House Of Commons
Monday 12 May 2003
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Service Personnel (Gulf)
When he expects all service personnel to be returned from the Gulf. 
Our military campaign objectives contain a commitment to the withdrawal of British military forces from Iraq as soon as is practicable. It is as yet too early to predict when there can be a complete withdrawal of UK forces—that will obviously depend on the circumstances. We will maintain an appropriate military presence in Iraq as long as that is necessary to set the conditions in which the Iraqi people can get their country back on its feet politically and economically.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Although I welcome any withdrawal of British troops from Iraq because they obviously want to get back to their families as soon as possible, what contingency plans have been made for policing in Iraq and the delivery of aid, especially humanitarian aid, in which British troops currently play a major role?
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing the House's attention to the need for as many of our forces as possible who have been engaged in war-fighting operations to return to the United Kingdom at the earliest opportunity for some well earned leave. Hon. Members may have noticed that some 400 Royal Marines arrived home this morning.With many of our forces returning, I am pleased to assure the House that others will be available to continue to bring security and stability to southern Iraq. That includes involvement in the reconstruction effort. British forces have already made a significant contribution to the stability and security of southern Iraq as well as to ensuring the availability of humanitarian assisiance. That effort will go on.
May I join the Secretary of State in hoping that our forces will be home as soon as possible? I also wish to ask him about the comments of the retiring Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Boyce, whom the Secretary of State would doubtless like to join me in congratulating on his peerage. He said that the British Army would suffer "serious pain" if it had to make future deployments in the next few years. In Iraq, it appears that the Territorial Army is filling some of the gaps among our overstretched regulars. What proportion of UK forces in Iraq is from the Territorials? Does the right hon. Gentleman have plans to send more Territorials there? Since TA units do not have the same training opportunities and welfare packages as regular forces, does the Secretary of State intend to make any improvements to the TA's welfare package?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for commenting on the Chief of the Defence Staff's elevation. I was able to pass on my personal congratulations and I am sure that other hon. Members would like to echo that.
So long as he toes the line from now on!
It is probably as well if I do not comment on that observation.The reserves are making a substantial contribution in Iraq and will continue to do so. The important point in the strategic defence review about the way in which we reorganise reservist forces is making them useful and useable. They have made a tremendous contribution so far and I am confident that they will continue to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the mothers in support of troops movement, commonly known as MIST, in Portsmouth? It has organised two marches so far in support of our troops so that we do not forget their sacrifices and activities on our behalf.
My hon. Friend is right to draw to the House's attention the tremendous contribution of families in support of those who have served in the armed forces in Iraq and other places. I am delighted to endorse his comments.
The Secretary of State will be aware that there are threatened large-scale resignations from the reserve forces because of the perception that they have not been handled well in Iraq. Will he comment on that and let hon. Members know what he plans to do about it?
I am aware of press, but no factual, reports to that effect.
Many tributes have rightly been paid to British service personnel serving in the Gulf. Would not the best tribute be to ensure that the ongoing and enduring medical needs of service personnel returning to the UK are catered for and that all the medical lessons of the first Gulf war are learned?
That will remain a priority for the Ministry of Defence. Considerable effort has been made to ensure the availability of high-class medical facilities in theatre. That effort must continue, as my hon. Friend says, once our forces have returned to the United Kingdom.
May I add my voice and that of the Opposition to those of congratulation to Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who looks forward to taking his peerage? He stood shoulder to shoulder with the Secretary of State through many difficulties and appears to have earned an early peerage for plain speaking. I presume that such an invitation will not be extended to members of the right hon. Gentleman's party.I congratulate all the armed forced on the crucial role that they continue to play in the effort to stabilise post-war Iraq. During the war, our armed forces distributed leaflets that assured the people of Iraq:
If the Secretary of State cannot say how long that will take, and what forces will be required, is this yet another open-ended and unfunded commitment for our overstretched armed forces?"This time we won't abandon you. Be patient together we will win … We will stay as long as it takes."
It is neither open-ended nor unfunded. What is important, however, as the leaflet illustrated to the Iraqi people, is that British forces remain there as long as is necessary to ensure stability and security, and to play a part in the reconstruction of Iraq. Once those tasks are completed, I should want to see British forces return home as soon as is practicable.
So it is not open-ended, but the Secretary of State cannot say when it will end. Today, we still have reports of looting and of the continuing breakdown of law and order crippling efforts to rebuild Iraq, and it is our troops who have to wrestle with the consequences. Does he recall how the Conservatives warned the Government about the lack of preparation for post-war reconstruction? Now that the Secretary of State for International Development has resigned, is it not clear that the Government's planning for post-conflict Iraq was paralysed by splits at the heart of Government?
The hon. Gentleman makes two foolish points; given more time, he would probably have made more. So far as his apparent criticism of open-ended commitments is concerned, I invite him and other Members sitting behind him to think for a second about whether they would want to put a specific date on the conclusion of British military operations, given what has been achieved so far. He is simply making silly points—[Interruption]— and he repeats them now from the Front Bench. He really needs to give a little more thought to his observations before he gets up, even from his present position on the Front Bench, dependent as he appears to be on the Leader of the Opposition's grace and favour. In those circumstances, he ought to think about certain other observations as well. We have just seen an extremely successful military operation in Iraq, and a Government who were in any way divided could not have conducted it.
Service Personnel (Gulf)
What provision he will be making for the welfare of (a) service personnel and (b) ex-service personnel after the Gulf conflict. 
What provision he will make for the welfare of ex-service personnel who have taken part in the 2003 Gulf conflict. 
All personnel returning from Operation Telic, whether regulars or reservists, are being provided with appropriate support measures, acknowledging that each individual's experience of the conflict will be different. The procedures vary slightly between each service according to need, but are essentially similar and delivered in three stages: recovery, normalisation and after care. Support services include debriefings and post-operational tour leave. Reservists will receive all appropriate briefs, a medical screening and support with the potential for follow-up action as required, including specific guidance on returning to their previous employer. Post-deployment medical screening is not provided automatically to regulars, as they are subject to routine health surveillance, and all personnel are able to consult medical staff at any time, should they feel the need to do so.
Will the Minister tell me why our service personnel get such a raw deal when they are risking their lives on the front line, and why they lose out financially, particularly when compared with the American forces, alongside whom they are serving in the Gulf? Will the Minister now get the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to bring our soldiers' benefits to the level enjoyed by our American allies, and pay their council tax for them and give them income tax relief while they are deployed on active service? Is not it about time that the Government gave our forces a fair deal?
This seems to be one of the many myths that the Opposition perpetuate. The body responsible for armed forces pay and remuneration last year conducted an independent study into the package of benefits available to all serving men and women in a vast number of countries, including the United States of America, and concluded that our package, taken overall, was the equivalent of all of them. I do not think that we have anything to apologise for.
Marines of 40 Commando returning home from Iraq this weekend may consider that now is the time to leave the forces and settle down to civilian life in Somerset and Taunton. Some of them may be suffering from the mental scars of conflict, so I welcome the setting up of the medical assessment programme run by the MOD at St. Thomas's, but given that it will assess patients and only recommend treatment, what discussions are being held to ensure that local NHS hospitals such as that in Taunton have the knowledge and resources to treat ex-servicemen properly?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. The measures that we have introduced should go a long way towards allaying anxieties about the support that we intend to give people on their return from the Gulf. We must try to cover every possibility, but he makes a good point about the management of mental stress, especially post-traumatic stress disorder.We have come a long way in the past 10 years, and we certainly have a much larger body of expert advice available in the NHS, which has experience of treating such people. The medical assessment programme can provide help and advice too, so, all in all, while we cannot guarantee that no one will suffer as a result of their service, we are well placed to pick up on those who have served and to give them whatever help is available.
On the welfare of service and ex-service personnel, what are the Government doing to clean up the toxic and radioactive contamination that has resulted from the use of depleted uranium in the recent invasion of Iraq?
Any environmental programme will have to be drawn up as Iraq develops under its peaceful administration, and we are well aware of our obligations to take part in that, but I make it clear to my hon. Friend that there is no evidence whatever from anything that I have seen in the records of our people that any of our soldiers have been damaged by contact with uranium, depleted or otherwise.
After the first Gulf conflict, the medical screening that was available for returning UK service personnel was incomplete, incoherent and utterly unsatisfactory. Further to the Secretary of State's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant), will the Minister give a little more detail to show how we have learned from those serious mistakes of a decade or more ago in terms of the personnel returning from this conflict?
Our medical package has been carefully tailored to manage people appropriately within the situation in Iraq and on returning home. To that end, we keep better records and conduct more medical surveillance. We shall also take a great many steps as people return to debrief them adequately on their experiences and to provide medical help and assistance where necessary.In addition, as the House is aware, I announced last week a programme of research, which will look in great detail prospectively—that is important—at the health of a large cohort of those returning from service in the Gulf. That will aid us in helping with individual problems and in establishing a proper database on which future research and work can be conducted.
On behalf of the official Opposition, may I warmly welcome the statement made last week by the MOD on setting up the research programme on the physical and psychological health of those involved in the recent Gulf conflict? Everybody will appreciate that move.May I raise unfinished business from the earlier Gulf conflict? On 4 February, the MOD launched a High Court challenge against the pensions appeal tribunal ruling last May in favour of Shaun Rusling, which officially recognised Gulf war syndrome. Is it still the case that the MOD does not recognise Gulf war syndrome as a medical condition? Given that the Department is not planning to appeal against the successful claim of Alex Izzet on 5 May at a pensions tribunal that the concoction of drugs that he was given before planned deployment in the previous Gulf war caused osteoporosis, does that not, in effect, recognise the fact that such a concoction of drugs did cause severe medical problems for many veterans? Is it not time for a definitive ministerial statement on the subject, which so many servicemen and others feel needs addressing?
May I take the second point first? We did not appeal the Izzet decision because there are no grounds in law for an appeal. The fact that almost all informed medical opinion—certainly among all those who have studied the work that has been done and the practices used during the Gulf war—disagrees with the tribunal does not alter the fact that it is entitled to come to its decision. We cannot challenge it in law, and we will not do so.The position is different with regard to the definition—it is purely a definition—of Gulf war syndrome. I feel strongly that we should not use terms that have no basis in medical fact. To use the term "syndrome" to describe conditions that encompass almost every symptom known to man or woman is highly unhelpful. We have challenged that ruling, and our position remains unchanged. In our opinion, there is no such unitary illness or disease as Gulf syndrome. A great many people have become ill as result of their service, but that is quite different. I stress again that no one gets a penny more pension from us because they are diagnosed as having Gulf war syndrome. Pensions are paid on the basis of disability. At present, more than 1,200 are paid to veterans of the Gulf war. It does not matter to their financial recompense whether their condition is described as Gulf war syndrome. In my opinion, it matters greatly, because medical opinion in this country, in the United States and anywhere else where the condition has been studied properly is entirely in agreement with our position.
