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Commons Chamber

Volume 401: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2003

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 18 March 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Health

The Secretary of State was asked

Mental Health (Barnet)

1.

If he will make a statement on mental health services in Barnet. [103193]

Local mental health services in Barnet are making good progress against the national service framework targets, but they face considerable challenges in meeting additional demands and improving further services for patients. Public and staff are being involved in the plans for future developments.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response, but I am sure that she is aware of the long waiting times for intensive out-patient care. I wish to raise in particular the matter of the Barnet psychiatric unit, which closed temporarily more than five years ago, with a view to being reopened. Nothing has happened yet and the result is that the temporary ward at Edgware hospital is under considerable strain. What will happen in terms of reproviding the Barnet psychiatric unit, and when may we expect to see some progress on the issue? The present situation is unsustainable, and perhaps the money could be found from the modernisation fund.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the outline business case to reprovide the acute in-patient service at Barnet was considered by the primary care trust in December. The acute unit will now provide 54 beds and will bring acute mental health services on to the same site as the rest of the acute services. That will be a real improvement for patients. The extra revenue costs are likely to be some £350,000 and the PCT has confirmed that it will be able to afford that. We need now to make swift progress in relocating those services to Barnet to serve people in that community.

In supporting the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) about the need for that acute service, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the social service inspectorate's report of May 2002 was selectively damning? It said that mental health services in Barnet had been allowed to drift, service users were losing out and carers were not being supported. May we have her assurance that the Government are addressing the matter and taking the necessary actions to put things right quickly?

The hon. Gentleman is too harsh on those local services. The area has lower than average suicide rates, admission rates and readmission rates, as well as good user involvement, a good relationship with Barnet Voice for Mental Health and good carer involvement. Local people are working hard to ensure that mental health services in the area serve the needs of patients. They are setting up new assertive out-reach and crisis intervention teams, and much good work is being done. Further improvements do need to be made, but significant progress has already been achieved.

May I first pay tribute to Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who left the Government today? He was effective, well respected and well known to those who work in, and care about, the NHS. The child and adolescent mental health services report zero weeks waiting time—in other words, no waiting time—for first out-patient appointments—[HON. MEMBERS: "In Barnet?"] Yes, in Barnet. What does Barnet have that other areas, such as my own of Stockport, do not; or is that another case of inaccurately reported waiting times?

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks about Lord Hunt. He was an able Minister and a close colleague who will be severely missed in our Department. The hon. Lady should know that we will commit £300 million to the national service framework, including £93.5 million this year. The children's national service framework will also address the issue of waiting times, which is a major priority in the planning and priorities framework for this year. Out-patient waiting times are too long, but clear action will be taken and the necessary investment made in the service to ensure that we reduce them.

Hospital Private Finance Initiative

2.

If he will make a statement on the private finance initiative in hospitals. [103194]

:State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): The private finance initiative is helping to deliver the biggest hospital building programme in the history of the national health service. Of the 104 PFI hospital schemes announced since 1997, 25 are already operational and a further 23 are under construction.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Over the past few years the doctors, nurses and administrators at Tameside general have done fantastic work, despite the fact that the hospital site is spread across many buildings, many of them old Victorian workhouses, and that patients still have to be ferried between buildings by ambulance. Without PFI we would have to wait decades for another hospital. Can my right hon. Friend tell me when we can expect completion of a new hospital if Tameside is successful in the current application process?

I am aware of the problems in Tameside because my hon. Friend has been to see me to talk about them and to present me with a petition that he and other members of the local community organised. We will make progress as soon as possible, but the process takes some time. Once building begins, we may be confident that the new development will be built on time and to cost. It is worth saying that, as a consequence of PFI, major capital investment is now going into the national health service. Since 1997, capital spending in the NHS has risen by 63 per cent., partly as a result of PFI. To give hon. Members a point of reference, investment fell by more than 20 per cent. under the Conservative Government between 1992 and 1997.

As a result of the extra investment that will come on line from April, over the course of the next four years capital spending in the NHS will rise by a further 144 per cent., to give the NHS, its staff and its patients precisely the sort of modern working environment and modern facilities that they need. People will draw a clear contrast between a Labour party that is committed to investment and the Conservative party.

The Secretary of State will no doubt be aware of the bureaucratic blunders in the Paddington basin project, which resulted in a 17.5 per cent. shortfall in space. People forgot to take note of the new regulations on elderly patients in hospital. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is time to reconsider the relocation of Harefield hospital to the Paddington basin? It is time to reinvest in Harefield and so save everybody money.

I can always rely on the hon. Gentleman to accentuate the positive. On the subject of the Paddington basin, we have been through the process and, indeed, I have been to Harefield. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I met local people and members of staff, including Sir Magdi Yacoub. The decisions were difficult but I believe that they are right, not just for Harefield but for health services in the area. As a consequence of the extra investment that is now going into the NHS in the area, we will get modern hospital facilities that are long overdue.

Foster Carers

3.

How many children are looked after by private foster carers. [103195]

Data on the number of children looked after by private foster carers are not collected centrally. The Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to

"satisfy themselves that the welfare of children who are privately fostered within their area is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted".

The Minister will know that the social services inspectorate wrote to Departments and estimated that as many as 40,000 or 50,000 children are privately fostered. Those children are afforded less protection than children who are child-minded. She will also know that Lord Laming had little to add on safeguards for children who are privately fostered, other than the recommendations that came from the Utting inquiry on children living away from home. Will she tell us when a Green Paper will arise from the Laming inquiry into the Victoria Climbié case? Why are the Government so reluctant to introduce a registration scheme for privately fostered children, as recommended by Utting?

I pay to tribute to my hon. Friend for his continued concern about the protection of privately fostered children. Although I share his objective, I have not always shared his view on the most effective way of ensuring that protection. As he has suggested, we have taken action to ensure that the legal responsibilities that already exist for private fosterers and local authorities are taken forward. A letter from the chief inspector has outlined that, and there have been an SSI inspection and a leaflet campaign to raise awareness. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear when we published the report of the Climbié inquiry, we will give a full response to Lord Laming's recommendation that we should review legislation in this area at the time of the children's Green Paper. I believe that that Green Paper will be published later in the spring.

Does the Minister agree that many children in foster care will go on to be adults in adult placement care? Is she aware that the number of adult placement carers is falling because of the Government's decision to have them regulated by the National Care Standards Commission? When will the Government announce the decision of their review of that matter? Does the Minister accept that adult placement carers are looking after vulnerable adults in their own homes? Those homes are not care homes and they should not be regulated by the NCSC and made subject to all manner of rules and bureaucracy that are completely unnecessary.

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of adult placements, which has also been raised by several of my hon. Friends, and by at least one of his hon. Friends, who visited me, along with representatives of the National Association of Adult Placement Services. As a result of that meeting, we are undertaking a consultation on how to ensure that, in putting in place the necessary regulation to ensure that vulnerable people who are cared for in adult placements get the protection that they deserve, we also continue to recognise the specific circumstances of those who care for vulnerable people in their own homes. It is not true that the conditions for adult placement schemes are the same as for care homes; indeed, they never have been. What we have done is to listen to the genuine concerns of those who undertake this very important role, to undertake a consultation, and to make changes that will help to promote the work of those who care for vulnerable people in their own homes.

To return to the subject of private fostering, I well understand that my hon. Friend often has to wrestle with huge problems that require major investment, organisational change and cultural reorganisation within complex health and social care systems. Does she agree that, by contrast, private fostering would be simple to crack, would require almost no investment, and would provide great protection for children? Indeed, it is the sort of job that she could knock off before breakfast one morning. Will she therefore join me in looking forward to the blithe new morning when she will have the opportunity to do that?

Perhaps I should point out to my hon. Friend that one of the things that I am wrestling with, as he puts it, is what we need to do to ensure that the changes that we make really do make a practical difference to vulnerable children. As my right hon. Friend made clear in responding to the Climbié inquiry, our consideration of the issues arising from private foster care will be based on what will make a practical difference to the protection of those children, on how we can ensure that the considerable protection already provided in legislation is carried through properly, and—perhaps most importantly—on how we can ensure that local authorities fulfil their responsibilities to those children. We discovered that, even under the current legislative framework, Gloucestershire local authority, for example, has taken action and increased the number of notifications of private foster carers from 11 to 224 in the past three years. That is—

Nhs Dentists

4.

What estimate he has made of the number of people in the north-west who are no longer able to get on the list of an NHS dentist. [103196]

National health service dental registrations in the north-west have been stable for several years. The region has the second highest registration rate for adults in England, at 49 per cent., which is significantly above the England average. More than 60 per cent. of children in the region are registered with a dentist. This is broadly in line with the national average.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that I get letters every week from people in Burnley who cannot get on an NHS dentist's list, and that advising them to phone NHS Direct is not the way forward? The primary care trust informs me that another dentist is transferring his patients to Denplan, and that a further one will follow shortly. An NHS dental service is no longer available to the majority of people in my constituency, and that is not acceptable.

I sympathise with the problems that some of my hon. Friend's constituents are experiencing, and I understand that there are particular recruitment problems in Burnley. However, that is why there are a number of primary dental service pilots and a new dental unit in Burnley. I am also advised that my hon. Friend's NHS managers are talking to Manchester dental school, to ensure that students want to come to Burnley to work. At the same time, my officials and I are holding discussions with the British Dental Association to ensure that we have support teams in our access problem areas. I will ensure that my hon. Friend's constituency is considered as part of that programme.

Primary Health Care

5.

If he will make a statement on budget deficits in primary health care services. [103197]

In both of the last two financial years, the national health service has reported a break-even position, an improvement on the deficit of £459 million in 1996–97. For this financial year, discussions are currently taking place between primary care trusts and strategic health authorities on managing their end-of-year financial positions.

I thank the Minister for that reply. When the Department wrote to me recently boasting about the additional money for Stockport primary care trust, was the right hon. Gentleman aware that £5 million of that was needed for deficit reduction and that, as a result, the trust's board tells me that it is now required to make real-terms reductions of £1.3 million in the next financial year? As audiology, child psychiatry and mental health services are under real pressure in Stockport, may I encourage the right hon. Gentleman, when he writes to hon. Members boasting about increases in money, to avoid the spin and state the facts?

We always state the facts and we have done that on this occasion. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out the difficulties that his PCT is experiencing, and I shall certainly look into those issues on his behalf, but a certain reciprocity would be welcome. I am happy to go in for that, if the hon. Gentleman would like to welcome the 26 per cent. cash increase that Stockport PCT received over the past three years and the 29 per cent. increase to which it can look forward over the next three years.

I am not sure whether the Minister fully understands what a fact is. If he cut out the spin and actually answered the question put by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell), he would be aware that a number of PCTs will have deficits at the end of the current financial year. For example, my PCT in Chelmsford will have a deficit of £1 million. I wrote to 50 per cent. of PCTs, and a significant number wrote back to say that they will not break even at the end of this year and will have deficits. Instead of spinning and citing figures, why does the Minister not face up to reality, answer the question straightforwardly and explain how PCTs with deficits at the beginning of the next financial year will deal with them?

