they change direction, too.

The right hon. Gentleman asked the Liberal Democrats to have a clear and unambiguous position on this issue. Is he aware that, if the Liberal Democrats had a clear and unambiguous position on this issue, it would be the only issue, ranging from street lighting to council tax, on which they had such a position?

I accept from the right hon. Gentleman that what I said was the triumph of hope over experience.

Many hon. Members have genuine fears and concerns, and the Government must take them seriously. I have to tell the Foreign Secretary that the public have been confused too often by the changing focus of the Government's arguments. It is now time they clarified their objectives and made the case more clearly.

All that I can do is set out my position and that of my colleagues. I believe that Iraq poses a threat to international peace and security, and, therefore, to us. That is why we support the Government today. The UN believes that Iraq poses a continuing threat to international peace and security, which is why 17 resolutions, including 1441, have been passed under chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals specifically with threats to the peace and permits military action. That was the point that I made when the matter was raised earlier. The draft resolution tabled on Monday in the UN Security Council refers specifically to chapter VII. The threat flows neither from the evil of Saddam Hussein nor from the existence of weapons of mass destruction, but from the combination of the two.