Military Training Schools
If he will make a statement on the privatisation of military training schools. 
The defence training review, published in March 2001, recommended that some types of military specialist training should be rationalised. It also recommended that industry should be engaged at an early stage in determining how that training can best be delivered. Accordingly, the Department is currently taking forward a programme to provide, in partnership with the private sector, modern, cost-effective training, better accommodation and facilities, and the more efficient use of the training estate.
Is the Minister aware of the serious concern in his Department and in the armed forces that specialised training—from complex logistics to intelligence training—could be handed over to private companies that do not have the experience or the expertise of MOD trainers, and do not have the knowledge of long-term military requirements? When they get that knowledge, they will have a long-term private monopoly over a service that is critical to national security.
I would be concerned if that were what we are doing, but it is not. The rationalisation programme is about modernisation of training, and ensuring that delivery continues to adapt to reflect operational need. The benefits that we will derive from a more efficient use of the training estate will help us to achieve those key aims. We are currently consulting prospective bidders to determine the scope of a future partnering arrangement. We expect to be ready to select short-list bidders and issue invitations to negotiate by the end of the year. Each prospective consortium has been carefully scrutinised to ensure that it has the full range of skills and experience required to meet the needs of our programme.
My hon. Friend will know that I am usually in favour of relationships between the public and private sectors, such as private finance initiatives. Does he agree that the training record of the British defence forces has been exemplary, and that most people recognise that our armed forces historically have the best trainers in the world? Whether he calls it rationalisation or anything else, he should be cautious before he destroys the critical mass of training in our armed services.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. That is precisely what we are trying to do. Our training has been the best in the world, and our intention is not only to keep it the best, but to make it even better. Everything we are doing in the review is aimed at producing that outcome.
Does the Minister recognise that it is important to keep all Members of the House who have constituency interests in defence training informed of plans? He will recall that there has been a history of difficulties with defence training establishments in my constituency, but I shall not labour that point because he is well aware of the problems. I have the defence medical training organisation in my constituency, and I am sure that he would agree that there is nothing more vital to the interests of our armed forces personnel than defence medical training. Will he undertake to keep me and all other MPs fully informed of any further developments or changes in defence training, especially in the medical field?
I should point out that this is not part of the training review, but I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I generally try to ensure that a Member is informed of any changes that are likely to affect the interests of his constituency. If I fail to do so, Members are not slow to remind me!
European Rapid Reaction Force
If he will make a statement on his policy on the European rapid reaction force. 
If he will make a statement on the UK's role in the European rapid reaction force. 
Although we want European Union nations to strengthen their military capabilities, there is no standing European rapid reaction force or any EU agreement to create one. Existing national or multinational forces, declared under the Helsinki headline goal, will be made available to the EU on a voluntary, case-by-case basis when required for a crisis management operation. The United Kingdom has made a significant contribution, offering a wide range of capabilities and assets, but there are, overall, still significant capability shortfalls against the EU's headline goal. EU Defence Ministers will consider shortly how to take matters forward. The UK will look to member states to make firm commitments to improve European military capabilities, rather than duplicate existing capabilities.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that it was agreed in 1999 that the European rapid reaction force should be concerned with peacekeeping—that that should be its role—and that last year it was agreed that the NATO reaction force should cover high-intensity conflicts? What on earth was the point of last month's summit between France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg? Would not any other arrangement be duplication at best—as the right hon. Gentleman suggested—and divisive at worst?Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to agree with the Prime Minister's recent statement that the basis of any European defence policy should be entirely compatible with our membership of NATO?
I do not think I shall have any difficulty with the hon. Gentleman's question. Having been involved in negotiations on the need for improved military capabilities, whether through the European Union or through NATO, I know that that compatibility is crucial. That is precisely why we judged that the recent Brussels summit was neither timely nor appropriate.
The Secretary of State's very helpful answer seems to me to reaffirm three fundamental truths about the European rapid reaction force. First, if the intention is to provide a NATO rapid reaction force at the same time, we certainly have not enough forces for the purpose. Secondly, nothing emanating from Brussels could possibly be described as rapid in any circumstances. Thirdly, the mini-summit held a couple of weeks ago clearly demonstrated that the whole thing is not European.Do I understand from the Secretary of State's response that he is straightforwardly and unashamedly condemning the notion of a European army? We do not need it at all.
Our criticism of the recent Brussels summit has been consistent, as has our criticism of all the attempts to create a so-called European army. What we want is for our European partners to make determined efforts to improve military capabilities, whether through the European Union or through NATO. We believe that those efforts should be concentrated specifically on the adding of new capabilities rather than the duplication of existing ones.
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the future of the European rapid reaction force, given the deep differences of opinion on Iraq that we have observed over the past month or so?
The future of the force will be in the terms I have set out to the House—in the improvement of European military capabilities. It will not have a future if it fails in that task. That is why the United Kingdom consistently urges our partners to invest in extra and more capable military forces, so that Europe can make an effective contribution when it chooses to act on a case-by-case basis through the European Union, or more commonly when it acts as a member of NATO.
If he will make a statement on the strategic defence review and its impact on his purchase plans for equipment from BAE Systems. 
The 1998 strategic defence review and the new chapter published last year remain the foundation for the shape, size and capabilities of our armed forces. The defence White Paper to be published in the autumn will provide an updated statement of defence policy and explain our plans for the delivery of enhanced defence capability. This will provide the baseline against which the Department will work with companies such as BAE Systems to procure future battle-winning equipment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. The Royal Ordnance factory in Puriton in my constituency has turned out an enormous amount of ordnance over the past few months to support our troops in the Gulf. BAE Systems has said that it will continue production there, but I wonder for how long. Does the Minister agree not only that that battle-winning equipment, as he calls it, should be manufactured in this country but that one should ensure that it can be procured at a moment's notice for use in any battlefield around the world? Will he therefore commit himself to continuing production?
I will always pay tribute to the work force of Royal Ordnance factories throughout the country. I gently remind the hon. Gentleman that the privatisation of that part of our supply was carried out under a Conservative Government. Indeed, the previous Member for Bridgwater may have been Secretary of State for Defence at the time, but I will check that.It is clearly important that we have a guarantee on supplies. Of course, all that will be subject to the lessons learned from the current conflict. We will conduct a deep analysis of what happened. It will take some time to come to decisions but I am sure that the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman will be reflected in some of the conclusions reached.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that 470 jobs at BAE Systems in Brough are under threat because of perceived delays in resolving the Hawk contract? Will he do all he can to lobby other Ministers in his Department and other Departments so that the contract can be sorted out sooner rather than later and the 470 jobs no longer be under threat?
The best advice and information I can give my hon. Friend is that BAE Systems's proposal is being evaluated, so it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome at this stage. It is incumbent on companies that depend heavily on the Ministry of Defence to be proactive internationally. Alongside what they do for the MOD, they should look for other commercial outlets for their work force. Again, we hope that a decision can be reached quickly on that matter. That may ease the minds of the work force there.
In the light of the retiring Chief of Defence Staff's remarks with reference to the Government's commitment to purchase 232 Eurofighters currently under production in my constituency, does the Minister understand that such remarks have caused much uncertainty and worry in the Wharton work force? The work force are also concerned that the Government have yet to make a clear decision about tranche 2 of that aircraft and the order for 80-odd aircraft, and uncertain about the Government's intentions in developing a ground attack capability for the Eurofighter Typhoon. May I ask him to put on record, if not now in the very near future, a clear statement of what the Government's precise intentions are about that weapons system to deal with the uncertainties that thousands of my constituents are experiencing?
That is a fair and reasonable point. There is no question but that the MOD consults very widely and comprehensively as decisions are taken both in moving forward and perhaps in terms of rationalisation or changes to decisions. That is what we seek to do.We expect the four partner nations to place the order for the tranche 2 aircraft, of which the United Kingdom's share is 89, later this year. Under the undertaking given in the four-nation memoranda of understanding, the UK has undertaken to acquire 232 aircraft out of a total production of 620. We will, of course, keep the capabilities of the defence programme under constant review, but our commitment to the Typhoon programme remains unchanged.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, under the strategic defence review, record numbers of orders have been placed with United Kingdom manufacturers? That has given a tremendous boost to economies such as that of the north-east of England. Does he further agree that the strong base that those orders have created gives UK manufacturing a strong and determined base from which to pursue export orders?
I agree entirely. It is a point well made. As it stands, our capability and equipment programme is of record-breaking scope. We just need to consider the shipbuilding programme and the many other important procurement decisions that are coming on-stream. My hon. Friend made a good point in saying that the quality and capacity of British engineering companies enable them to win their share of the contracts, and he is right that that gives them a tremendous platform on which to build for the future not just in seeking and obtaining further MOD and international defence contracts but in gaining a significant share of the commercial market that is out there.
As my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, serious question marks hang over a number of critical defence projects involving not just BAE Systems but the many British companies in the supply chain. I was astonished at the answer that the Minister gave the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona Mclsaac). Does he accept that what he said must set alarms bells ringing in the ears of the work force at Brough? It would be inconceivable for the UK Government to order an advanced jet trainer other than the proven, highly successful, world-beating Hawk aircraft. Nobody in this country would be able to understand it if he ordered anything else. He should get on and order the aircraft by the end of June if wants to keep those employees in continued employment.Will the Minister also confirm that the joint strike fighter programme is slipping, with consequences for our maritime air defence? Without the JSF, the new aircraft carriers that he is ordering will be rather pointless. What efforts is he making to get the Americans to sign up to giving Britain the technology access agreements that are required by BAE Systems? Further to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), what about the Typhoon tranche 2 and its air-to-ground capability? The Minister must address that issue very quickly, or we will not have the right equipment for the Royal Air Force.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman talk to the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and find out whether all the commitments that he is making—
You do not have the money, but they are in your programme.
I am trying to explain that we get a shopping list from the Opposition. On our programme, I gave a clear answer in relation to the Hawk. The final bid has been put in by BAE Systems, and it has to be evaluated. I do not know whether the Opposition spokesmen are saying that there should be a different strategy in Departments and that they should just say yes no matter what bid a company makes. That would not be good—quality government.Let me explain about B,AE Systems. In the last financial year, the MOD made payments of about £250 million and the contracts awarded were worth in the region of £2.7 billion. That shows a significant measure of confidence in that company, and we could, of course, give similar figures for other major UK-based defence contractors. We are investing very substantially in British manufacturing through the defence sector. It would be nice for that to be recognised and applauded by the Opposition.
How long the current level of ground forces will be deployed in Iraq. 
British forces will not be deployed to the region any longer than is necessary, but will remain there while the operational situation requires it. I have already announced a number of withdrawals and replacements of our forces and I shall continue to keep the House informed.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, the reserve armed forces who have been operating in the Gulf have been admirably supported by the national headquarters in my constituency. There are those who intermittently criticise aspects of what is happening in Iraq, but may I express the hope that he will agree that our forces will be in safe hands when they return with the support of the mobilisation centre in Chilwell?