I did answer the question put by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove fairly and fully, but there is a wider issue. Of course, we shall look into the end-of-year position; it is the job of SHAs and PCTs to do that. There is, however, a certain credibility gap when the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) comes to this place demanding, in effect, more resources for the NHS when his policy is to take money away from the NHS.

Community Hospitals

6.

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on smaller community hospitals. [103198]

We want to see a new lease of life for community hospitals. Our new guidance, "Keeping the NHS Local", issued last month, emphasises the important role that community hospitals can play in providing locally based health services.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very encouraging reply. In the light of it, will he join me in urging the North and East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire strategic health authority to give urgent and careful consideration to the outline business case that it will receive later this month from the Selby and York primary care trust for the complete rebuilding of Selby War Memorial hospital, not only because of the role played by the hospital in the community but also because that exciting project is one of the first to come from a PCT?

I very much enjoyed meeting my hon. Friend and representatives of his local PCT about a month ago to talk about the proposed development. As he remembers, I visited the hospital two or three years ago and was most impressed by what I saw. There is a strong case for redevelopment. Obviously that will take investment and it will need a good case, but I know that the PCT will make a good case to the SHA. Equally, I am sure that my hon. Friend will remind his constituents that such developments are possible only because of the investment that the Labour Government are making.

On the assumption that the Secretary of State will give the go-ahead to the reorganisation of health care in east Kent, and given the excellent coastal and cottage hospitals in that area, will he tell us what financial assistance he will give the PCT so that hospitals such as the Queen Victoria Memorial hospital in Herne Bay can have the minor injuries and accident and illness units and telemedicine that they need, which would help patients to be treated closer to home without having to travel at all?

As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, not least because he has been one of the protagonists in the whole sorry affair vis-á-vis east Kent, decisions have to made, and most members of the community now want a final decision so that we can make progress. What is absolutely clear across the country, not just in east Kent, however, is that community hospitals have a very important part to play. Indeed, technological change and medical advance are driving many of the treatments that were previously available only in the big tertiary centres and making them available much more locally, provided, of course, that we invest in the necessary information technology and make the necessary capital investment and resources available for staff and training. That is precisely what the Government want to do—but whether the Conservative party agrees with those proposals is a moot point.

On 10 February, I attended the official opening of the new £1 million skin care unit at Kettering general hospital, which will deal with the increasing number of problems with eczema, skin cancer and other dermatological conditions. I welcome that investment in our local health service. Does my right hon. Friend believe that smaller hospitals would benefit from that kind of investment if we adopted a policy of cutting public spending by 20 per cent., like the Conservative party has?

I take the very simple view—I think that my hon. Friend shares it—that if we want more out of the national health service, we simply have to put more in. That is what the Government are committed to; it is what the Conservative party opposes.

According to the logic of the document published by the Secretary of State's Department on 14 February and, indeed, the strategies of many local NHS trusts, services would move from district general hospitals to community hospitals; but does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, if that happens, many parts of the country are likely to have fewer district general hospitals?

No, I do not think that that is the case. Although change will always be necessary in the NHS—change is often a very positive thing because it is driven by medical advance and technological improvement and it makes more treatments available to more patients—we have to move away from the idea that the "biggest is best" philosophy will always work for NHS patients, especially in local communities.

Rather than presuming that biggest is always best and that the only way to solve a problem with local health services is to centralise those services, the new guidance rightly says that the starting point for examining what is needed in the local community should be the presumption of keeping as many services as locally based and locally accessible as possible. That is what we want to do, but it can only be done—I repeat this point—provided that we make the necessary investment in IT, technology, training, staff, buildings and equipment. We are prepared to make that investment. Of course, the hon. Gentleman's party voted against it.

Foundation Hospitals

7.

If he will make a statement on foundation hospitals. [103199]

The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill published on 13 March sets out our legislative proposals for NHS foundation trusts. Subject to Parliament, I expect that, in four to five years, every NHS hospital will have the opportunity of becoming an NHS foundation hospital.

As the Secretary of State will be aware, Conservative Members strongly support foundation hospitals, so we were concerned to note that at least 115 of his Back-Bench colleagues have signed an early-day motion criticising them. Will he explain to the House why he has so singularly failed to sell his policy to them?

I suppose that I should say that I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. However, there is a small matter of difference between him and me on foundation hospitals, as he calls them: I believe that those hospitals should be part of the NHS. They should have greater freedom, greater local control and greater local accountability, but none the less they should be subject to national inspection systems and, most importantly, to national standards. Indeed, what is very obvious every time Conservative Members talk about foundation hospitals is that they use those two words, but they fail to mention the three words that are important: national health service.

Obviously, as a person who has been treated by an NHS hospital—I received remarkable treatment at St. Thomas's—I can only congratulate the NHS on the service that it provides, and that is without foundation hospital status. If my right hon. Friend pursues the foundation hospitals policy, will he ensure that all hospitals can apply for that status and that real consultation will take place with the staff, patients and trade unions before we venture down that road?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Incidentally, I wish him well and I hope that the other knee survives. When he reads the Bill he will see that we set out the process of consultation in it. If proposals are to come forward from NHS trusts that want to become NHS foundation trusts, they must have the local community on board. Clearly, it will be important to consult local Members of Parliament and elected local councillors, but equally, it will be important to consult local staff and other parts of the local health community: most notably, primary care trusts.

I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking that he seeks: our ambition has always been to try to raise standards of care in every single NHS hospital. We do not want a two-tier service, and we certainly do not want to pursue a sink-or-swim policy. That is why I believe that it is necessary to provide extra help and support so that every hospital, over a four-to-five-year period, has the opportunity to become an NHS foundation hospital.

Will foundation hospitals be subject to the remorseless process of centralisation, mergers and closures being carried out by strategic health authorities across the country?

Strategic health authorities, under the proposals contained in the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman will see when he reads it, lose their powers of direction—effectively, my powers of direction—over NHS hospitals. I believe that that is right. Although it is absolutely necessary, for equity purposes, to ensure that appropriate standards in the system apply in all parts of the country, ultimately, health care is delivered locally, not nationally. If we are to have better local health services capable of dealing with specific local problems in local communities and tackling some of the appalling local health inequalties that exist in our country, and which have been widening for decades, it is necessary to put local staff and local communities in charge of the hospitals that serve them.

In evaluating the expressions of interest in foundation status that have been received so far, what steps have been taken by the Government to establish whether there is genuine local community support at this stage for foundation trust status beyond a handful of very ambitious NHS managers?

We will do precisely that. To continue the conversation that my hon. Friend and I had in the Health Committee a week or so ago, it will be extremely important, when I assess the proposals that come forward from NHS trusts that want to become NHS foundation trusts, that they genuinely demonstrate that they have support, not just in the local hospital but in the local community, too. That will be important because, ultimately, those hospitals will become owned and controlled by the local community. I want to ensure that as wide a range of stakeholders, and as many people in the local community and among local staff as possible, are involved in this process from the outset.

In the Prime Minister's speech and subsequent article, "Where the Third Way Goes from Here", he says that we must

"set the parameters for the future partnerships we will need between tax-funding and personal contributions".
Does that mean that in foundation hospitals and elsewhere in the NHS, the Government are considering co-payment?

How very interesting, because in the next paragraph of the article, the Prime Minister says:

"We should be opening up healthcare for example to a mixed economy … and be willing to experiment with new forms of co-payment in the public sector."
Does that not entirely torpedo what the Secretary of State has just said?

No, because, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have read the whole article, not one section of it, and what the Prime Minister was clearly talking about was our proposals in relation to tuition fees. It is the hon. Gentleman who is making proposals for co-payment. Just this weekend, he went out of his way to suggest that the future of Conservative party policy on health care is clear. He wants

"a pay-as-you-go market where patients pay for a single procedure or item of care"
. That may be the Conservative policy for the future of health care. It is not Labour's policy.

School Pupils

8.

When he last met the Secretary of State for Education and Skills to discuss the health of school pupils. [103200]

My right hon. Friends the Secretary for State for Health and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills last met on 12 March 2003 and discussed a range of issues about the health, social care and education of children. They propose to meet regularly to continue their discussions on these issues.

Will the Minister accept that obesity among school pupils is now running at record levels and increasing year by year? Does she accept that a major reason for that is 20 years of attacks by the educational establishment on physical education and sport in schools, with the result that today's young people are less fit than their parents and grandparents were at their age? Unless urgent action is taken to make young people fitter and healthier, they will have serious mobility, breathing and heart problems at a much earlier age, which will put an extra major pressure on the national health service.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concerns, which is why physical activity is a crucial factor in the NHS plan, the cancer plan and the coronary heart disease and diabetes national service frameworks. It is also why we are working closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on its £459 million programme to enhance school sport and club links. The New Opportunities Fund programme is providing £581 million to enhance school sports facilities. The issue is extremely important for the Department of Health because obesity leads to perhaps 9,000 premature deaths in this country every year.

Will my hon. Friend take more action with the Department for Education and Skills? Does she remember that my Committee, the Select Committee on Education and Skills, examined school meals only two years ago? We made some strong recommendations because it is a catastrophic situation when our children's diet and lack of exercise causes such concern. The re are action points and we have done a lot of the work, but instead of merely discussing the problem, will the Minister meet her opposite number in the DFES to produce an action programme?

I assure my hon. Friend that regular meetings are held between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health—that really is joined-up government. He will be aware of the food-in-schools programme. We are rolling out the national school fruit scheme so that by the end of the year, about 1 million children will receive a free piece of fruit in school every day. It is a high priority to extend the healthy schools programme to school meals, tuck shops and vending machines, and to ensure that fresh water is available in schools.

It could be said that many school children are the equivalent of couch potatoes, which hints at a lack of exercise and obesity. However, there is activity on the equivalent of the couch because the level of sexually transmitted diseases is rising at almost epidemic proportions among under-age children in certain areas of the country. It is said that there are not adequate resources to deal with the problem. Will the Minister comment on that?

The hon. Lady will know that this country has a sexual health strategy for the first time. That is backed up by £47 million of extra investment and £5 million has been invested this year in genito-urinary services to try to halt the rise of disease and to ensure that people with sexually transmitted infections receive swift treatment. She will also know about the major media campaign that was launched to try to persuade young people to change their behaviour and adopt safe-sex practices in future. That is an attempt to halt the rise of infections such as chlamydia, which are of great concern to many people in this country.

My hon. Friend is right to point out the extra investment in schools, and especially the money for school sports co-ordinators. Is she aware that, in reality, many people who did sport at school drop it after they reach 16 or 17? Obesity costs the country, and especially the health service, £2 billion. Will she ensure that her Department plays its part with Sport England, lottery money and the Department for Education and Skills to invest in the long-term future of our people by ensuring that we reduce people's obesity not only when they are at school, but throughout their lives?

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I am delighted to tell him that the Department of Health will fund nine local exercise action pilots—LEAP projects—to encourage more forms of exercise among groups ranging from older people to young parents to schoolchildren. We realise that enabling people to access sport and physical activity throughout their whole lives is key to ensuring that we reduce levels of coronary heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes.

Endometriosis

9.

What progress has been made with the establishment of centres of excellence for the treatment of endometriosis. [103201]

The Government recognise that endometriosis affects the lives of many women and their families. Some specialist clinics treating advanced endometriosis have developed locally in response to need. Officials in my Department have discussed centres of excellence with the National Endometriosis Society and other organisations, and will continue working with them to see whether further work is appropriate.