I am delighted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution of the reserves in Iraq and, indeed, to the work of the reserves training and mobilisation centre in Chilwell in my hon. Friend's constituency. I have had the privilege of visiting the centre on a number of occasions.Although we will need to send further reservists to Iraq to help our forces to meet their continuing obligations there, we are also seeking to bring home as soon as is practicable those reservists whose tasks have been completed. My hon. Friend might like to know that Chilwell is playing its part in the reconstruction of Iraq. Secondees from British Government Departments to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance are receiving their pre-deployment briefing and training at the centre.
Will the Secretary of State turn his attention to the terms and conditions of members of the reserves and, especially, the situation faced by one of my constituents, who is a police inspector and a member of the volunteer reserves? If he is called to serve in Iraq, he will face a pay cut of £20,000 a year, which is a source of grave concern for his family. Will the Secretary of State consider what might be done to revisit the banding of salary levels to take that into account?
The bands are kept under constant review, and I shall certainly examine any specific case that the hon. Gentleman cares to bring to my attention. Arrangements for the payment of reserves are long standing, tried and tested and generally work very satisfactorily.
Bearing it in mind that conflicts such as that in Iraq put pressure on our armed forces and front-line troops, will the Secretary of State reassure us that even if the political situation improves in Northern Ireland, the British Government will look on the home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment as a rich reservoir of skilled and professional soldiers, at low cost, who should be maintained in their existing numbers and not given up as a political pawn in some settlement?
I agree with my hon. Friend's tribute to the Royal Irish Regiment. I have had the privilege of seeing it in action in Northern Ireland and elsewhere on a number of occasions, and it does a tremendous job.
Weapons Of Mass Destruction
If he will make a statement on the searches which have taken place for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 
If he will make a statement on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 
There is no doubt that Saddam's regime continued to develop weapons of mass destruction in breach of United Nations resolutions, and that we will continue to find evidence of these programmes. Coalition forces are actively investigating sites, documentation and specific individuals connected with Iraq's WMD programmes. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have deployed specialist personnel and will send more in the near future.These investigations will take time. The Iraqi regime had every opportunity to hide these programmes, given their considerable experience in concealment. Gathering and collating evidence of WMD programmes from the various sources will be a long and complex task. I can confirm that UK experts have conducted preliminary assessments of the suspect mobile vehicle referred to by members of the US Administration last week. It is clear that this vehicle is military, and is a transportable system designed for producing microorganisms. As such it should have been declared by Iraq under United Nations Security Council resolution 1441, but it was not. It appears to match the information on Iraqi mobile biological agent production facilities described in our dossier of last September and by the US Secretary of State to the Security Council in February.
Given that Amir al-Saadi, the chief chemical weapons scientist, and Dr. Salih Ammash, the senior biological scientist, have been held in custody for some time, why does the Secretary of State think that the Americans have withdrawn their weapons inspectors and replaced them with the smaller Iraq survey group?
The purpose of the Iraq survey group is to provide a core of experts drawn from several different countries, including the United Kingdom, to pursue the necessary scientific inquiries that such investigations require. There is no diminution at all of the coalition's efforts to identify weapons of mass destruction and, indeed, to publicise them when appropriate.
Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to observe what was published in yesterday'sWashington Post?It said that the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which is charged with finding weapons of mass destruction, has found places that have been "looted and burned". Is there evidence that potential terrorists have looted any of those weapons, or that they could be used against the west?
I am aware of those reports and they are being investigated. There are reports of looting, although I cannot confirm them. It is obviously a matter of concern, which is why it is so important that we have detailed investigations on the ground carried out by experts.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of reestablishing UN inspection teams, first, to reassert the UN's authority, which is also vital for the administration of Iraq, and, secondly, to provide credibility because there are growing suspicions that the immediacy and extent of the threat from Iraqi WMD—the reason given for the rush to war—was massively hyped on the basis of the selective use of unreliable or even specious intelligence information?
As the Prime Minister and the President agreed at Hillsborough, the UN has a vital role to play in the continuing efforts to rebuild Iraq. We have made it clear that it would be useful to have an independent source of verification for findings of weapons of mass destruction, and that might well include a role for the UN. As far as my hon. Friend's final observation is concerned, I have just drawn the House's attention to the discovery of a facility that was set out in the dossier on the basis of intelligence available to us last September which was also referred to by the US Secretary of State. I hope that my hon. Friend might reconsider his observations.
My right hon. Friend will recall that one argument for the invasion of Iraq was the discovery of weapons of mass destruction and the need to destroy them, especially as there was a danger that they would pass into the hands of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda. Does he think that there is any possibility that weapons of mass destruction may have been transmitted to terrorist organisations in the present period?
I have no specific evidence of that at this stage, but it is obviously a concern while we are unable to identify precisely elements of the weapons of mass destruction that we referred to previously. As I told the House, the effort goes on and is proving to be successful.
Given the great importance of uncovering Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and, indeed, his links with terrorist organisations, will the Secretary of State explain how it was possible that British journalists were able to obtain key documents from Ministries several days after the fighting had ceased when such documents should previously have been secured by British and American intelligence officers?
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that for a short period there was serious disorder and looting in parts of Baghdad in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. That was specifically aimed at elements of the regime, in particular the governing part. Not surprisingly, journalists on the spot were able to get access to documents that were not secured by the coalition. That should not come as a great surprise to the hon. Gentleman.
European Defence Capabilities
What discussions he has had with European counterparts on the future coordination of European defence capabilities. 
I take every opportunity to discuss with my European colleagues the need for improved coordination of military capabilities, particularly in the context of European security and defence policy, NATO's Prague capabilities commitment initiative and the United Kingdom's bilateral defence relationships. I will be meeting EU colleagues on 19 May and NATO colleagues in mid-June.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that response, but does he agree that, with the one laudable exception of the UK, our European partners to date have failed to perform in terms of military procurement and commitment of troops, whether for peacekeeping purposes or conflict resolution? Is he surprised to hear voices in the Opposition criticise our support for enhancing European capabilities? Would he describe the position of Opposition Members as (a) ludicrous, (b) untenable, (c) illogical or (d) all of the above?
Order. Those matters are nothing to do with the Minister.
Nevertheless, I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observations. It is important that the UK set an example both in spending more money on defence and in spending that money more effectively—something that I should hope Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen would support. What is interesting about their criticisms is the extent to which they fail to recognise the need for European nations to work effectively together to improve the military capabilities available to all through either the European Union or NATO.
Why should we trust the French?
The French have a substantial military contribution to make, should they decide that it is politically appropriate to do so.
Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to examine the composition of EUFOR—the European Union force in Macedonia? Is he aware that it is made up of a number of very small contingents from a large number of countries, rather than units of command from single countries under their own commanders, as I would have expected? Does he believe that that is an effective way of deploying a European force?
Obviously, that is a matter for military judgment as to the capabilities of the particular force and from where it should be drawn. I am satisfied that the military advice that has been given is the right advice and that the force in Macedonia is doing a good job.
If he will make a statement on operations in Iraq. 
Decisive combat operations in Iraq have been completed. Saddam Hussein's regime, which had for years brutalised Iraq and threatened the wider region, has collapsed.In most areas of Iraq, coalition forces are now focusing upon stabilisation operations, setting the conditions for the restoration of the country's political and administrative structures. We will continue the humanitarian efforts already under way. British forces have played a major part in the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime. They have once again demonstrated their professionalism and expertise, combining combat operations with support for the civilian population. They are now helping the Iraqi people to take the first significant steps along the road to greater political and economic freedom and security.
The Americans apparently plan to publish their report on the friendly fire incidents on the internet this week. Given the sensitivity of the subject, not least for those units and regiments, such as my own, which lost soldiers in tragic incidents of that sort, will the Secretary of State tell the House precisely how many British personnel are involved in the investigations, when they intend to publish their findings, and what consultations they have had with our US allies on the subject?
There have been extensive consultations. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the investigations are conducted in parallel form through the national chain of command. We are represented in the American process, as they are represented in ours. However, as he says, it is important that there be full transparency of both the conclusions and any action that is then required to be taken.
Am I the only one to be utterly astonished that, after interviewing goodness knows how many Iraqi scientists who were allegedly involved in developing weapons of mass destruction, the only thing that we have found to date is the transporter to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier? How many Iraqi scientists have been interviewed, and what has transpired as a result?
My hon. Friend had better prepare himself for further astonishment, because I have to tell him that sometimes when they are interviewed, people do not tell us the truth. It is therefore necessary for us to continue investigations into where weapons of mass destruction have been hidden. As I said earlier, the Iraqi regime had many months in which to hide weapons of mass destruction; we have to have a similar period in which to locate them.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) about friendly fire, will the Secretary of State say more about what work has been done since the end of the conflict? Will he give the House a commitment that any progress made by the Americans will be matched by us? In particular, has he done any research into BCIS—battlefield combat identification system—developed by Northrop Grumman, an American company, which puts transponders into American tanks so that they have technical facility to deal with friendly fire? It is important that our kit for our soldiers is as good as the Americans'.
I think that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will accept that the most important work that needs to be done in the light of the conflict is to investigate thoroughly the friendly fire incidents in question, so that we can properly understand what went wrong—clearly, things did go wrong—before we take decisions on potential solutions. The Ministry of Defence and I are willing to consider any solution that guarantees the safety of our services personnel.
My right hon. Friend will know that 2,000 extended range bomblets and shells were used in the British battle for Basra. Will he ensure that the impact points of those munitions will be made available to the United Nations mine action service and to non-government organisations? Will he warn civilians of the consequences of unexploded bomblets? Does he agree that it would be more appropriate for the funding of such clean-up operations to be provided by the MOD rather than by the Department for International Development?
My hon. Friend is right. Determined efforts are made to identify the location of unexploded bomblets. Records are kept, and members of Britain's forces are routinely engaged in making safe any unexploded ordnance. That work is under way in Iraq as I speak, and it will continue. There is no difficulty about the funding of that work: it is carried out by the British Government.
Service Personnel (Gulf)
What measures he is taking in support of widows and partners of service personnel who died in the Gulf conflict. 
What measures he is taking in support of widows and partners of service personnel who died in the Gulf conflict. 
I pay tribute to all those who gave their lives serving in the recent conflict in the Gulf and to their families. The country owes them a deep debt which we are determined to meet.Long-term financial support is provided to widows and dependants under the armed forces pension scheme and the war pension scheme. Where a service person died as a result of the conflict, and left a partner with whom there was a substantial relationship of interdependence, ex-gratia payments equivalent to benefits paid to a surviving spouse will be awarded to unmarried partners under the armed forces pension scheme. In addition to the financial support, my Department is providing emotional and administrative support and assistance to the families. That support will be maintained for as long as the families require it.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware that, on top of the measures to which he has referred, for a modest monthly sum, generous pay-outs can be received from PAX, the private insurance scheme. The difficulty is that that is a private insurance scheme, so it costs servicemen to buy it. Secondly, not every serviceman is enrolled in the scheme. Is it not now time for the Government to take on that burden to provide proper insurance for our servicemen so that their widows have a generous settlement?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a review of pensions and compensation is being undertaken. I hope to return to the House in the near future to discuss some of the changes that we shall be making. However, the hon. Gentleman hit the nail on the head. For a modest payment, additional insurance can be provided. We always recommend to our people that they should take that out. Whatever we provide for them, it will always be essential for people to take additional cover for themselves to provide for their families. It would be prudent for them to do that, and something that we would encourage them to do.
The Minister will know how important holidays are to our service personnel and their families, who necessarily endure long periods of separation. Family holidays not only bring quality time but also, when booked significantly ahead in the year, give something for servicemen and their families positively to look forward to and to focus on. Does he have any plans to compensate the many hundreds of servicemen who have lost out significantly in financial terms because of the Iraqi war or the firemen's strike? If he has any such plans, has he compensated any servicemen to date?
Order. That supplementary question has nothing to do with the main question.
What discussions he has had with EU partners on allied support for the reconstruction of Iraq.—
Now that decisive combat operations have been completed in Iraq, United Kingdom forces are concentrating on stabilisation and humanitarian tasks. In taking forward the wider political and economic reconstruction of Iraq, the coalition and, in due course, a new Iraqi Government, will need to draw on the expertise of the international community. Recent discussions with a number of countries, including European Union partners, have covered the possible contribution of numerous capabilities, including, but not limited to, infantry, medical personnel, engineers and logistic support.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can he assure the House that his Department will draw on the experience of our EU partners, particularly in the Balkans and Afghanistan, to ensure that vital services are restored in Iraq as quickly as possible?
I can assure my hon. Friend, as I said a moment ago, that we want to draw on the experience of a number of EU partners and, indeed, future EU partners. They have indicated their willingness to make military capabilities available, and we want to use them.
Surely, one of the lessons that we have learned from previous conflicts concerns our rather tardy approach to clearing up civilian areas post-conflict. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give the House that thousands of unexploded bomhlets will be cleared from civilian areas first, rather than from those areas that our troops our entering?
I indicated the priority that was given to the clean-up a few moments ago. Those efforts continue, and they do not discriminate between civilian and other areas. A determined effort is made to ensure the safety and security of both military and civilian personnel.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about Iraq.Last Friday, the United Kingdom, the United States and Spain informally circulated a draft resolution about Iraq's future to members of the United Nations Security Council. I have placed copies in the Library and the Vote Office. Our aim is to put Iraq in the hands of its people through an open and accountable process, in partnership with the emerging leaders of the new Iraq. The draft resolution sets out the United Nations' role in that process, and calls for the United Nations to
That reflects fully the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush at their Hillsborough meeting on 8 April. I will set out for the House the main points of that draft resolution arid, in the course of doing so, deal with a number of questions that have been asked about it. Before I do so, however, I shall report briefly on the situation in Iraq itself. After almost a quarter of a century of brutal, authoritarian rule in Iraq, creating a free and secure society was always going to take time. Barely a month has passed since the regime fell. Today, the security situation varies in different parts of the country. The United Nations regards the south as safe enough for its agencies to operate, albeit with significant precautions. The situation is improving in the north. In other areas, including Baghdad, the situation is unsatisfactory, and there are still too many cases of violence and lawlessness. Establishing security within the rule of law is the coalition's first priority. Let me now deal with the humanitarian situation. Supplies under the oil-for-food programme are getting through. The United Nations' World Food Programme has supplies in the pipeline until September and there are no reports of widespread food shortages. We are urgently tackling the lack of access to drinking water, a problem that has blighted the lives of Iraqis for many years. Urgent efforts are continuing to provide adequate medical supplies and equipment to Iraq's hospitals. The reports of 16 cases of cholera in Basra are obviously a matter of great concern, although fortunately there have been no reported deaths from the disease. To put that in perspective, cholera is endemic in southern Iraq at this time of year. Work is continuing to improve water arid sanitation facilities, and the Department for International Development has positioned in Kuwait cholera kits for 11,000 cases, to be used by the World Health Organisation as required. The coalition's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will tackle the huge task of restoring civil administration in Iraq. Increasing numbers of Iraqi public servants are now returning to their jobs. However, results in the early weeks have not been as good as we had hoped. I therefore welcome the appointment of US ambassador Bremer to ORHA. Working alongside the United Kingdom's Major General Tim Cross and forty British secondees, he will bring fresh impetus to ORHA's efforts. On the political front, we have already seen evidence of the exercise of the new-found religious and political freedoms in Iraq. I welcome the peaceful return at the weekend of the Shi'a religious leader, Ayatollah Hakim to Iraq from Iran, and other religious and political leaders, none of whom could exercise any political or religious freedoms under Saddam's regime. The meetings of Iraqi representatives in Nasiriyah on 15 April and Baghdad on 28 April marked the start of a process of bringing together a national conference in which all Iraq's regions and ethnic and religious groups are represented in order to select an Iraqi interim authority. This body, which will comprise both political figures and technocrats, will progressively take on responsibilities for the administration of Iraq as a whole, as operative paragraph 9 of the draft says,"play a vital role in providing humanitarian relief, in supporting the reconstruction of Iraq, and in helping in the formation of an Iraqi Interim Authority."
It is our hope that the national conference can be held within the next few weeks. In order to assist the process, and as I told the House last Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has appointed a senior British diplomat, John Sawers, our ambassador to Cairo, as the Government's special representative to Iraq. His task is to work with US representatives and a wide range of Iraqi people to ensure an open process leading to a representative Iraqi interim authority. In the few days in which he has been in Baghdad, Mr. Sawers has already met a number of leading Iraqi political figures. In addition, as I told the House last week, we opened a British office in Baghdad, on the site of our former British embassy, headed by a British diplomat, Christopher Segar, who was deputy head of mission when the British embassy in Baghdad closed in 1991. Let me now turn to the draft Security Council resolution. The United Kingdom and the United States fully accept our responsibilities under the fourth Geneva convention and the Hague regulations. That point is explicitly recognised in the draft resolution. Neither the Secretary-General nor members of the Security Council are proposing that the UN should run Iraq, but we are all concerned to ensure that the UN plays a vital post-conflict role. The draft resolution gives the UN the full opportunity to do just that. It does not deal with every issue; it concentrates on the main points that need to be settled now for the benefit of the people of Iraq. It sets out important principles for the future of Iraq, including those on territorial integrity and disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. The resolution also provides, in operative paragraph 5, for member states to prohibit trade in, or transfer of, looted cultural artefacts. The three key issues in the resolution are, first, the role of a UN special co-ordinator, and the associated political processes; secondly, the lifting of sanctions and the creation of a new Iraqi assistance fund to target resources on the reconstruction of Iraq; and thirdly, arrangements for the sale of oil and the handling of oil revenues. I shall deal with those in turn. Operative paragraph 8 of the resolution sets out a substantial mandate for a UN special co-ordinator to be appointed by the UN Secretary-General and to play a full part in all aspects of post-conflict activity, from humanitarian efforts through economic reconstruction, human rights, rebuilding police capacity, promoting legal and judicial reform, and, crucially, the political process. On the latter point, the draft provides that the special co-ordinator should work with the occupying powers and those assisting them—defined collectively in the resolution as "the Authority"—for"until a permanent government is established by the people of Iraq".
Operative paragraph 9"the restoration and establishment of national and local institutions for representative governance".
Like all drafts, this one is open to improvement and we are discussing it constructively with our Security Council partners, but the mandate in the present draft will give the UN the scope it needs to play its full role in all aspects of post-conflict Iraq. One of the reasons why I would like to see the resolution passed quickly is to enable a special co-ordinator, appointed by the Secretary-General, to get cracking on the ground very soon. The second of the three issues is the lifting of sanctions and the creation of a new Iraqi assistance fund. Economic sanctions relate to Iraq's past and now need to be removed, so operative paragraph 10 provides that all sanctions are lifted forthwith, with the sole exception of the arms embargo, which plainly has to remain in place until a permanent Government is established by the people of Iraq. Ending the economic sanctions regime requires new arrangements for dealing with Iraqi revenues. The wording in the resolution is designed to ensure that all funds from Iraqi oil revenues can be used quickly and effectively for the benefit of the Iraqi people. The draft resolution gives the Secretary-General authority for a period of four months from its passage to ensure the delivery of priority civilian goods under contracts already approved and for which funding has been allocated. Remaining funds in the existing escrow account, from what is known as the oil-for-food programme, will be transferred to the new Iraqi assistance fund. That will also receive funds from two other sources: revenues from the sale of oil, and funds of the former regime frozen by banks outside Iraq since 1990 under successive Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi assistance fund will therefore rapidly become the primary source of money for the development of Iraq. The funds will be disbursed by the authority in consultation with the Iraqi interim authority. The resolution is specific about the purposes for which the money can be spent. Operative paragraph 13 spells out that"supports the formation, by the people of Iraq with the help of the Authority and working with the Special Co-ordinator, of an Iraqi interim authority as a transitional administration run by Iraqis until a permanent government is established by the people of Iraq".