Does the Minister accept that much more is needed? What encouragement can she give to women and their families who experience long delays in diagnosis and in appropriate treatment once the diagnosis has been made?

The hon. Lady plays an important part in the all-party group on endometriosis. As she points out, it is important that endometriosis should be diagnosed early, allowing treatment with some of the less radical approaches. That is why the pilot scheme for the national electronic library for health and a virtual branch library under that will include a section on women's reproductive health. We shall ensure that endometriosis is covered in that so that general practitioners, the first and very important point at which women can be diagnosed and then referred if necessary, have the necessary information in order to be able to carry out their work.

Junior Doctors

10.

What assessment he has made of the impact on medical staffing in acute hospitals of extending the working time directive to junior doctors. [103202]

The Department of Health has issued guidance, with the support of the medical royal colleges, that sets out a range of solutions that will enable NHS trusts to meet their statutory obligations under the working time directive. That is being supported through a programme of pilots, a strategic support fund and the increases in staff and resources announced in the NHS plan.

Does the Minister recall that the Royal College of Physicians has warned that implementation of the working time directive in August next year will lead to

"a substantial risk to the safety of many hospital in-patients"
?

Can he comment in particular on the fact that his Department's own pilot study suggests that smaller hospitals, those with six specialist registrars or fewer, will really struggle? Can he now give the House a pledge that if there turns out to be a conflict between the working time directive and acute care in acute hospitals, it will be the patients who are put first?

Of course that must be right, and I can certainly confirm that, and of course I am aware of the views of the Royal College of Physicians, which we take seriously. It welcomed the guidance that we issued earlier in the year and we continue to discuss its concerns with it and how we can construct the right solutions. But it is possible, working with the pilots that we have announced for the 19 trusts that are devising the cost-effective solutions to the problems that the working time directive undoubtedly poses, that we can construct effective solutions that put the patient first. It is in everyone's interests to do that, and I think that we shall be able to do precisely that. [Interruption.]

Order. There is too much conversation going on. These questions are important and we should be able to hear the answers.

Is the Minister aware that while we all welcome the reduction in junior doctor's hours, some junior doctors fear that the quality and length of their training and experience may be compromised, along with continuity of care?

Yes, I am aware of that concern. The hon. Gentleman takes a close interests in these matters and I hope that he will have seen my recent announcement about how we intend to reform medical postgraduate training in order to avoid precisely that issue. We need a more structured senior house officer training programme and that is what will come through from the foundation programme that we shall be introducing. That work is being led by the chief medical officer, who I know takes such concerns seriously, and has made it clear, as we have, that the most important thing that we must do in the circumstances is to ensure that we preserve the quality of medical training in Britain, which most people, fairly, reasonably and rightly, regard as among the best in the world.

When will that programme start and how long will it take before it is working? As additional consultants were appointed to try to relieve the pressures on junior doctors in the past, have we not succeeded?

The reforms I mentioned to postgraduate medical education will start later this year, and I hope that we will be in a position to introduce them more widely from 2004. We are doing that in full consultation with all the devolved Administrations and with the support of the chief medical officers in all four nations of the United Kingdom.

The Minister has singularly failed to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). Does he agree with the Royal College of Physicians that implementation of the European directive by August 2004 will be difficult or even impossible and that the level of out-of-hours medical cover in many hospitals is already worryingly thin, posing a direct and alarming threat to safe levels of patient care? Given that the number of doctors enrolling in the past five years has been worryingly low—about 350, when the Minister estimates that 7,000 to 10,000 are needed to comply with the directive—is he now prepared to put British patients' interests first by delaying implementation, or does he expect doctors to deal with even more patients in fewer hours and risk many of our hospitals collapsing, or will patients simply have to wait even longer?

I did answer his hon. Friend; the problem is that usually he does not like the answers that I give.

We ought to be clear. The idea that we should delay implementation of the working time directive is ridiculous—that is not going to happen. No, I do not agree with the Royal College of Physicians' assessment. We have published guidance setting out how the NHS can reach compliance and how we will do that, and we are backing that with significant additional investment, which will be important. The hon. Gentleman, like the rest of his rag-tag army of clapped-out, failed Front-Bench spokesmen, has absolutely no strategy other than the usual parade of doom and gloom and cutbacks in NHS spending, which will make it impossible to do what he says we should be doing.

Nhs Dentists

12.

What progress he has made in establishing the commissioning of NHS dentistry by primary care trusts. [103204]

The Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill was introduced on Wednesday 12 March. It proposes that each primary care trust be given a duty to secure or provide primary dental services to the extent that it considers it reasonable to do so.

Does my hon. Friend accept that previous initiatives, such as investing in dentistry and locating an NHS dentist through NHS Direct, have run their course and still many adults cannot find a dentist who will accept them as an NHS patient? Does he agree that the day cannot come too quickly when PCTs commission services so that there is a full range of NHS dentistry services available? Will he consider taking interim action to ensure that NHS dental services are boosted now?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We were right to take short-term and medium-term steps to ensure that people had access to NHS dentistry through dental access centres and the NHS commitment scheme. It is now right to ensure that PCTs can commission for dentistry in their locality to meet local needs, and we have put the Bill before Parliament to do that. My hon. Friend campaigns for his constituents in Stafford, and his local PCT is keen to act in that respect.

Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister's promise that everyone would have access to an NHS dentist by September 2001? That promise was broken: fewer than half the people in this country have such access. Why was the Prime Minister's promise broken?

The hon. Gentleman asked me precisely the same question in January and today I will give him the same reply. The promise was not broken. People have access to a dentist through NHS Direct. Dentist registration numbers are up, as is the number of dentists. He will know that the number of people registered fell to 16 million under the Conservative Government, whereas it is now 23.5 million.

Is not access to NHS dentistry a particular problem in areas where the population is growing at a more rapid rate than the national average, as is true in some parts of the east midlands? Cannot some of the gaps in provision be filled by a more effective amalgam of action by the Department of Health, the British Dental Association and primary care trusts? Will my hon. Friend look into the particular problem in areas like mine?

My hon. Friend will be pleased that I am in dialogue with the British Dental Association, and we propose dental support teams to target access problems in specific areas. I will ensure that his area is considered, along with many others, to make sure that constituents get access to a dentist.

Child Mortality (Luton)

13.

What further measures he intends to take to tackle child mortality in Luton. [103205]

A range of health initiatives are already being undertaken in Luton to contribute towards reducing child mortality. I was pleased to be able to visit the Our House project in my hon. Friend's constituency, where health visitors, other health professionals and parents are working together to safeguard their children's health and futures. In addition, we are increasing funding to Luton teaching primary care trust significantly to help tackle inequalities, of which child mortality is a particularly important one.

As my hon. Friend is aware, Luton suffers from a high level of infant mortality: 6.5 per 1,000 births, as opposed to the UK-wide average of 5.5—a tragic indicator of health deprivation. Is she aware that in terms of funding, Luton primary care trust is one of the furthest from capitation? At the end of a three-year period, it will be one of the eight PCTs furthest away from capitation. Although we are extremely grateful for the additional funding that we have received for many health projects in our area, for our Government have committed themselves to improve health care—

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I know that she is keen to tackle health inequalities, so I am sure she welcomes the fact that Luton PCT will receive an increase of more than 32 per cent. over the next three years, of which a significant part is a rolling-over of the health inequalities adjustment. Although I recognise her point, the allocations policy will reduce the discrepancy between Luton's financial position and its distance from target. We believe that we have struck the right balance for the present allocation round, but we will consider the policy in the light of all the circumstances when we outline the next set of allocations.

Budget Deficits

14.

What recent advice he has given to (a) strategic health authorities and (b) local health economies on dealing with projected budget deficits. [103206]

All NHS organisations have been asked to plan for financial balance. We have asked strategic health authorities and their local health economies to work together to ensure that this is achieved. Primary care trusts have an important role to play in commissioning quality and affordable services from local trusts within the resources available.

Is part of the Minister's advice that the NHS locally should sack good chief executives or encourage them to resign when there is a deficit, like the £18 million deficit at the Oxford Radcliffe hospital, where David Highton, recognised as one of the best chief executives in the country, has resigned because he has been unable to achieve financial balance and meet the Government's targets because of the millions of pounds that he has had to spend on agency nurses to create the capacity that the hon. Lady's Government have failed to achieve in the Oxford area?

The hon. Gentleman knows that management issues are a matter for the local trust, not for Ministers. He also knows that because of our ambitions for the service, there are indeed pressures on many health economies throughout the country because of our need to increase capacity and give patients more access to the service. He knows that we have the biggest increase in investment that the NHS has ever known—a 7.5 per cent. real terms increase for the next five years. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the massive investment that there has been in his community in the form of the new trauma centre, an increase in prescribing budgets, an increase in money for coronary heart disease and a range of other services in his local area. [Interruption.] There are challenges for the PCTs to face, but the investment is without question the largest that the NHS has ever known.

Order. May I once again appeal to the House to be much quieter? I can hardly hear the questions and answers and it is unfair if hon. Members cannot hear what the Minister is saying or if the Minister cannot hear the questioner.

When we visited the Minister recently to talk to her about the deficit of the Kennet and North Wiltshire primary care trust, she expressed what can best be described as indifference to its indebtedness. That means that there is now a threat to the local hospitals in Malmesbury and Devizes, just outside my constituency. Does she regret that indifference and does she believe that there is anything that can she do about the issue? What will she do to save Malmesbury hospital?

I had an extremely constructive meeting, not with the hon. Gentleman, but with his colleague, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and the chairman and chief executive of the local primary care trust, who showed me that they were determined to ensure that they could improve services for that local community. They are under financial pressure, but they have had an extra £45 million of investment in their local health services. I say to him that the comments that he has made in his local press about my alleged remarks are entirely untrue and a travesty of the meeting that I held with him. I am always willing to help local Members of Parliament, but in this case, he has not shown the necessary support to his local health community.

Community Pharmacies

15.

If he will make a statement on the implications for his Department of the Office of Fair Trading report on community pharmacies. [103207]

We have so far received about 1,000 responses to the OFT report on community pharmacies. It is the Government's intention to respond to the report within the next few weeks. We are working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that our response properly reflects the interests of NHS patients in providing access and choice for improved local pharmacy services.

I fully support the viion of my hon. Friend's Department for the future role and development of community pharmacies, but can I tell him that the OFT's recommendations on scrapping control of entry regulations threaten to drive a coach and horses through his Department's policy? I represent an area of small towns with high chronic illness and low car ownership. Those towns have already lost banks and post offices. May I urge him to ask his DTI colleagues to reject the OFT's recommendations?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that one cannot go through the Lobby as Minister with responsibility for pharmacy services at the moment without being lobbied by almost every MP about this important issue. That is a testimony to the work that community pharmacies do in all our areas. They provide valuable services in deprived communities and rural and suburban communities alike. It is right that we consider the proposals against our wider policy objectives in the Department of Health for community pharmacies.

Is the Minister not aware that, as things stand, he will be known as the man who shut down the rural pharmacies? Something should be done about that. Would he not be much better off ensuring that pharmacies in the countryside provide a range of complementary therapies?

What would shut down the pharmacies is a 20 per cent. cut across the board. We have 90 days to consider the report and we are doing so very carefully.

Free Fruit Scheme

16.

If he will make a statement on the operation of he free fruit scheme in schools. [103208]

We are committed to introducing a national school fruit scheme that will entitle four to six-year-olds to free fruit daily from 2004. The scheme is currently being rolled out region by region with funding from the New Opportunities Fund. By July, the scheme will be reaching about 1 million children.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When I was an Agriculture Minister, I helped to launch the scheme and was delighted by the enthusiasm for it in some inner-city schools. Given that the House is so full, I am glad that so many people are present to hear me express my hope that the scheme will be extended to Gateshead, Sunderland and the north-east as soon as possible.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the scheme is hugely popular. About 88 per cent. of eligible schools have already taken it up and we are looking to roll it out to other regions over the next few school terms. I have visited school fruit projects in Newham and Runcorn, where children have hugely welcomed the apples, pears, bananas and oranges that they are getting every day. The scheme is making a real impact not only on their health, but on the curriculum. We are using it as a way of engaging children in improving their health and nutrition, and extending to their families ideas about getting school fruit, a healthy diet and the best possible start in life—something that should be available to all our children.

Nhs Dentists

17.

If he will make a statement on the availability of NHS dentistry in the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. [103209]

The Government are aware that the Northumberland care trust has been concerned about access to NHS dentistry in Berwick-upon-Tweed. As a result, we have recently approved funding for the trust to appoint a part-time salaried dental practitioner to work in Berwick royal infirmary. That will address the issues in the short term while longer-term solutions are considered.

While that appointment has yet to be filled and there are no vacancies in NHS dental practices in the area, what can the Under-Secretary say to my constituents who have been told that the only way in which to get NHS dental treatment is to travel 65 miles to the Newcastle dental hospital?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents to support the Bill, which is currently being considered, and will give primary care trusts the leverage to ensure local commissioning. I am in discussion with the British Dental Association to ensure that we have dental support teams in areas where access is a specific problem.

Pensioner Trustees And Final Payments

12.31 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give pensioner members of occupational pension schemes the statutory right to be member-nominated trustees of such schemes, and to guarantee the final payments of such schemes; and for connected purposes.
Given the seriousness of the occasion, I shall try to be as brief as possible.

It is the second time that I have introduced a pensioner trustees Bill. Many hon. Members will remember the mis-selling of occupational pensions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many people lost out and did not get the pension that they expected. The previous Government encouraged people to join such schemes.

Many occupational pension benefits are reduced for retired members who have no say. Recently, the Rolls-Royce retired members' committee organised a meeting in Coventry at which 400 retired members turned up. That shows the seriousness of the issue; it is always difficult to get more than 10 people to attend a public meeting.

Major companies now end final payment schemes without consultation, and there is a problem with pension scheme deficits. Companies such as Rolls-Royce have schemes that are more than £1 billion in the red. GlaxoSmithKline has a potential deficit of £1.3 billion.

A company can wind up its pension scheme even if it has no financial difficulties. Occupational pensions formed part of the wage settlement in the past, especially in the 1970s, as I am sure that many hon. Members remember. A clawback clause provided for offsetting an occupational pension to take account of a state pension.

My Bill would provide for the presence of one retired members' representative on any pensions board to represent the interests of retired members. The retired member trustee, representing those with occupational pensions, would have the same rights as other trustees. He or she will be required to act in the interests of all members of the scheme.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jim Cunningham, Ms Debra Shipley, Mr. Stephen McCabe, Mr. Bill Olner, Andy King and Mr. Lindsay Hoyle.

Pensioner Trustees And Final Payments

Mr. Jim Cunningham accordingly presented a Bill to give pensioner members of occupational pension schemes the statutory right to be member-nominated trustees of such schemes, and to guarantee the final payments of such schemes; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 13 June 2003, and to be printed [Bill 77].

Iraq

[Relevant document: The Fourth Report from the International Development Committee, on Preparing for the humanitarian consequences of possible military action against Iraq (HC444-I).]

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

12.35 pm

I beg to move,

That this House notes its decisions of 25th November 2002 and 26th February 2003 to endorse UN Security Council Resolution 1441; recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security; notes that in the 130 days since Resolution 1441 was adopted Iraq has not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors, and has rejected the final opportunity to comply and is in further material breach of its obligations under successive mandatory UN Security Council Resolutions; regrets that despite sustained diplomatic effort by Her Majesty's Government it has not proved possible to secure a second Resolution in the UN because one Permanent Member of the Security Council made plain in public its intention to use its veto whatever the circumstances; notes the opinion of the Attorney General that, Iraq having failed to comply and Iraq being at the time of Resolution 1441 and continuing to be in material breach, the authority to use force under Resolution 678 has revived and so continues today; believes that the United Kingdom must uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it, and therefore supports the decision of Her Majesty's Government that the United Kingdom should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; offers wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty's Armed Forces now on duty in the Middle East; in the event of military operations requires that, on an urgent basis, the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council Resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of UN sanctions, an international reconstruction programme, and the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq, leading to a representative government which upholds human rights and the rule of law for all Iraqis; and also welcomes the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and for the wider Middle East region, and endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine.
At the outset, I say that it is right that the House debate this issue and pass judgment. That is the democracy that is our right, but that others struggle for in vain. Again, I say that I do not disrespect the views in opposition to mine. This is a tough choice indeed, but it is also a stark one: to stand British troops down now and turn back, or to hold firm to the course that we have set. I believe passionately that we must hold firm to that course. The question most often posed is not "Why does it matter?" but "Why does it matter so much?" Here we are, the Government, with their most serious test, their majority at risk, the first Cabinet resignation over an issue of policy, the main parties internally divided, people who agree on everything else—[Hon. Members: "The main parties?"] Ah, yes, of course. The Liberal Democrats—unified, as ever, in opportunism and error. [Interruption.]

The country and the Parliament reflect each other. This is a debate that, as time has gone on, has become less bitter but no less grave. So why does it matter so much? Because the outcome of this issue will now determine more than the fate of the Iraqi regime and more than the future of the Iraqi people who have been brutalised by Saddam for so long, important though those issues are. It will determine the way in which Britain and the world confront the central security threat of the 21st century, the development of the United Nations, the relationship between Europe and the United States, the relations within the European Union and the way in which the United States engages with the rest of the world. So it could hardly be more important. It will determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation.

First, let us recap the history of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. In April 1991, after the Gulf war, Iraq was given 15 days to provide a full and final declaration of all its weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had used the weapons against Iran and against his own people, causing thousands of deaths. He had had plans to use them against allied forces. It became clear, after the Gulf war, that Iraq's WMD ambition; were far more extensive than had hitherto been thought. So the issue was identified by the United Nations at that time as one for urgent remedy. UNSCOM, the weapons inspection team, was set up. It was expected to complete its task, following the declaration, at the end of April 1991. The declaration, when it came, was false: a blanket denial of the programme, other than in a very tentative form. And so the 12-year game began.

The inspectors probed. Finally, in March 1992, Iraq admitted that it had previously undeclared weapons of mass destruction, but it said that it had destroyed them. It gave another full and final declaration. Again the inspectors probed. In October 1994. Iraq stopped co-operating with the weapons inspectors altogether. Military action was threatened. Inspections resumed. In March 1996, in an effort to rid Iraq of the inspectors, a further full and final declaration of WMD was made. By July 1996, however, Iraq was forced to admit that declaration, too, was false.

In August, it provided yet another full and final declaration. Then, a week later, Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said that Iraq had, weaponised the programme—something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.

Kamal also revealed Iraq's crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in the 1990s. Iraq was then forced to release documents that showed just how extensive those programmes were. In November 1996, Jordan intercepted prohibited components for missiles that could be used for weapons of mass destruction. Then a further "full and final declaration" was made. That, too, turned out to be false.

In June 1997, inspectors were barred from specific sites. In September 1997, lo and behold, yet another "full and final declaration" was made—also false. Meanwhile, the inspectors discovered VX nerve agent production equipment, the existence of which had always been denied by the Iraqis.

In October 1997, the United States and the United Kingdom threatened military action if Iraq refused to comply with the inspectors. Finally, under threat of action in February 1998, Kofi Annan went to Baghdad and negotiated a memorandum with Saddam to allow inspections to continue. They did continue, for a few months. In August, co-operation was suspended.

In December, the inspectors left. Their final report is a withering indictment of Saddam's lies, deception and obstruction, with large quantities of weapons of mass destruction unaccounted for. Then, in December 1998, the US and the UK undertook Desert Fox, a targeted bombing campaign to degrade as much of the Iraqi WMD facility as we could.

In 1999, a new inspection team, UNMOVIC, was set up. Saddam refused to allow those inspectors even to enter Iraq. So there they stayed, in limbo, until, after resolution 1441 last November, they were allowed to return.

That is the history—and what is the claim of Saddam today? Why, exactly the same as before: that he has no weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, we are asked to believe that after seven years of obstruction and non-compliance, finally resulting in the inspectors' leaving in 1998—seven years in which he hid his programme and built it up, even when the inspectors were there in Iraq—when they had left, he voluntarily decided to do what he had consistently refused to do under coercion.

When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years—contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence—Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.

Resolution 1441 is very clear. It lays down a final opportunity for Saddam to disarm. It rehearses the fact that he has for years been in material breach of 17 UN resolutions. It says that this time compliance must be full, unconditional and immediate, the first step being a full and final declaration of all weapons of mass destruction to be given on 8 December last year.

I will not go through all the events since then, as the House is familiar with them, but this much is accepted by all members of the UN Security Council: the 8 December declaration is false. That in itself, incidentally, is a material breach. Iraq has taken some steps in co-operation, but no one disputes that it is not fully co-operating. Iraq continues to deny that it has any weapons of mass destruction, although no serious intelligence service anywhere in the world believes it.

On 7 March, the inspectors published a remarkable document. It is 173 pages long, and details all the unanswered questions about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It lists 29 different areas in which the inspectors have been unable to obtain information. On VX, for example, it says:
"Documentation available to UNMOVIC suggests that Iraq at least had had far reaching plans to weaponise VX"
. On mustard gas, it says:
"Mustard constituted an important part … of Iraq's CW arsenal … 550 mustard filled shells and up to 450 mustard filled aerial bombs unaccounted for … additional uncertainty"
with respect to over 6,500 aerial bombs,
"corresponding to approximately 1,000 tonnes of agent, predominantly mustard."
On biological weapons, the inspectors' report states:
"Based on unaccounted for growth media, Iraq's potential production of anthrax could have been in the range of about 15,000 to 25,000 litres … Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist."
On that basis, I simply say to the House that, had we meant what we said in resolution 1441, the Security Council should have convened and condemned Iraq as in material breach. What is perfectly clear is that Saddam is playing the same old games in the same old way. Yes, there are minor concessions, but there has been no fundamental change of heart or mind.

However, after 7 March, the inspectors said that there was at least some co-operation, and the world rightly hesitated over war. Let me now describe to the House what then took place.