The assistance fund will be subject to an international advisory board, including representatives of the UN Secretary-General, the IMF and the World Bank, and will be audited by independent public accountants, again chosen by the board, not by the coalition. The third issue is the control of oil sales. Operative paragraph 18 requires that sales shall be made"the funds should be used to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq's infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, and for the costs of indigenous civilian administration and for other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq."
that they too will be audited by independent public accountants reporting to the international advisory board, and that the funds will go to the Iraqi assistance fund, except for a proportion, which will go instead to the UN Compensation Commission for claims relating to the previous Gulf war. On weapons of mass destruction, a letter to the Security Council annexed to the resolution stresses the obvious and clear importance of this objective. Dr. Blix himself has recognised that the situation is not right at present for UNMOVIC to return, a point that I was able to spell out in the statement that I made to the House just 13 days ago. Separate arrangements may therefore be needed to provide international validation, so the role of UNMOVIC in Iraq is not an issue that needs to be dealt with in this resolution, although we may need to address it in future resolutions. In the interests of the people of Iraq, the sponsors of the resolution will be working for its early adoption, but it is not a take it or leave it text, and negotiations with our partners in the Security Council are already under way. However, from my discussions with Foreign Ministers of Security Council members, and other discussions undertaken by our permanent representative in New York, I find a strong political will to get the UN back into the business of helping to build a better future for Iraq. This draft resolution gives the UN that very important role."consistent with prevailing international market practices",
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it. He has dealt comprehensively with the draft resolution before the Security Council, which we welcome. In particular, we welcome paragraph 11, which seeks to lift sanctions, and paragraph 12, which establishes the Iraqi assistance fund and requires the regime's external assets to be frozen and transferred to it.The resolution also deals with the role of the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq. I have heard what the Foreign Secretary has had to say on the details but, even so, I am still unclear as to precisely what that role is intended to be. The Prime Minister on 8 April in Northern Ireland referred to "a vital role." However, it is hard to discern any task in the resolution that can really be described as vital. May I ask the Foreign Secretary again what he means by vital? This is important today when the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) resigned from the Cabinet because, as she says, the assurances that the Prime Minister gave her
arid are contracted by this resolution. What were the exact assurances given to the right hon. Lady and other members of the Cabinet on establishing a legitimate Iraqi Government? Are they met in the resolution, and if they are, is the right hon. Lady wrong? If she is right, how does that square with the position of the Prime Minister? Who is telling the truth—the Prime Minister or the right hon. Lady? They cannot both be doing so. Did the Attorney-General give the Government advice on what was required to establish a legitimate Iraqi Government? If he did so, does it support the right hon. Lady's contention or the Prime Minister's position? Would it not be helpful to the House if he were to publish that advice? On a day when the Government are split on Iraq, warring over the euro and all over the place on foundation hospitals, is it not vital that at least on this, they do not fudge the issue? Does the Foreign Secretary share my regret at this crucial moment that this House will no longer be able to question the Secretary of State for International Development, who will now be in the House of Lords? Is that not a downgrading of this vital portfolio at a most sensitive moment? Has the Foreign Secretary read reports today that the taskforce responsible for finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down and is likely to be withdrawn? Is that true, and what does it mean in the light of the Prime Minister's assurances that weapons of mass destruction will be found? It is now the fifth week since Saddam was toppled. The unexpectedly swift conclusion explained the immediate aftermath—the lawlessness, breakdown in public services and damage to infrastructure—but, before the war, the Foreign Secretary assured me and this House that plans for post-war Iraq were in place. Why then, after four weeks, are there still not enough police resources, either internal or imported, to maintain public order and disarm the militias? Why, even now, have not enough engineers and construction experts been seconded to Iraq to ensure electricity supplies, clean water and effective sewage disposal? Why is vital aid and health provision still taking so long to get to the areas that so badly need it? These are not military questions, but questions for the Foreign Secretary who told us that all this was in hand. We have a moral obligation to reconstruct Iraq as we promised to do. We have supported the Government on the principle of reconstruction. I have to say that, on the ground, after four weeks, patience is running out. Our armed forces won the war brilliantly. It is for the Government to win the peace. They owe it to our forces and to the people of Iraq to do so, and they are not making a very good fist of it right now."about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached"
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about the text and also about some comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). Let me deal with those matters in turn.I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming the statement and the clarification that it gives. He asked me first about the undertakings given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush at their press conference on 8 April following the Hillsborough summit and about where they are reflected in the resolution itself. The commitment by the President and the Prime Minister is repeated in one of the opening preliminary paragraphs, so that they provide a template against which the rest of the resolution is measured. The paragraph states that it was
That is an almost exact paraphrase of the words used by President Bush and our British Prime Minister at Hillsborough. I could take the right hon. Gentleman through the 24 operative paragraphs of the resolution—I hope that the whole House will go through them which spell out how that will work. They include: all the duties that are imposed on the special co-ordinator to be appointed not by us, but by the United Nations Secretary-General; self-evidently, the lifting of sanctions; the future of the oil-for-food programme; the monitoring and supervision that the United Nations will have over Iraqi assistance; the UN's role in respect of oil revenues; and, above all and particularly, assisting and encouraging, alongside the assistance and encouragement of the coalition, the formation—not by the coalition or the UN, but by the Iraqi people themselves—of an Iraqi interim administration followed by a permanent Iraqi Government. The right hon. Gentleman asks me about remarks that were made earlier today. I should first say how sad I am about the resignation of my right hon. Friend. She served the Department with very great distinction and placed British overseas aid contribution on the map in a way that never happened in the 18 years of the previous Government, from .the moment when they placed the Overseas Development Administration under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I am sorry to see her leave as a colleague. I have to say—since the right hon. Gentleman asks me this, it is right that I should give him my reply—that I do not agree with my right hon. Friend's view about the position of the Government. Obviously, I was not present at any discussions that took place between her and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—that is a matter for them—but I can say two things."Resolved that the UN should play a vital role in providing humanitarian relief, in supporting the reconstruction of Iraq, and in helping in the formation of an Iraqi interim authority".
What about the Attorney-General?
I am going to come to that.First, all the measures in the statement and every action that we have taken in Iraq and in the United Nations are fully consistent with the undertakings that we have given in public about the role of the United Nations. Secondly, it goes without saying—but I will repeat it, as the right hon. Gentleman raises the matter—that all the actions that we have taken have been taken strictly in accordance with legal advice. It would be unconscionable for any of us to believe that any action that we took or contemplated would be unlawful in international law or in domestic law, and it is quite inappropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions about the time that it is taking to get Iraq on its feet—I do not say "back on its feet", because Iraq was not on its feet before the military conflict took place. Yes, it is taking longer than we expected in some parts—not all parts—of Iraq, and, yes, as I said, the situation in Baghdad is unsatisfactory. That is why I welcome the appointment of US ambassador. Bremer and the additional staff from the United Kingdom who are going in to back up ORHA. We have to see improved performance on the ground. The right hon. Gentleman's last point—an extraordinary one for a Conservative spokesman—was the allegation that a vital Department has been downgraded because a Member of the House of Lords has been appointed as successor to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. I recall that during our 18 years of opposition there were at least two occasions on which very large and significant Departments of State were represented by a Secretary of State in the other place. One was when the Department of Trade and Industry was under Lord Young, and the other—at a time when the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was an adornment to that Department—was when Lord Carrington was Foreign Secretary.
In addition to the Foreign Secretary's own expressions of regret, does he understand that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) enjoys great affection and respect on both sides of the House?May I ask the Foreign Secretary what significance we are to attach to the recall of Barbara Bodine and to reports that General Garner may soon suffer a similar fate? Does not that indicate an admission of failure to comprehend the complexity of the reconstruction of Iraq; and what sort of signal or message does it give to the people of Iraq if such changes are necessary so quickly? On the matter of a vital role for the United Nations, is it not now clear that the Government envisage that that role is one of giving advice and providing coordination, but is neither managerial, executive nor administrative? Although it is correct that sanctions should be lifted, why is it necessary to provide new arrangements for the administration of Iraq's oil revenues, as the oil-for-food programme is already in place? Finally, on weapons of mass destruction, the Foreign Secretary used a rather delphic phrase when he said that separate arrangements for validation may be necessary. What exactly does he have in mind? Does he have in mind arrangements that will carry credibility because they are not based entirely on the work of those nominated by the coalition forces?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked first about the transfer from Baghdad of ambassador Barbara Bodine and reports of the earlier than expected transfer of former General Jay Garner. The Barbara Bodine transfer is earlier than expected, but, as far as I know, that does not apply to the transfer of General Jay Garner.The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether there was a failure to comprehend the complexity of the position on the ground. In the case of any military action, the circumstances on the ground are inevitably unexpected to some extent. That is the nature of warfare. In some parts of Iraq, matters have improved more rapidly than expected. However, I have been straightforward about the fact that the position in Baghdad is not satisfactory. We fully understand our responsibilities, as does the United States, to ensure that it becomes satisfactory quickly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman claimed that there was no direct managerial role for the United Nations. Under international law, the fourth Geneva convention and the Hague regulations, the occupying power is responsible for managing Iraq in the immediate future. It would be wrong of us to try to hive off responsibility to people who do not have the power to undertake it. However, we are increasingly trying to provide a key role for the United Nations and, above all, the people of Iraq. Hon. Members who are worried about the matter should read the language of the text carefully—I do not suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not done so. Of course, colleagues on the Security Council have comments about the draft, but the atmosphere in the informal discussions that took place at the weekend was constructive. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about new arrangements for the oil revenues. They are needed because until now, they were tied into sanctions and the oil revenues were available only for the elaborate and rather bureaucratic oil-for-food programme, which the United Nations has run. We want the oil revenues to be used more widely to benefit the people of Iraq. That will initially have to happen under the direction of the coalition or the occupying powers because there is no one else to do it. However, it will be done under strict supervision and auditing, including by the board with nominees from the Secretary-General, the IMF and the World Bank and, in time, the interim authority. Over tirne—as quickly as we can manage—that will be done by a separate, permanent, recognised Iraqi Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's last question was about separate arrangements for validating any finds of weapons of mass destruction. We continue to discuss that matter, not least with our United States allies and other friends on the Security Council. Resolutions 1441 and 1284 remain current and are not affected by the draft resolution. I am clear that any validation arrangements would have to involve external validation for the reasons that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned.
May I say that I share the Foreign Secretary's view that we have lost a redoubtable Secretary of State for International Development? I served as her deputy for four years and she will be missed in the job. However, she has a worthy successor in Valerie Amos, who was a brilliant Minister in the Foreign Office and will do a tremendous job, whichever House she stays in—[Interruption.]—serves in.When was the draft resolution circulated in Whitehall? To which Departments was it sent? What comments did the Foreign and Commonwealth Office receive?
I share the preliminary comments of my right hon. Friend. So far as Valerie Amos is concerned, I have seen her as a ministerial colleague in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and also answering for the Department for International Development in the House of Lords. She is a brilliant successor to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), and someone who is very experienced. My right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) might recall that, when the previous Conservative Administration were in power years ago, it was possible to give up a title to a peerage in order to transfer down to this end, but I am afraid that a life peerage is now exactly that; it is a sentence for life. But that might change; you never know.So far as the draft of the resolution is concerned, it was dealt with internally in the same way as resolution 1441 was dealt with. It was tightly held because we were discussing the details with a fellow member of the Security Council. In answer to my right hon. Friend's question, I orally briefed the Cabinet last Thursday—the Cabinet Committee was orally briefed by me last Thursday afternoon—and the draft was circulated at 9 o'clock the following morning.
Beyond the cost of the military engagement itself, can the Foreign Secretary tell us what the estimated cost of the British involvement and presence in Iraq will be for this financial year and the next financial year?
No, I cannot, but I will arrange for the answer to that question to be provided to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and for a copy to be made available to the House.
Whatever the virtues of Lady Amos, at this particular moment the Secretary of State for International Development ought to be in this House and not in the other place.Can the House of Commons be told why documents held by the Iraqi authorities at the time of the coalition's control of their offices were left unprotected, to be exploited by journalists and others, when those documents might have formed the basis for a prosecution, or been collected or destroyed to deny the probability of a prosecution, or gone unchecked for the insertion of forged documents? Why was there no proper custody of documents of such major potential importance, which might have thrown light on the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction, or on possible links between the Saddam regime and al-Qaeda?