We therefore approached a second resolution in this way. As I said, we could have asked for the second resolution then and there, because it was justified. Instead, we laid down an ultimatum calling upon Saddam to come into line with resolution 1441, or be in material breach. That is not an unreasonable proposition, given the history, but still countries hesitated. They asked, "How do we judge what is full co-operation?"

So we then worked on a further compromise. We consulted the inspectors and drew up five tests, based on the document that they published on 7 March. Those tests included allowing interviews with 30 scientists to be held outside Iraq, and releasing details of the production of the anthrax, or at least of the documentation showing what had happened to it. The inspectors added another test: that Saddam should publicly call on Iraqis to co-operate with them.

So we constructed this framework: that Saddam should be given a specified time to fulfil all six tests to show full co-operation; and that, if he did so, the inspectors could then set out a forward work programme that would extend over a period of time to make sure that disarmament happened. However, if Saddam failed to meet those tests to judge compliance, action would follow.

So there were clear benchmarks, plus a clear ultimatum. Again, I defy anyone to describe that as an unreasonable proposition.

Last Monday, we were getting very close with it. We very nearly had the majority agreement. If I might, I should particularly like to thank the President of Chile for the constructive way in which he approached this issue.

Yes, there were debates about the length of the ultimatum, but the basic construct was gathering support. Then, on Monday night, France said that it would veto a second resolution, whatever the circumstances. Then France denounced the six tests. Later that day, Iraq rejected them. Still, we continued to negotiate, even at that point.

Last Friday, France said that it could not accept any resolution with an ultimatum in it. On Monday, we made final efforts to secure agreement. However, the fact is that France remains utterly opposed to anything that lays down an ultimatum authorising action in the event of non-compliance by Saddam.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I took the view that Britain should not engage in military action without a second resolution, but the decision of some members of the Security Council to back away from the commitment that they gave in November to enforce resolution 1441 has made me change my mind. Does my right hon. Friend agree that France's decision to use the veto against any further Security Council resolution has, in effect, disarmed the UN instead of disarming Iraq?

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. The House should just consider the position that we were asked to adopt. Those on the Security Council opposed to us say that they want Saddam to disarm, but they will not countenance any new resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance. That is their position—no to any ultimatum and no to any resolution that stipulates that failure to comply will lead to military action. So we must demand that Saddam disarms, but relinquish any concept of a threat if he does not.

From December 1998 to December 2002, no UN inspector was allowed to inspect anything in Iraq. For four years, no inspection took place. What changed Saddam's mind was the threat of force. From December to January, and then from January through to February, some concessions were made. What changed his mind? It was the threat of force. What makes him now issue invitations to the inspectors, discover documents that he said he never had, produce evidence of weapons supposed to be non-existent, and destroy missiles he said he would keep? It is the imminence of force. The only persuasive power to which he responds is 250,000 allied troops on his doorstep. However, when that fact is so obvious, we are told that any resolution that authorises force in the event of non-compliance will be vetoed—not just opposed, but vetoed and blocked.

If it is the case, as the Government continually say, that the French position was so uniquely influential, why did not the Government and the United States pursue the second resolution, which—if the Government have given us a true reflection of the Security Council's position—would show that the French were isolated?

For the very reason that I have just given. If a member of the permanent five indicates to members of the Security Council who are not permanent members that whatever the circumstances it will veto, that is the way to block any progress on the Security Council. [Interruption.] With the greatest respect to whoever shouted out that the presence of the troops is working, I agree, but it is British and American troops who are there, not French troops.

The tragedy is that had such a resolution ensued and had the UN come together and united—and if other troops had gone there, not just British and American troops—Saddam Hussein might have complied. But the moment we proposed the benchmarks and canvassed support for an ultimatum, there was an immediate recourse to the language of the veto. The choice was not action now or postponement of action; the choice was action or no action at all.

What does the Prime Minister mean by an "unreasonable veto"? Were the 30 occasions on which the UK has used the veto and the 75 occasions on which the US has used the veto reasonable or unreasonable?

We can argue about each one of those vetoes in the past and whether they were reasonable, but I define an unreasonable veto as follows. In resolution 1441, we said that it was Saddam's final opportunity and that he had to comply. That was agreed by all members of the Security Council. What is surely unreasonable is for a country to come forward now, at the very point when we might reach agreement and when we are—not unreasonably—saying that he must comply with the UN, after all these months without full compliance, on the basis of the six tests or action will follow. For that country to say that it will veto such a resolution in all circumstances is what I would call unreasonable.

The tragedy is that the world has to learn the lesson all over again that weakness in the face of a threat from a tyrant is the surest way not to peace, but—unfortunately—to conflict. Looking back over those 12 years, the truth is that we have been victims of our own desire to placate the implacable, to persuade towards reason the utterly unreasonable, and to hope that there was some genuine intent to do good in a regime whose mind is in fact evil.

Now the very length of time counts against us. People say, "You've waited 12 years, so why not wait a little longer?" Of course we have done so, because resolution 1441 gave a final opportunity. As I have just pointed out, the first test was on 8 December. But still we waited. We waited for the inspectors' reports. We waited as each concession was tossed to us to whet our appetite for hope and further waiting. But still no one, not even today at the Security Council, says that Saddam is co-operating fully, unconditionally or immediately.

The Prime Minister will carry the House with him in describing the evil of Saddam Hussein and the effectiveness of the threat of force. Can he therefore explain why the diplomacy that has not so far succeeded—not through lack of his effort—should not be continued for a little longer, so that agreement could be reached between all permanent members of the Security Council? Then if force had to be used, it could be backed with the authority of the UN, instead of undermining the UN.

We could have had more time if the compromise proposal that we put forward had been accepted. I take it from what the hon. Gentleman has just said that he would accept that the compromise proposal we put forward was indeed reasonable. We set out the tests. If Saddam meets those tests, we extend the work programme of the inspectors. If he does not meet those tests, we take action. I think that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that unless the threat of action was made, it was unlikely that Saddam would meet the tests.

The hon. Gentleman nods his head, but the problem with the diplomacy was that it came to an end after the position of France was made public—and repeated in a private conversation—and it said that it would block, by veto, any resolution that contained an ultimatum. We could carry on discussing it for a long time, but the French were not prepared to change their position. I am not prepared to carry on waiting and delaying, with our troops in place in difficult circumstances, when that country has made it clear that it has a fixed position and will not change. I would have hoped that, rather than condemn us for not waiting even longer, the hon. Gentleman would condemn those who laid down the veto.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a criticism can be made of all the countries that make up the Security Council because it has taken 12 years to reach this point? Why was action not taken earlier? The delay and frustration has only encouraged the Iraqi dictator to act as he has, and there is no justification for further delay.

I truly believe that our fault has not been impatience. The truth is that our patience should have been exhausted weeks and months and even years ago.

The Prime Minister says that the French have changed position, but surely the French, Russians and Chinese always made it clear that they would oppose a second resolution that led automatically to war. [Interruption.] Well they publicised that view at the time of resolution 1441. Is it not the Prime Minister who has changed his position? A month ago, he said that the only circumstances in which he would go to war without a second resolution was if the inspectors concluded that there had been no more progress, which they have not; if there were a majority on the Security Council, which there is not; and if there were an unreasonable veto from one country, but there are three permanent members opposed to the Prime Minister's policy. When did he change his position, and why?

First, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong about the position on resolution 1441. It is correct that resolution 1441 did not say that there would be another resolution authorising the use of force, but the implication of resolution 1441—it was stated in terms—was that if Iraq continued in material breach, defined as not co-operating fully, immediately and unconditionally, serious consequences should follow. All we are asking for in the second resolution is the clear ultimatum that if Saddam continues to fail to co-operate, force should be used. The French position is that France will vote no, whatever the circumstances. Those are not my words, but those of the French President. I find it sad that at this point in time he cannot support us in the position we have set out, which is the only sure way to disarm Saddam. And what, indeed, would any tyrannical regime possessing weapons of mass destruction think when viewing the history of the world's diplomatic dance with Saddam over these 12 years? That our capacity to pass firm resolutions has only been matched by our feebleness in implementing them. That is why this indulgence has to stop—because it is dangerous: dangerous if such regimes disbelieve us; dangerous if they think they can use our weakness, our hesitation, and even the natural urges of our democracy towards peace against us; and dangerous because one day they will mistake our innate revulsion against war for permanent incapacity, when, in fact, if pushed to the limit, we will act. But when we act, after years of pretence, the action will have to be harder, bigger, more total in its impact. It is true that Iraq is not the only country with weapons of mass destruction, but I say this to the House: back away from this confrontation now, and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating in their effects.

Of course, in a sense, any fair observer does not really dispute that Iraq is in breach of resolution 1441 or that it implies action in such circumstances. The real problem is that, underneath, people dispute that Iraq is a threat, dispute the link between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and dispute, in other words, the whole basis of our assertion that the two together constitute a fundamental assault on our way of life.

There are glib and sometimes foolish comparisons with the 1930s. I am not suggesting for a moment that anyone here is an appeaser or does not share our revulsion at the regime of Saddam. However, there is one relevant point of analogy. It is that, with history, we know what happened. We can look back and say, "There's the time; that was the moment; that's when we should have acted." However, the point is that it was not clear at the time—not at that moment. In fact, at that time, many people thought such a fear fanciful or, worse, that it was put forward in bad faith by warmongers. Let me read one thing from an editorial from a paper that I am pleased to say takes a different position today. It was written in late 1938 after Munich. One would have thought from the history books that people thought the world was tumultuous in its desire to act. This is what the editorial said:
"Be glad in your hearts. Give thanks to your God. People of Britain, your children are safe. Your husbands and your sons will not march to war. Peace is a victory for all mankind … And now let us go back to our own affairs. We have had enough of those menaces, conjured up … to confuse us."

Now, of course, should Hitler again appear in the same form, we would know what to do. But the point is that history does not declare the future to us plainly. Each time is different and the present must be judged without the benefit of hindsight. So let me explain to the House why I believe that the threat that we face today is so serious and why we must tackle it. The threat today is not that of the 1930s. It is not big powers going to war with each other. The ravages that fundamentalist ideology inflicted on the 20th century are memories. The cold war is over. Europe is at peace, if not always diplomatically. But the world is ever more interdependent. Stock markets and economies rise and fall together, confidence is the key to prosperity, and insecurity spreads like contagion. The key today is stability and order. The threat is chaos and disorder—and there are two begetters of chaos: tyrannical regimes with weapons of mass destruction and extreme terrorist groups who profess a perverted and false view of Islam.

Let me tell the House what I know. I know that there are some countries, or groups within countries, that are proliferating and trading in weapons of mass destruction—especially nuclear weapons technology. I know that there are companies, individuals, and some former scientists on nuclear weapons programmes, who are selling their equipment or expertise. I know that there are several countries—mostly dictatorships with highly repressive regimes—that are desperately trying to acquire chemical weapons, biological weapons or, in particular, nuclear weapons capability. Some of those countries are now a short time away from having a serviceable nuclear weapon. This activity is not diminishing. It is increasing.

We all know that there are terrorist groups now operating in most major countries. Just in the past two years, around 20 different nations have suffered serious terrorist outrages. Thousands of people—quite apart from 11 September—have died in them. The purpose of that terrorism is not just in the violent act; it is in producing terror. It sets out to inflame, to divide, and to produce consequences of a calamitous nature. Round the world, it now poisons the chances of political progress—in the middle east, in Kashmir, in Chechnya and in Africa. The removal of the Taliban—yes—dealt it a blow. But it has not gone away.

Those two threats have, of course, different motives and different origins, but they share one basic common view: they detest the freedom, democracy and tolerance that are the hallmarks of our way of life. At the moment, I accept fully that the association between the two is loose—but it is hardening. The possibility of the two coming together—of terrorist groups in possession of weapons of mass destruction or even of a so-called dirty radiological bomb—-is now, in my judgment, a real and present danger to Britain and its national security.

Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that thousands of scientists and civil servants in this country—hundreds of them my constituents at Porton Down—have been warning of those threats for some years and are hugely relieved that he and his Government are taking this seriously? They will support him, as will I.

What could be more calculated to act as a recruiting sergeant for a young generation throughout the Islamic and Arab world than putting 600 cruise missiles—or whatever it is—on to Baghdad and Iraq?

Let me deal with this point first. Let us recall: what was shocking about 11 September was not just the slaughter of innocent people but the knowledge that, had the terrorists been able, there would have been not 3,000 innocent dead, but 30,000 or 300,000—and the more the suffering, the greater their rejoicing. I say to my hon. Friend that America did not attack the al-Qaeda terrorist group; the al-Qaeda terrorist group attacked America. They did not need to be recruited; they were there already. Unless we take action against them, they will grow. That is why we should act.

Just give me a moment and then I will give way.

Let me explain the dangers. Three kilograms of VX from a rocket launcher would contaminate 0.25 sq km of a city. Millions of lethal doses are contained in one litre of anthrax, and 10,000 litres are unaccounted for. What happened on 11 September has changed the psychology of America—that is clear—but it should have changed the psychology of the world.

Of course, Iraq is not the only part of this threat. I have never said that it was. But it is the test of whether we treat the threat seriously. Faced with it, the world should unite. The UN should be the focus both of diplomacy and of action. That is what 1441 said. That was the deal. And I simply say to the House that to break it now, and to will the ends but not the means, would do more damage in the long term to the UN than any other single course that we could pursue. To fall back into the lassitude of the past 12 years; to talk, to discuss, to debate but never to act; to declare our will but not to enforce it; and to continue with strong language but with weak intentions—that is the worst course imaginable. If we pursue that course, when the threat returns, from Iraq or elsewhere, who will then believe us? What price our credibility with the next tyrant? It was interesting today that some of the strongest statements of support for allied forces came from near to North Korea—from Japan and South Korea.

The Prime Minister is making a powerful and compelling speech. Will he tell the House whether there has been any identification of the countries that have supplied these terrible biological materials—such as anthrax and toxins—to Iraq? Should those countries not be identified—named by the Prime Minister and condemned?

A moment ago my right hon. Friend said that the association between Iraq and terrorists is loose, yet last night President Bush told the American people that Iraq has aided, trained and harboured terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda. Was President Bush accurate in what he told the American people?

First, let me apologise to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). He was making a point in my favour and I failed to spot it.

Secondly, to my hon. Friend, yes, I do support what the President said. Do not be in any doubt at all—Iraq has been supporting terrorist groups. For example, Iraq is offering money to the families of suicide bombers whose purpose is to wreck any chance of progress in the middle east. Although I said that the associations were loose, they are hardening. I do believe that, and I believe that the two threats coming together are the dangers that we face in our world.

I also say this: there will be in any event no sound future for the United Nations—no guarantee against the repetition of these events—unless we recognise the urgent need for a political agenda that we can unite upon. What we have witnessed is indeed the consequence of Europe and the United States dividing from each other. Not all of Europe—Spain, Italy, Holland, Denmark and Portugal have strongly supported us—and not a majority of Europe if we include, as we should, Europe's new members who will accede next year, all 10 of whom have been in strong support of the position of this Government. But the paralysis of the UN has been born out of the division that there is.

I want to deal with that in this way. At the heart of that division is the concept of a world in which there are rival poles of power, with the US and its allies in one corner and France, Germany, Russia and their allies in the other. I do not believe that all those nations intend such an outcome, but that is what now faces us. I believe such a vision to be misguided and profoundly dangerous for our world. I know why it arises. There is resentment of US predominance. There is fear of US unilateralism. People ask, "Do the US listen to us and our preoccupations?" And there is perhaps a lack of full understanding of US preoccupations after 11 September. I know all this. But the way to deal with it is not rivalry, but partnership. Partners are not servants, but neither are they rivals. What Europe should have said last September to the United States is this: with one voice it should have said, "We understand your strategic anxiety over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and we will help you meet it. We will mean what we say in any UN resolution we pass and will back it with action if Saddam fails to disarm voluntarily. However, in return"—Europe should have said—"we ask two things of you: that the US should indeed choose the UN path and you should recognise the fundamental overriding importance of restarting the middle east peace process, which we will hold you to."

That would have been the right and responsible way for Europe and America to treat each other as partners, and it is a tragedy that it has not happened. I do not believe that there is any other issue with the same power to reunite the world community than progress on the issues of Israel and Palestine. Of course, there is cynicism about recent announcements, but the United States is now committed—and, I believe genuinely—to the road map for peace designed in consultation with the UN. It will now be presented to the parties as Abu Mazen is confirmed in office, hopefully today, as Palestinian Prime Minister. All of us are now signed up to this vision: a state of Israel, recognised and accepted by all the world, and a viable Palestinian state. That is what this country should strive for, and we will.

And that should be part of a larger global agenda: on poverty and sustainable development; on democracy and human rights; and on the good governance of nations.

In a moment.

That is why what happens after any conflict in Iraq is of such critical significance. Here again there is a chance to unify around the United Nations. There should be a new United Nations resolution following any conflict providing not only for humanitarian help, but for the administration and governance of Iraq. That must be done under proper UN authorisation.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, and I endorse very strongly what he said about the need for the road map of progress in the middle east. However, the problem is that there is a perception that we are engaged in a bilateral action with just the United States. Could he respond to my constituents and others who believe that, and point out how strong is the support for action at this moment to rid the Iraqi people of the oppressive Saddam regime?

I shall certainly do so. The UN resolution that should provide for the proper governance of Iraq should also protect totally the territorial integrity of Iraq. And this point is also important: that the oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN.

In a moment.

Let the future Government of Iraq be given the chance to begin the process of uniting the nation's disparate groups, on a democratic basis—

If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue for a moment, I shall come back to him.

The process must begin on a democratic basis, respecting human rights, as, indeed, the fledgling democracy in northern Iraq—protected from Saddam for 12 years by British and American pilots in the no-fly zone—has done remarkably. The moment that a new Government are in place, committed to disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, is the point in time when sanctions should be lifted, and can be lifted, in their entirety for the people of Iraq.

I thank the Prime Minister for giving way. Can he tell the House what guarantees he has had from the Turkish Government and the Turkish military that they will not use the opportunity of a war in the south to invade the northern part of Iraq and destroy the Kurdish autonomous region and the demands of Kurdish people for their own self-determination? There is a very serious fear that the Turkish army has always wanted to destroy any vestige of Kurdish autonomy.

Turkey has given that commitment. I have spoken to the Turkish Government, as have the President of the United States and many others. I have to say to my hon. Friend that it is clear from the conversations that I have had with people in that Kurdish autonomous zone that what they really fear above all else is the prospect of Saddam remaining in power, emboldened because we have failed to remove him.

I have never put the justification for action as regime change. We have to act within the terms set out in resolution 1441—that is our legal base. But it is the reason why I say frankly that if we do act, we should do so with a clear conscience and a strong heart. I accept fully that those who are opposed to this course of action share my detestation of Saddam. Who could not? Iraq is a potentially wealthy country which in 1979, the year before Saddam came to power, was richer than Portugal or Malaysia. Today it is impoverished, with 60 per cent. of its population dependent on food aid. Thousands of children die needlessly every year from lack of food and medicine. Four million people out of a population of just over 20 million are living in exile.

The brutality of the repression—the death and torture camps, the barbaric prisons for political opponents, the routine beatings for anyone or their families suspected of disloyalty—is well documented. Just last week, someone slandering Saddam was tied to a lamp post in a street in Baghdad, their tongue was cut out, and they were mutilated and left to bleed to death as a warning to others. I recall a few weeks ago talking to an Iraqi exile and saying to her that I understood how grim it must be under the lash of Saddam. "But you don't", she replied. "You cannot. You do not know what it is like to live in perpetual fear." And she is right. We take our freedom for granted. But imagine what it must be like not to be able to speak or discuss or debate or even question the society you live in. To see friends and family taken away and never daring to complain. To suffer the humility of failing courage in face of pitiless terror. That is how the Iraqi people live. Leave Saddam in place, and the blunt truth is that that is how they will continue to be forced to live.

We must face the consequences of the actions that we advocate. For those of us who support the course that I am advocating, that means all the dangers of war. But for others who are opposed to this course, it means—let us be clear—that for the Iraqi people, whose only true hope lies in the removal of Saddam, the darkness will simply close back over. They will be left under his rule, without any possibility of liberation—not from us, not from anyone.

In a moment. This is the choice before us. If this House now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning—this is what it means—what then? What will Saddam feel? He will feel strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states that tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, take from that? They will take it that the will confronting them is decaying and feeble. Who will celebrate and who will weep if we take our troops back from the Gulf now?

I am sorry. If our plea is for America to work with others, to be good as well as powerful allies, will our retreat make it multilateralist, or will it not rather be the biggest impulse to unilateralism that we could possibly imagine? What then of the United Nations, and of the future of Iraq and the middle east peace process, devoid of our influence and stripped of our insistence?

The House wanted this discussion before conflict. That was a legitimate demand. It has it, and these are the choices. In this dilemma, no choice is perfect, no choice is ideal, but on this decision hangs the fate of many things: of whether we summon the strength to recognise the global challenge of the 21st century, and meet it; of the Iraqi people, groaning under years of dictatorship; of our armed forces, brave men and women of whom we can feel proud, and whose morale is high and whose purpose is clear; of the institutions and alliances that will shape our world for years to come. To retreat now, I believe, would put at hazard all that we hold dearest. To turn the United Nations back into a talking shop; to stifle the first steps of progress in the middle east; to leave the Iraqi people to the mercy of events over which we would have relinquished all power to influence for the better; to tell our allies that at the very moment of action, at the very moment when they need our determination, Britain faltered: I will not be party to such a course.

This is not the time to falter. This is the time not just for this Government—or, indeed, for this Prime Minister—but for this House to give a lead: to show that we will stand up for what we know to be right; to show that we will confront the tyrannies and dictatorships and terrorists who put our way of life at risk; to show, at the moment of decision, that we have the courage to do the right thing.

1.23 pm

The House and the whole country rightly recognise that we are soon likely to be at war. It is a solemn moment in the life of our nation, and our first thoughts and prayers today must be with our troops and their families as they prepare for action. The Opposition recognise the heavy responsibility that the Prime Minister and the Government have to bear. I remind the House that the Prime Minister's decision comes at the end of 12 years of what was too often indecision by the international community.