On the appointment of my right hon. Friend Baroness Amos, I think that everybody in the House recognises her exceptional qualities. [Interruption.] It is an exceptional appointment. I have said before that, while there may be some reservations on the Labour and Liberal Democrat Benches about having a Secretary of State appointed from the House of Lords, it does not lie in the mouth of Conservative Members to object to that process for a second. Many of us accepted the arrangements under which Foreign Secretaries and Trade and Industry Secretaries were Members of the other place. Perfectly satisfactory arrangements were made for them to answer through a Minister in this place, and the Prime Minister will make such arrangements in respect of the Department for International Development.My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) also asked about the protection of evidence and the custody of documents. I cannot give him a direct answer to his specific question, but I can say that we are all seized of the need to protect all documentary and other evidence as far as is humanly possible, with a view to its use in future prosecutions of people responsible for the brutalities of the Saddam regime. If my hon. Friend is in any doubt about the evidence relating to Iraq's holdings of weapons of mass destruction, I refer him to two very public Command Papers that I have already published, including 173 pages of Dr. Blix's final report of 7 March, which sets out in forensic detail the nature of Iraq's holdings of weapons of mass destruction and its failure to answer questions about what has happened to those holdings.
While we are all pleased to hear that progress is being made at the UN, is the Foreign Secretary aware that the situation in Baghdad, which he is only partly right in describing as serious, is in fact potentially catastrophic; that our American friends, after a stunning military victory, have grossly underestimated the very difficult situation that they face; and that extremely heavy-handed policing by American troops will do nothing to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis for as long as there is poor security, the utilities do not work or even look like working, and there has clearly been no real progress on the civilian administration front?Ambassador Bremer is an extremely competent diplomat, but it may not be enough that he will be the right person to run things. Would it not be sensible to suggest to our American friends that a British brigade should be put into Baghdad, as it would have much greater expertise at such policing, with a view to moving the whole thing forward much more quickly?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to raise concerns about conditions in Baghdad. I do not endorse the specific language that he uses, but I have made it clear that we regard the situation there as unsatisfactory. Our American allies and friends fully understand that it is unsatisfactory, that action has urgently to be taken and that they are in the lead on taking such action. Just before I came across to the House, I discussed that situation, as I do regularly, with the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and I shall continue to engage with him on that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will with President Bush.On the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that a British brigade should be put in, we are all very proud of how British troops have operated, not only in the conflict, but post-conflict, and I shall refer it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
May I associate myself with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) about my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short)?What obligations are there on the interim Iraqi administration and what obligations will there be on the full Iraqi Government to repay debts—some would say odious debts—incurred by the Saddam regime? Can my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary give the House an assurance that the Iraqi assistance fund may not be used to repay the cost of weapons buying by Saddam's regime and that he will resist pressure from, as well as the case that may be being made by, other Security Council members which are owed large sums of money by the Saddam regime for arms to block or resist a further Security Council resolution until they are repaid? We must consider the needs of the Iraqi people first, and I hope that that is what the Government will take to the Security Council.
Order. Before the Foreign Secretary answers, I have to tell the House that I must have brief questions. We cannot have long questions.
Iaccept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), and I say to him that in the text, not least in operational paragraph 20, there is legal protection against, for example, revenues from the sale of oil, or the physical product of oil itself, being arrested in a third country to provide security for unpaid debts to third parties, which may include some countries that he has in mind. We are certainly seized of that. At the same time, we are also seized of the need to ensure that some compensation claims—for example, in relation to those in Kuwait—are honoured over time.
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand why there is some scepticism on the Conservative Benches as to why he chose to make this statement today? For example, can he tell the House whether he was planning to make it at 9 o'clock this morning? Will he give the House a straight answer to the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) from the Front Bench as to what we are to make of the statement of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) that the Prime Minister's assurance on the establishment of a legitimate Government in Iraq has been breached?
As it happens, I decided on Saturday that it would probably be a good idea to make a statement to the House. One was drafted. I spoke to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip on the telephone yesterday, and suggested that I should make a statement. However, as ever with statements, we decided to wait until this morning to see whether there was a clear demand for one. As it turns out, there was such a demand.I do my very best to keep the House informed of these matters, as I have done previously. As for the other point that the hon. Gentleman raised, I am afraid that I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Clare Short). The undertakings given by the Prime Minister at Hillsborough and elsewhere are reflected in this draft in every particular.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have welcomed the comments from the French and German ambassadors to the United Nations. The French ambassador said:
and the German ambassador said that"There are positive elements in this draft resolution in the humanitarian and economic field",
In welcoming an emerging UN consensus on this issue, will the Foreign Secretary reassure the House that the United Kingdom's commitment to the immediate lifting of sanctions will not be allowed to be diluted in the negotiations on this draft that are to follow?"this draft does not fight the fights of the past but is looking to the future and trying to deal with the problems that are at hand now".
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the welcome that this draft has received publicly in those quarters, which would have been unexpected a few weeks ago. We have worked hard with our partners. We are not suggesting that this is the final word on the matter, but we are pleased about the constructive atmosphere in which the negotiations are taking place.As for the lifting of sanctions, they were imposed because of the bad behaviour of the Saddam regime and its failure to comply. Now that the Saddam regime has gone, the case for sanctions goes. However, that does not remove the case for us to be satisfied about the disarmament of Iraq, which is another matter.
Baghdad fell into coalition hands on 9 April, and fighting was over five days later on 14 April. After an unexplained delay of two weeks, General Garner finally arrived in Baghdad following his leisurely progress via Kurdistan on 21 April. Five weeks after the fall of Baghdad, there is apparently still no water in large areas of the city. Does the Foreign Secretary understand that many of us, and no doubt many Iraqis, find it incomprehensible that with a magnificent display of military competence we can win the war in four weeks but we cannot get the water switched back on in five?
Iunderstand the hon. Gentleman's frustration. As I said, the situation in Baghdad is not satisfactory. He asks what we are doing about it. We are doing a great deal to turn it around.
What is the legal basis for contracts that the Americans signed with Halliburton and Bechtel before the offer of this new UN resolution? Is not the world's image of what is happening that in reality it is the creation of an American colony in Iraq with British support?
As I understand it, the legal basis of those contracts was US domestic law, because they made use of US tax dollars and not of any Iraqi revenues. The use of Iraqi revenues in that way would be outwith international or domestic law.
Does the Foreign Secretary understand that there will be a widespread feeling on both sides of the House that in the months ahead the Secretary of State for International Development ought to be a Member of this House and answerable to us? As the United States is in the process of dismissing its two most senior administrators in Iraq, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) has just resigned, on whose expert advice is this draft resolution based? Presumably, it is on the basis of the draft resolution that the British Government will try to put things right in Iraq in the weeks ahead?
Highly qualified though those three people are, they are not the only source of advice available to the United States and United Kingdom Governments.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of early-day motion 946, signed by 106 hon. Members, which calls for the reconstruction of Iraq to be built on the broadest possible base? Does he accept that that can be achieved only by securing for the United Nations a leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq? Will he agree to include that amendment to the draft resolution?
Iam not familiar with the full text of early-day motion 946. I apologise for that, and I shall look it up. The leading role in the rebuilding or building of the new Iraq must be taken by the people of Iraq. We seek a partnership in support of that between the United Nations international community and the coalition on the ground.
May I associate myself fully with what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said about the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short)?I welcome the reference to lifting sanctions, but the statement unfortunately made no mention of the Kurdish people. What consideration has been given to preserving the integrity of the northern lands where they currently reside?
Every consideration is given to that. The very first preliminary paragraph of the draft resolution reaffirms the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq. Within that, we fully recognise and respect the need for proper autonomy for various peoples in Iraq, including, obviously, the Kurdish people.
Will my right hon. Friend explain how giving Iraq back to the people of Iraq is accomplished by transferring the governance of Iraq to a crony of Donald Rumsfeld, and handing over a contract to a company with which Donald Rumsfeld has been associated? Does he accept that Members who voted in favour of military action did not do so, and the British forces who behaved with such immense decency and dignity did not risk and in some cases give their lives, to turn Iraq into a colony of the United States Republican party and to turn Iraq's reconstruction into the playground of American corporate capitalism?
Iunderstand my right hon. Friend's concerns, but I can give him the reassurance that he seeks. In the initial stages, the authority will be that of the United States and United Kingdom Governments and nation states as the "occupying power" under the Geneva conventions and the Hague regulations. I think I have already dealt with the issue of the contract let to Halliburton. It was, I understand, a domestic contract in the United States, to be paid for with US tax dollars. I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the oil revenues of Iraq and other revenues of the Iraqi people must be used and administered in a very different way.
Will the Foreign Secretary turn his attention to the many UK reserve medical personnel who are still deployed in the Gulf? Many were released from NHS trusts and hospitals where there is great pressure on waiting lists. To what extent are those medical facilities available to the Iraqi people? Has the Foreign Secretary thought of asking our European counterparts whether they might be able to send substitute personnel, so that some of those professionals could be released back into the health service here?
I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman about the detail of his question, and place a copy of my answer in the Library of the House. As for his wider point, we have been involved in detailed discussions with our European Union partners and others about the contributions that they can make to the military forces and to other facilities. As the hon. Gentleman may know, meetings were held during the force contribution conference on two successive Fridays. A number of EU member countries are contributing to medical facilities as well as to the military forces.
I agree with my right hon. Friend that the humanitarian problem was compounded, not created, by the war. Nevertheless, I think that the situation is serious and should not be underestimated. Anyone who, over the weekend, heard the aid agencies talking about the situation in Baghdad and elsewhere can only feel alarmed by their reports.I ask my right hon. Friend to increase the number of British staff in Iraq. I think he mentioned the number 40, but that is not enough. I know four of the five interim leaders of Iraq, and they are all calling for more British involvement because they believe that the British understand them much better than the Americans and can handle the population much better. Will my right hon. Friend's Department please be much more sensitive? When it sent delegates to the conference in Baghdad, the one woman whom it sent was the one woman from the Iraqi community in Britain who opposed the war and demonstrated against it. That, I think, is entirely the wrong signal to give all the other Iraqi expatriates in Britain.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. On the issue of increasing the number of United Kingdom staff, I know that that will be at the top of the agenda of Baroness Amos, the new Secretary of State for International Development. I take my hon. Friend's point, although, since we are trying to create a democratic Iraq, it is important that we have people of every opinion. However, many of them should reflect what was a very widespread opinion—that the military action that we took was entirely justified.
On behalf of many of my constituents and others in Northern Ireland, I join in paying tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short).May I press the Secretary of State? Is there any news about the missing billion that Saddam's family seem to have gone off with? Since the war was to free the Iraqi people, can he give an assurance that, in the long-term planning, there will be a greater role for the women of Iraq and free elections with a wider electorate than has hitherto been allowed?