I make it clear from the outset that the official Opposition will vote tonight in the same Lobby as the Government. In saying that, I recognise that there are honestly felt and genuinely carried differences of view on both sides of the House about further military action in Iraq. I respect those unreservedly, wherever they are held, and I recognise that they reflect strong differences of view that are felt throughout the country. However, given the differences and the difficulties that they have posed for the Government in general and for the Prime Minister in particular, I say frankly to the House that the official Opposition could somehow have sought to manoeuvre themselves into the No Lobby tonight. After all, we have argued consistently that Ministers have failed to convince the public of their case, and we have sought to hold the Government to account in the House for their mistakes. In particular, we have also pointed out the failures with regard to the humanitarian consequences of war. However, I believe that when the Government do the right thing by the British people, they deserve the support of the House, and particularly of the main Opposition.

Certain issues need to be taken head-on today. The idea that this action would become a recruiting sergeant for others to come to the colours of those who are "anti" any nation in the west is, I am afraid, nonsense. The biggest recruiting sergeant of all has been indecision, and the failure to take action to show that such resolve matters.

There are well-held views that I have respect for, but as I said, we could have sought a way to do something that would have damaged the Government. I understand that the Liberal Democrats will do just that tonight. They are, of course, entitled to their view, but I simply say this to them. One can argue that further military action by our armed forces would be illegal, or that it should be supported. But a political party surely cannot simultaneously argue that military action is illegal but should none the less be supported somehow. Yet that, we gather, is what the Liberal Democrats plan to put as their main case tonight. What is clear is that one cannot have it both ways; one has to make a decision and lead.

We are voting tonight in support of the motion not because we endorse every detail of the Prime Minister's handling of the matter, certainly not because we are eager for conflict—as the House knows, I served in the armed forces, and I have some knowledge of the horror of the aftermath of conflict—and not just because we want to show our support for our troops. That said, I believe firmly that, as the Prime Minister says, they are entitled to our full support today.

Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people. He poses a threat to the safety and stability of the middle east, and he is in complete breach of his obligations to the United Nations and to the international community. However, the main reason why we will be voting for the motion is that it is in the British national interest. Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to pose a direct threat to our national security. That is why we will be voting tonight to do the right thing by our troops and the British people.

I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, just as I was in the Prime Minister's speech. However, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, between 1986 and 1991, 12 early-day motions were tabled in this House calling for the abandonment of the supply of arms to Iraq and condemning what happened at Halabja, and that all the 60 Members who signed at least one of those motions—they included me—were Labour Members? Not a single Tory name was included. However, not even the Prime Minister signed any of them; indeed, only two members of the current Cabinet did so. Yet now they are most strident. I think that—

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case for supporting the Government's motion tonight, and I expect that he will be in the Lobby in support.

The Prime Minister rightly pointed out that Saddam Hussein has lied to the UN for 12 years. Even now, we do not know the full extent of his arsenal, or of his facilities to develop weapons. He has the means, and as has already been said, it should be evident to everyone that he remains in breach of the obligations under 1441. He has absolutely no intention whatsoever of relinquishing the weapons that he has developed: the remaining al-Samoud 2 missiles; the Scud-B warheads; the R-400 bombs; and the tonnes of VX, anthrax, Sarin, soman, botulinum toxin, mustard gas and other deadly weapons, viruses and agents identified by Hans Blix in his report, which I recommend that every Member of this House read before passing judgment.

Saddam Hussein has not only the means but the mentality. To date, his main victims have been his own people. The tale of his rule of lawlessness is a litany of horror. Dissident women are raped, children are tortured and prisoners are trapped in steel boxes until they confess or die. As we have heard, chemical weapons have been used against the Kurds, and Shi'a villages razed to the ground. As the Prime Minister said, when Saddam Hussein came to power, Iraq was a wealthy country: today, it is impoverished.

If that was not enough, Saddam Hussein is also the man who has waged war against Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Here in Britain, where we are at liberty to protest against any military action, we should recall—as the Prime Minister said—that such liberty does not exist for those who live in Iraq and whose tongues are ripped out if they dare to question Saddam Hussein.

When I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Kuwait, I also had the opportunity of talking to the families of 600 Kuwaiti prisoners of war, taken by Saddam Hussein at the time of the last Gulf war and still missing. I recall talking to one old man whose last sight of his son was when he was being taken away by Iraqi soldiers. He has never been returned. There is no documentary evidence of the existence of those 600 people. Inspection of the prisons is not allowed. At no time has Saddam Hussein agreed to independent inspectors telling their families what happened to them.

Some may say that 600 people do not matter in the great scheme of things, but the equivalent percentage in our population would mean that 60,000 British people were missing. How many Members would not consider that a matter of massive importance and a sign of the distinct distastefulness of that regime?

There is a huge and powerful argument to act. Saddam Hussein is in breach not only on weapons but also in personal terms for those who live and have to suffer under his regime. It is well worth meeting the dissidents and I advise all Members to do so. Their tales about what has happened to their families are harrowing. One man told me that he last saw his brother 18 years ago as he was being taken away for a minor traffic offence. His brother has never been seen again. I promise that no one will shed a tear over the departure of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam Hussein has the means and the mentality. He also has the motive. We in Britain helped to expel him from Kuwait. For more than 10 years, British forces have been enforcing the no-fly zones. We are a crucial part of the coalition that seeks to force UN resolutions upon his regime. The threat that his arsenal poses to British citizens at home and abroad cannot simply be contained. Whether in the hands of his regime or in the hands of the terrorists to whom he would give his weapons, they pose a clear danger to British citizens. To those who doubt that, I point out that only the other day Saddam said that he would strike anywhere,
"by land, sea or sky"
. Those who believe otherwise are living in cloud cuckoo land. The reality for them, as for others, is that Britain and its citizens are as much prime targets as anybody in the world.

As the Prime Minister said, Saddam's last hope lies in his ability to string along the international community for as long as possible. People who say that another month and a half would be all right and that it is only a small delay should realise that, in another month and a half, any military action will become nigh on impossible. The delay would not be for a month and a half but would have to last until the autumn, and in the meantime, Saddam's prevarications and games will split the international community and wreck the UN. The blame for further military action lies squarely in the hands of Saddam Hussein. It is his regime only that has made further military action necessary, yet, even now, he has the power to ensure that such action does not take place.

It would be wrong for us not to acknowledge the consequences of that military action. I am sad to say that the Iraqi people may have to suffer yet again, but I hope and believe that, in the decision that the Prime Minister has to take, the suffering of the Iraqi people will be short-lived and that the ultimate end will be peace and security in their country.

That is why the Opposition have constantly urged the Government to set out their plans for humanitarian assistance. Our view of the lack of preparedness was endorsed by the Select Committee on International Development, which warned last week of concern about the "lack of leadership" in co-ordinating the planning and preparation of the humanitarian response to possible military action. The Committee also recommended that the Department for International Development
"immediately issues a statement outlining its basic humanitarian contingency plans".
We welcome the written statement made last week by the Secretary of State for International Development, but it did not explain what is being done to improve co-ordination between the Ministry of Defence and DFID. It did not establish whether DFID would set up a mechanism to co-ordinate the UK humanitarian response. It did not set out what will replace the oil-for-food programme, which feeds up to 60 per cent. of the Iraqi population. It did not spell out DFID's plans in the event of Saddam Hussein unleashing any of his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons on his own people. Nor did it give details of how to cope with the flight of refugees. Those are pressing questions, as it is estimated that up to a million people may seek refuge on the borders. The questions need to be answered.

If those preparations are so ill advanced, why is the right hon. Gentleman so keen on going to war?

The hon. Gentleman betrays a certain ignorance. The reality is that we need to deal with Saddam Hussein regardless of those arrangements. We have rightly urged the Government that arrangements must be made and that there must be a way of dealing with the emergency requirements. I believe that that can take place and I hope that, in their response to the debate, the Government will explain how those matters will be dealt with in the course of events.

I will give way in a second.

We note the renewed commitment of the Secretary of State for International Development to her position, but we remind her of its current significance to the Iraqi people and that her recent detachment and indecision have done them and the House a disservice.

We also accept that the prospect of further military action against Iraq causes widespread anxiety among Muslims throughout the Islamic world and in Britain. It is vital to recall that the majority of Saddam Hussein's victims have been Muslims; their number stretches to the appalling figure of more than 1 million. Two Muslim countries—Iran and Kuwait—were invaded by Saddam and Muslim countries bordering Iraq would not mourn his passing.

If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about sentiments in the Muslim world, is he in favour of enforcing the outstanding resolutions on Kashmir?

Decisions on Kashmir have little to do with what is happening in this case. We want all UN resolutions to be enforced, but these circumstances are particular and peculiar. They relate to the UN resolution under chapter VII, which shows that Iraq is a direct threat to the United Nations and all who inhabit the countries around it. That is the point. It is intriguing that the hon. Gentleman and others hang on to those other resolutions as though that justifies taking no action in this case. It is right to act and we should deal with this matter right now.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to apologise to the Muslim world for supporting Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons against his people and killed 1 million Muslims?

I have never supported Saddam Hussein at any time when he has used any weapon, particularly not chemical weapons. What happened in Halabja was an outrage and should be condemned by everyone regardless of their views.

We remain committed to the right of Israel to exist behind secure and legally accepted borders, as the Prime Minister said, with binding guarantees of peace from its Arab neighbours, but hon. Members on both sides of the House are equally committed to the cessation of settlement activity and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the west bank. We are firmly of the view that Israel must withdraw from the occupied territories and believe that now is the time for the Government fully to embrace the process, as the Prime Minister laid it out.

There are welcome indications that the road map will be published soon, paving the way for a full and comprehensive settlement, and we realise that the Muslim world is looking to the implementation of that road map as a way forward that is coherent and consistent. It is imperative to all those committed to that road map now to prove their commitment to it during the months ahead, and I am assured that the Prime Minister will do just that.

The House knows that I have long held the view that Saddam Hussein is a threat to our national interest and that, if decisive action had been taken earlier, we would not now stand on the verge of war, but all that lies in the past, for we are entering the final phase of a 12-year history in relation to Iraq. The 17 resolutions passed since then have put Saddam Hussein under 27 separate obligations, and resolution 1441 gave him a final opportunity to meet those obligations or face the serious consequences named. More than 18 weeks have passed since he was given that final choice. More than 600 weeks have passed since he was given the first chance when the UN first entered Baghdad.

I acknowledge that other hon. Members oppose further military action and some have general doubts and concerns, but I genuinely urge them all to consider the consequences of turning back now. In turning back, we would widen splits in NATO, stir up isolationism in the United States and abandon our allies in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Australia and many countries in eastern Europe, where people know what it is like to live under tyranny and have supported the actions of the Prime Minister and others.

Above all, we would strip the UN of its authority, betray our own national interest and send an unmistakable signal to Saddam Hussein and every rogue state and terrorist group in the world that we lack the will to enforce just demands against those tyrannical regimes. That is the road that France would have us go down, and we must not take that road.

There are matters at stake that rise above party politics. It is the duty of the Government to act in the national interest, and it is the duty of the Opposition to support them when they do so. The Prime Minister is acting in the national interest today. That is why he is entitled to our support in doing the right thing. This is a critical moment for the House. If we vote to give Saddam yet another chance, the moment will pass, our concentration will falter, our energy and our focus will disperse and our nerve will fail, with disastrous consequences for us all.