On the first point that the hon. Gentleman raises, there are quite substantial sums in bank accounts, which have been frozen. Obviously, we know where those are. Investigations continue in respect of reports of billions of US dollars being taken out of the country by the Saddam family and regime just before military action commenced. On the role of women, we are very committed indeed to seeing women play a full role in the Iraqi Government, as we are in this country.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment that the resolution may still be amended but does he accept that, around the world, many people with whom we would wish to be influential friends still question the legitimacy and motives of the action that was taken? Would it not be in this country's long-term interests to ensure that the UN is given a sufficiently strong role in the reconstruction of Iraq to provide that legitimacy for our future actions?
I accept that there are people who still question the legitimacy of our action. I hope that we deal with that and provide reassurance in the draft resolution. Just to take one example, there are people around the world who believed, and may still believe, that the sole purpose of the military action was in order that the United Kingdom and United States could steal the Iraqis' oil. It was always totally and completely untrue; it was utterly untrue. However, for the avoidance of doubt, the resolution, a mandatory chapter 7 resolution, makes it clear that the revenues from oil and from other sources of the Iraqi people can only be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people, or to compensate other victims of the Saddam regime.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a personal statement.I have decided to resign from the Government. I think it is right that I should explain my reasons to the House of Commons, to which I have been accountable as Secretary of State for International Development, a post that I have been deeply honoured to hold and that I am very sad to leave. The House will be aware that I had many criticisms of the way in which events leading up to the conflict in Iraq were handled. I offered my resignation to the Prime Minister on a number of occasions but was pressed by him and others to stay. I have been attacked from many different angles for that decision but I still think that, hard as it was, it was the right thing to do. The reason why I agreed to remain in the Government was that it was too late to put right the mistakes that had been made. I had throughout taken the view that it was necessary to be willing to contemplate the use of force to back up the authority of the UN. The regime was brutal, the people were suffering, our Attorney-General belatedly but very firmly said there was legal authority for the use of force, and because the official Opposition were voting with the Government, the conflict was unavoidable.[Interruption.] There is no question about that. It had to carry. I decided that I should not weaken the Government at that time and should agree to the Prime Minister's request to stay and lead the UK humanitarian and reconstruction effort. However, the problem now is that the mistakes that were made in the period leading up to the conflict are being repeated in the post-conflict situation. In particular, the UN mandate, which is necessary to bring into being a legitimate Iraqi Government, is not being supported by the UK Government. This, I believe, is damaging to Iraq's prospects, will continue to undermine the authority of the UN and directly affects my work and responsibilities. The situation in Iraq under international law is that the coalition are occupying powers in occupied territory. Under the Geneva convention of 1949 and the Hague regulations of 1907, the coalition has clear responsibilities and clear limits to its authority. It is obliged to attend to the humanitarian needs of the population, to keep order—to keep order—and to keep civil administration operating. The coalition is legally entitled to modify the operation of the administration as much as is necessary to fulfil these obligations, but it is not entitled to make major political, economic and constitutional changes. The coalition does not have sovereign authority and has no authority to bring into being an interim Iraqi Government with such authority or to create a constitutional process leading to the election of a sovereign Government. The only body that has the legal authority to do this is the United Nations Security Council. I believe that it is the duty of all responsible political leaders right across the world—whatever view they took on the launch of the war—to focus on reuniting the international community in order to support the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country, to re-establish the authority of the UN and to heal the bitter divisions that preceded the war. I am sorry to say that the UK Government are not doing this. They are supporting the US in trying to bully the Security Council into a resolution that gives the coalition the power to establish an Iraqi Government and control the use of oil for reconstruction, with only a minor role for the UN. This resolution is unlikely to pass but, if it does, it will not create the best arrangements for the reconstruction of Iraq. The draft resolution risks continuing international divisions, Iraqi resentment against the occupying powers and the possibility that the coalition will get bogged down in Iraq.I believe that the UK should and could have respected the Attorney-General's advice, told the US that this was a red line for us, and worked for international agreement to a proper, UN-led process to establish an interim Iraqi Government—just as was done in Afghanistan. I believe that this would have been an honourable and wise role for the UK and that the international community would have united around this position. It is also in the best interests of the United States. Both in both the run-up to the war and now, I think the UK is making grave errors in providing cover for US mistakes rather than helping an old friend, which is understandably hurt and angry after the events of 11 September, to honour international law and the authority of the UN. American power alone cannot make America safe. Of course, we must all unite to dismantle the terrorist networks, and, through the UN, the world is doing this. But undermining international law and the authority of the UN creates a risk of instability, bitterness and growing terrorism that will threaten the future for all of us. I am ashamed that the UK Government have agreed the resolution that has been tabled in New York and shocked by the secrecy and lack of consultation with Departments with direct responsibility for the issues referred to in the resolution. I am afraid that this resolution undermines all the commitments I have made in the House and elsewhere about how the reconstruction of Iraq will be organised. Clearly this makes my position impossible and I have no alternative but to resign from the Government. There will be time on other occasions to spell out the details of these arguments and to discuss the mistakes that were made preceding the conflict. But I hope that I have provided enough detail to indicate the seriousness of the issues at stake for the future of Iraq, the role of the UN, the unity of the international community and Britain's place in the world. All this makes me very sad. I believe that the Government whom I have served since 1997 have a record of which all who share the values of the Labour party can be proud. I also believe that the UK commitment to international development is crucial. The levels of poverty and inequality in a world rich in knowledge, technology and capital is the biggest moral issue the world faces and the biggest threat to the future safety and security of the world. We have achieved a lot, and taking a lead on development is a fine role for the UK. There is much left to do and I am very sorry to have been put in a position in which I am unable to continue that work. I do think, however, that the errors that we are making over Iraq and other recent initiatives flow not from Labour's values, but from the style and organisation of our Government, which is undermining trust and straining party loyalty in a way that is completely unnecessary. In our first term, the problem was spin: endless announcements, exaggerations and manipulation of the media that undermined people's respect for the Government and trust in what we said. It was accompanied by a control-freak style that has created many of the problems of excessive bureaucracy and centralised targets that are undermining the success of our public sector reforms. In the second term, the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion. It is increasingly clear, I am afraid, that the Cabinet has become, in Bagehot's phrase, a dignified part of the constitution—joining the Privy Council. There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective; just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high. The consequences of that are serious. Expertise in our system lies in Departments. Those who dictate from the centre do not have full access to that expertise and do not consult. That leads to bad policy. In addition, under our constitutional arrangements, legal, political and financial responsibility flows through Secretaries of State to Parliament. Increasingly, those who are wielding power are not accountable and not scrutinised. Thus we have the powers of a presidential-type system with the automatic majority of a parliamentary system. My conclusion is that those arrangements are leading to increasingly poor policy initiatives being rammed through Parliament, which is straining and abusing party loyalty and undermining the people's respect for our political system. Those attitudes are also causing increasing problems with reform of the public services. I do believe that after long years of financial cuts and decline, the public services need reform to improve the quality of services and the morale of public sector workers—the two being inextricably linked. We do not, however, need endless new initiatives, layers of bureaucratic accountability and diktats from the centre. We need clarity of purpose, decentralisation of authority and improved management of people. We need to treasure and honour the people who work in public service. As I found in my former Department, if public servants are given that framework, they work with dedication and pride and provide a service that, in the case of the Department for International Development, is known throughout the world as one of the finest development agencies in the international system. Those lessons could be applied in other parts of the public service. I have two final points. The first is for the Labour party and, especially, the parliamentary Labour party. As I have said, there is much that our Government have achieved that reflects Labour's values and of which we can be very proud, but we are entering rockier times and we must work together to prevent our Government from departing from the best values of our party. To the Prime Minister, I would say that he has achieved great things since 1997 but, paradoxically, he is in danger of destroying his legacy as he becomes increasingly obsessed by his place in history. Finally, I am desperately sad to leave the Department for International Development. I apologise to those in the developing world who told me that I had a duty to stay. I shall continue to do all that I can to support the countries and institutions with which I have been working. It has been an enormous honour to lead the Department. It is a very fine organisation of which Britain can be proud. We have achieved a lot but there is much left to do, and I am sure that others will take it forward. I hope that the House and party will protect the Department from those who wish to weaken it.
Points Of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there anything that you can do, even at this late stage, to protect today's business? You will be aware that we were already in the unacceptable position of being asked to process all stages of an important and potentially controversial Bill, which will affect democracy in part of our United Kingdom, between 3.30 pm and 10 pm.Yet today, Mr. Speaker, with the usual casual attitude that the Government have sadly shown towards Parliament and this House of Commons, a statement was put on which, however important, was not that urgent, thus reducing further the time that we have to consider the Bill at hand. Can nothing be done even now to give the House more time—proper time—to perform a Second Reading, a Committee stage and a Third Reading of a Bill that is of the greatest importance for our democracy in this United Kingdom, so that we can properly consider it? The Government's attitude to this House of Commons has become unacceptable, and the casual and deliberate placing of a statement on a day such as this, further to reduce our opportunity to examine legislation, is the latest regrettable example of that. Please, Mr. Speaker, what can be done?
I think the right hon. Gentleman's main complaint is about the statement by the Foreign Secretary, not the statement by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). As Speaker, I have no say in those matters. When a Minister says that he wishes to come before the House to make a statement, I have to accept that statement and the House has to hear it. However, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I did not run the statement for a full hour, but for 40 minutes, with the clear understanding that we have other business before us. The right hon. Gentleman asks, "Can anything be done?"; the answer is, not by me.
Does the hon. Gentleman have a point of order?
I have a point of order on the personal statement, Mr. Speaker. On 10 April, I raised a point of order on whether the Secretary of State for International Development would publish, as she could have done at her discretion, the advice of the Attorney-General, as the Prime Minister did on the legality of the war against Iraq in reply to a question that I put to him earlier. In her statement, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) referred to the fact that it would have been better had the Prime Minister accepted the Attorney-General's advice. She could have used the ministerial discretion to publish that advice. My point of order is that that advice could still be made available and should be placed in the House of Commons as soon as possible.
Once again, that is not a matter for me. It is for Ministers to decide whether they put that advice into the public domain.
On a point of order on a matter that relates to you and of which you are fully aware, Mr. Speaker. The number of hon. Members who read questions at Question Time is obvious to me, the House and yourself. It is my understanding that questions should not be read and should be given, if you like, from the heart. I am sure that you would wish to remind all hon. Members that we are not here to read out questions, but should put our questions to the Secretary of State or the Minister and wait for an adequate reply.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Supplementary questions should not be read from notes. Hon. Members sometimes use aids, but I would not encourage that practice. The hon. Gentleman is right that questions should be asked without notes.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely this is an unusual occasion because we are to discuss something—the right of people to exercise their franchise—that does not come before the House except, perhaps, once in a century. Surely the Government should have respect for this day and, given the very little time that we have, protect it. Although we appreciate that you gave only 40 minutes for the Foreign Secretary's statement and did not call everyone who stood, as a representative in this House of people from Northern Ireland, I find it an insult to them that, in this mother of Parliaments, we should have time taken away from our discussion of something that cuts across the root and foundation of democracy.