We cannot funk this challenge and leave it for future generations. We cannot heap up the problems at their door and leave them to face the consequences. We must not deprive our troops of the support that they fully deserve from all quarters of the House. We must shoulder our responsibilities and seize that moment. If we give way now, our failure will be used as a club against us in years to come. We should stand firm, act and show that we have learned from past failures. For the sake of our security and that of the wider world, I urge the House to vote for the motion tonight.

Order. I will call a Back Bencher to move the amendment. I point out to the House that there is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches and that, on a day like this, it will not be appreciated if hon. Members approach the Chair—whether I or one of my Deputies is in the Chair—regarding when or whether they will speak. I call Peter Kilfoyle to move the amendment.

1.44 pm

I beg to move, To leave out from "1441" in line 2, to "in" in line 21 and insert—

"believes that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established, especially given the absence of specific United Nations authorisation; but, in the event that hostilities do commence, pledges its total support for the British forces engaged in the Middle East, expresses its admiration for their courage, skill and devotion to duty, and hopes that their tasks will be swiftly concluded with minimal casualties on all sides."
I hope to move the amendment without the rancour and personalisation that has sometimes characterised the debate on the fringes surrounding this issue because I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that this is one of those issues that come along once in a generation. Indeed, it is an issue that transcends many normal ties of party, friendship and even family because the outcomes of the decisions that will be taken here and elsewhere will be so tremendous. As the Prime Minister says, those decisions will set the tone for a very long time to come.

It would be remiss of me if I did not pick up a number of the points that the Prime Minister made in his speech if only to point out that he is rightly credited with being a man of conviction, but so are other right hon. and hon. Members, and with their convictions and their examination of the facts as opposed to the collection of assertions, value judgments and interpretations that seem to make up the Government's case, they seem to draw very different conclusions.

For example, the Prime Minister made much of events back in 1938. Of course, he said that he was not suggesting that anyone was an appeaser. The only person whom I have ever appeased in my life is Mrs. Kilfoyle—not very successfully, I hasten to add. The thing that struck me, of course, was that I do not recall that the League of Nations had inspectors in Germany dismantling the panzers in 1938, as we have inspectors dismantling the weapons in Iraq today.

The Prime Minister rightly made much of the dangers of terrorism, but does that not illustrate the idiocy of fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong enemy? We are having a 19th-century gunboat war in the Gulf when the real dangers of terrorism should be isolated and dealt with as the first priority. I accept the argument that those things run concurrently, but I do not accept the linkage that is often made. The Prime Minister said that the linkage is loose, but that it is hardening. He will have privileged information that we are not privy to, but nevertheless the one thing that I can guarantee will harden that linkage is the manifest failure to deal with the underlying causes that have given us the terrorism and the situation in Iraq in the first place.

I note the fact that the Government motion refers to the road map—a road map that was torpedoed within 24 hours by Prime Minister Sharon's insistence that he would not accept a Palestinian state.

No. I am sorry, but I have only eight minutes.

The fourth issue that struck me was the Prime Minister's comment that the US had a preoccupation after 9/11, which changed its world view. The US may have that preoccupation, but the Administration had set out their view long in advance of being an Administration. I refer the Prime Minister to the parliamentary record, which will show references to the letter written to President Clinton in 1998 by the Project for a New American Century in which it set out very clearly what its intentions were and urged President Clinton to mount an attack on Iraq.

Those of us who have put our names to the amendment have done so not with any sense of mischief making or because we do not recognise that those on the other side of the argument hold very sincere views, but because we are conscious of our interpretation of what is said. My own interpretation is that this act would be illegal, immoral and illogical. The Government will tell us that the selected evidence from the Attorney-General that has been published has satisfied the Government and ought to satisfy the House, but I prefer to take the views of the many eminent jurists who have reached very different conclusions. And yes, I also accept the view set out by Kofi Annan that the international community needed a second resolution. I am satisfied that, without that second resolution, we are getting into extremely dangerous ground and setting extremely dangerous precedents.

It is immoral because in waging this war—we should think about what the term awe and shock implies—the United States is aiming to put in 10 times as many missiles and precision bombs in the first 48 hours as it committed in the whole of the last Gulf war. That is against a country that has been decimated year after year. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, the fact is that an already destroyed, effectively third-world country will be further damaged. It seems to me grossly immoral to talk about the reconstruction of damage that one has wilfully caused.

It is illogical because, as I intimated a moment ago, we are going after the wrong enemy at the wrong time and in the wrong way. I do not believe that Saddam Hussein has been anything other than contained. I do not believe any assertion that is made without the evidence being provided that there are linkages between him and al-Qaeda. I do not believe that he has had the wherewithal, or would have it, to be able to attack the United Kingdom directly. There has been an awful lot of scaremongering that does not add to the Government's case.

I am conscious that I am running out of time. I have mentioned once before in the House the advice that was given by Archidamus to his Spartan allies. He said that slow and cautious may be seen as wise and sensible. Many years later, the Athenian superpower, in its impatience, found out that he was absolutely right: impatience had imperilled it and led to its destruction. I say earnestly and honestly to the Government: their impatience will reap a whirlwind, which will affect us and ours for generations to come. I urge hon. Members to support the amendment.

1.51 pm

Following the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), I acknowledge with thanks, through him, to the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and to all those concerned in all parties in this House, that an honest option has been discussed and agreed in a cross-party way. In the previous debate, the right hon. Gentleman made a powerful contribution to that cross-party basis, which needs to be heard and discussed rationally today.

Although it is sad that we have lost a very good Leader of the House, there is no doubt, having listened to his brilliant resignation statement in the House yesterday evening, that those of us who are supporting the cross-party amendment in the Lobby tonight, as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will do, have gained a powerful additional advocate for the case that we are sincerely making. Given the events of the past few days and the last few hours, there has been much understandable comment about the drama of the situation. In the next few hours and days, however, we are liable to see even more drama and trauma when what appears to be the inevitable military conflict against Iraq begins. Let us hope, as we all agree, that the conflict can be conducted as swiftly as possible, with the minimum of casualties: first and foremost, clearly, among our forces, but equally among innocent Iraqi civilians, with whom none of us has ever had any quarrel and who have suffered terribly under the despicable regime of Saddam Hussein.

As for those of us who remain unpersuaded as to the case at this time for war, and who have questioned whether British forces should be sent into a war without a further UN mandate having been achieved, there stands no contradiction—as the former Leader of the House and former Foreign Secretary put succinctly last night-between giving voice to that legitimate anxiety and, at the same time, as and when exchange of fire commences, looking to the rest of the country, and to all of us in the House, to give full moral support to our forces. They do not take the civilian political decision in relation to what they are being asked to do, but they must carry out that task in all our names. The shadow Leader of the House expressed that well last night, but, equally, Church leaders, who earlier expressed profound opposition to war in this way at this time, are making the same point. If, later tonight, at the conclusion of this debate, under the democratic procedures that we enjoy in this House, that is to be the decision, it is important that the whole House unites in that genuine support.

Can I therefore take it that if the amendment is lost the right hon. Gentleman will vote for the substantive motion?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but the answer is no. I will not do so because our consistent line is that we do not believe that a case for war has been established under these procedures in the absence of a second UN Security Council resolution. That is our position—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) should not make such a remark. She will withdraw it.

I will see you afterwards, Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] I assure the House that a Glaswegian Speaker knows whether that is said as a threat or affectionately.

The right hon. Gentleman failed to answer my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). Will he clear up an inconsistency? On the one hand, he said that he wanted to support the troops, while, on the other, he said that he would not support the main motion. He has a split in his party. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) has said that

"legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687."—[Official Report, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43.]
Lord Goodhart, however, has said that the existing resolutions on the Iraqi situation, particularly 1441, do not authorise armed intervention without a second resolution. Which position is that of the Liberal Democrats, and why do they travel across two separate positions?

First, my noble Friend Lord Goodhart spoke with great authority as an international lawyer in the House of Lords debate last night. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) spoke on that issue in September, before resolution 1441 was passed, and 1441 has moved the position on. I want to return to the issue of legality in a moment.

The Leader of the Conservative party chose to open his contribution with one or two remarks about me and my hon. Friends, which is perfectly fair in this debate. In relation to consistency, however, let us remind ourselves about the position of the Conservative party, for instance, on weapons of mass destruction. After Saddam Hussein used such weapons in 1988, the Conservative Government continued to sell arms to Iraq. They provided him with anthrax and other chemical weapons, and they approved the construction of dual-use factories in Iraq. When it comes to humanitarian reasons—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, if the right hon. Gentleman is in the act of misleading the House, given that the Scott inquiry made it clear that the Conservative Government did not sell any chemical weapons to the Iraqi regime during the 1980s, how can one make him withdraw his remark?

I can help the hon. Gentleman. These are matters for debate, and it may be that some hon. Member may be able to rebut the right hon. Gentleman's case.

To be fair, I am in the process of replying to the right hon. Gentleman's party leader.

If Conservatives speak about the need for consistency on the international stage with respect to humanitarianism, as several have over many months, why did they not support the humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone or the use of ground troops in Kosovo? Why did they veto 11 United Nations resolutions relating to apartheid South Africa when they were in government?

We do not need moral lectures from the Conservative party—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard. Every other party leader has been listened to properly and he should get that courtesy too.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My concluding remark to the leader of the Conservative party is that if I saw the names of three former Cabinet Ministers who served in the last Conservative Government listed in support of the amendment on the Order Paper, I might try to sort out my own party before I started lecturing other party leaders.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the leader of the Liberal Democrats not to give way to a right hon. Member who was Minister when the accusations were made?

That is not a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman should know better.

I do not think that the Conservatives like the more extensive answer that their leader just received.

As the activity of our armed forces progresses, legitimate questions—

Order. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) is disrupting the speech. Take my word for it: the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) is not going to give way.

When it comes to the further engagement of our armed forces, it would be proper for hon. Members to raise legitimate questions, as many have in all parties, on the supply and suitability of equipment, the eventual war aims, the participation of British forces and the bombs that might be used. It would be right to ask whether we would desist from resorting to cluster bombs or depleted uranium. It would also be right to ask about the longer term role that we hope British forces will play, if the war ensues, in the humanitarian and reconstruction roles on which they have such a distinguished track record. That is why we have supported the UN route, and it will be a source of great regret if the motion is passed because British troops will be put into action.

There are, however, two specific things on which the Government are right to expect and deserve significant credit over the course of the past six months. The first is that they were instrumental in persuading a reluctant United States to go down the UN route. Everything that I have been party to and privy to over the past six months persuades me that that is the case. The second is that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and other senior colleagues have been consistent in emphasising to the Americans and others the primary need to re-establish a meaningful middle east peace process.

Oh! You will not give way to the person you accused. What a disgrace!

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What makes this week so sadly ironic is that the very moment when the Bush Administration at last embraced the fresh urgency over the middle east peace process was the very time when they chose to abandon the UN route. Let us face it, having taken the decision to abandon the UN route, the sudden embrace of the middle east peace process with refreshed urgency arouses the suspicion among many that the two are not unconnected and, perhaps, that if they are willing to do one, they may be willing to abandon the other or to go lukewarm at a later stage.