I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but at the risk of repeating myself, it is for me to ensure that the rules of the House are carried out. I do not make the rules of the House; the House makes the rules and I am the custodian of the rules. However, I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In what circumstances is eavesdropping by official agencies on Members of Parliament's telephone conversations allowed?
That is not a matter for me.
Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections And Periods Of Suspension) Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections and Periods of Suspension) Bill—
1. Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at this day's sitting and shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, at Ten o'clock.
Timing Of Proceedings And Questions To Be Put
2. When the Bill has been read a second time—
Consideration Of Lords Amendments
6.—(1) Any Lords Amendments to the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(2) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be brought to a conclusion, if not previously concluded, one hour after their commencement.
7.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 6.
(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question already proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.
(3) If that Question is for the amendment of a Lords Amendment the Speaker shall then put forthwith—
(a) single Question on any further Amendments to the Lords Amendment moved by a Minister of the Crown, and
(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House agrees or disagrees to the Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.
(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the—
(a) single Questiion on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown to a Lords Amendment, and
(b) the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment or (as the case may be) to the Lords Amendment as amended.
(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown, That this House disagrees to a Lords Amendment.
(6) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question, That this House agrees to all the remaining Lords Amendments.
(7) As soon as the House has agreed or disagreed to a Lords Amendment, or disposed of an Amendment relevant to a Lords Amendment which has been disagreed to, the Speaker shall put forthwith a single Question on any Amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown and relevant to the Lords Amendment.
8.—(1) Any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(2) Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.
9.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 8.
(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has already been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.
(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.
(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.
(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question, That this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.
10.—(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons in relation to the Bill and the appointment of its Chairman.
(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.
(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.
(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3) the Chairman shall—
(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair but not yet decided, and
(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.
(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.
11. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
12. The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 shall apply to those proceedings.
13. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.
14. No Motion shall be made to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to re-commit the Bill.
15. No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown; and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
16.—(1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) has been stood over to Seven o'clock, Three o'clock or Four o'clock (as the case may be), but (b) proceeding to which this Order applies have begun before then.
(2) Proceedings on that Motion shall stand postponed until the conclusion of those proceedings.
17. If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
18. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
In a moment, I shall explain the urgency with which the Government are seeking to progress the Bill and why it is necessary to take it through all its stages in the House today. However, before I do so, I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the cowardly attack carried out this morning on the offices of the Ulster Unionist party in Belfast. An explosive device was delivered to the offices in a clear attempt to kill or to maim. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the incident, but it is a salutary reminder to us all of what we are trying to achieve in Northern Ireland. Attacks such as that and the one some weeks ago on the offices of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) only make us more determined to achieve a complete and unambiguous end to paramilitary activity.
In my statement to the House last Tuesday evening, I explained the Government's assessment of the current state of political developments in Northern Ireland and the reasons for our conclusion that the elections to the Assembly due on 29 May should be postponed. It would not be appropriate to dwell in detail on those reasons in the debate on this motion. Hon. Members will have an opportunity later to debate the Government's analysis and policy more fully, and I intend to address those issues in my speech in that debate. Suffice it to say that the decision to seek a postponement was taken—with regret—on the basis that it is clear that without a clear and unambiguous end to paramilitary activity, there cannot be a revival of the trust and confidence necessary for the restoration of the devolved institutions.
There are two reasons why I am seeking the House's agreement to the motion. The first is that our decision to seek the postponement was taken only after weeks—indeed, months—of intensive negotiations aimed at securing acts of completion from paramilitaries and a common understanding of the basis on which the devolved institutions could be restored. As the House well knows, the Government have already sought one four-week postponement of the election date in order to try to facilitate that process. We naturally wished to give those efforts every chance of succeeding, so it was with great regret that we reluctantly concluded on I May that we had reached a point where there was no longer any prospect of the necessary trust and confidence being established in time for restoration of the institutions following an election on 29 May.
Now that we have reached that conclusion, no one will benefit from continuing uncertainty about the legal status of the scheduled election. The Northern Ireland electorate deserve clarity as soon as it can be given, arid the Northern Ireland political parties are, naturally, anxious to know how the Government propose to deal with a range of consequences of the postponement, from the question of reimbursement of electoral expenses incurred to the implications for the funding of party offices. They deserve certainty and clarity as soon as possible. We have worked to produce the Bill as fast as we can in order to provide that.
I appreciate many of the problems that my right hon. Friend outlines, but given that the issue is fundamental and there will be nowhere other than the House of Commons to debate democracy in Northern Ireland, why is it necessary to timetable the Bill?
I shall address that issue as I can.
It relates to the motion.
I am aware of that. I shall come to that point in a second.The second argument for dealing with the business under the terms of this timetable motion is the electoral timetable itself. The Assembly was dissolved on 28 April; at that point the statutory electoral timetable began to run. Nominations have already closed, and as the polling date currently set in law draws near, preparations have to be made for an election unless Parliament determines otherwise. That of course is quite proper, but it makes no sense to incur additional expense or to prolong uncertainty for any longer than is necessary. The Bill to deal with those matters therefore had to be dealt with today.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that part of his argument, which may or may not convince the House. However, why do we have to finish at 10 o'clock tonight? Even if it was necessary for the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman that the matter be dispatched in the House today, that is no reason why we must truncate all stages of the Bill. We have not yet started consideration of the measure at nearly 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when we shall finish arbitrarily at 10 o'clock. Why cannot we continue to deal with the Bill after 10 o'clock, in proper consideration and detail?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am not responsible for dealing with the workings of the House. However—
No, I will not.For the proposed legislation to go through the House this week, and through the House of Lords, where generally speaking legislation has to take two days, and in the event of messages coming back from the House of Lords, it was necessary for us to deal with the Bill in the way that we have.
I will not.For these simple reasons, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that a compressed timetable for the Bill's passage through the House, while regrettable, is unavoidable in these circumstances.
First, I echo what the Secretary of State has just said about the attack on the offices of the Ulster Unionist party. Thank God no one has been hurt. It is an unacceptable and shocking event. Everybody who stands for public office in Northern Ireland lives against the background of a potential threat. They are all particularly brave men and women. I have come to admire them all in all the parties that are represented in this place in the course of the two years that I have been doing this job. Many of them have had, on occasion, to resist serious intimidation. Many of them have experienced attacks on their own homes and properties. The most recent attack is just one more such incident.I am sure that the House hopes that the Police Service of Northern Ireland will be able to apprehend the culprits as soon as possible, and that the courts will handle them in an exemplary fashion if, indeed, anybody is found guilty of the attack. In the meantime, on behalf of the Opposition, I extend my concern and sympathy to the UUP and to all those people who work in the UUP's offices, which have been under attack, and to express my confidence and assurance that once again these brave men and women will not allow themselves to be deflected by this utterly contemptible act. I turn to the situation that has been opened up by the exchanges during the statement on Iraq, which were eloquently confirmed in the memorable critique of the moral and ethical basis on which government has been conducted by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). I think that we have reached a new depth of cynicism in the management of our affairs when we are told of the difficulties—we shall come on to them in a moment—about an election that the Government want to call off but which has already started. We are told that there is so little time and so much urgency that Parliament cannot have even two days to debate the measure, which the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) asked for last week. It is inexplicable that Parliament—we have had no explanation in response to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House—cannot even sit beyond 10 o'clock. There is so little time that we are told that we must timetable consideration of the Bill. Then we are told—it has been dramatically revealed this afternoon—that the Government have been caught in the most distasteful, mean and snivelling type of trick, which is to bring forward a statement on Iraq, which was unscheduled, merely to try to push the statement made by the right hon. Member for Ladywood further down the headlines. That really is a depth of cynicism. I do not think that anything that I can say on this subject would be so convincing, so eloquent, so memorable and so likely to stand in the record for an extremely long time as the words that we have heard from the right hon. Lady.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Secretary of State used a rather strange set of words when he said that his understanding of the necessity for today's timetable was that the other place needed two days in which to consider legislation? Is the Secretary of State telling us that an unelected House can have two days to discuss legislation, but that the elected House of Commons can have only a day's debate? Is that not a disgraceful statement from a Secretary of State?
I fear that that is precisely what the Government are telling us— indeed, it is the only possible interpretation. They are telling us that they have a majority of 200 in the Commons, so they can do anything that they like here. They can overturn the procedures of the House and its Standing Orders any time that they see fit.
And they do.
Indeed, they have done so, as my right hon. Friend says, both on this occasion and countless other occasions. Poor Northern Ireland, however, has been the victim recently. An emergency Bill was introduced in March to postpone the elections, we thought, by a month. The Government, for reasons that we shall no doubt go into later, decided that they wanted more time. They have not actually said how much more time they want, so they introduced a new Bill simply to postpone the elections indefinitely. They think that they can get away with that—they think that they can get away with anything. If we do not do something about that, the situation will continue for, I fear, two years. I hope that over that period the Government will experience a sense of guilt and that a residual democratic conscience will be awakened in them. However, I can see no trace of that whatsoever, and I fear that Parliament is being abused so systematically that, after two Parliaments with a massive Labour majority, it will emerge with its credibility permanently eroded and its procedures taken much less seriously by the electorate, who will have less faith in them as objective procedures on which they can rely or which demonstrate the basis on which public business is done here. That is deplorable, and I share the sentiments of my hon. Friends and, I am sure, many Members on both sides of the House, about today's state of affairs. As I have said, those sentiments were eloquently expressed by the right hon. Member for, Ladywood.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware, and I am sure that you will want to remind the House, that personal statements are not only listened to in silence but are not commented on.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not been here as long as the hon. Lady, so this may be an unnecessary comment. However, my understanding is that there is no comment on personal statements once they are concluded but they are often referred to in subsequent parliamentary debates.
Or during a guillotine motion.
Order. A generalised reference post facto is permissible, but I was about to suggest to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that, having made a generalised point, he should perhaps nudge his focus on to the allocation of time motion before the House.
Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, personal resignation statements are an important part of our political history, and a great many of them have been referred to many years and, indeed, generations after they were delivered.
The Secretary of State seemed to hint that the usual channels had agreed today's arrangements. Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Conservative Whips did not agree to a cut in the time for debate? No Member from Northern Ireland, as far as I am aware, whatever party they represent, was consulted in any way about today's time limit.
It does not surprise me in the least that the Government did not consult any of the Northern Ireland parties about the timetable motion, as they do not appear to consult the democratically elected Northern Ireland parties about the substance of their proposals on Northern Ireland. We shall discuss an example of that very shortly. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks—no deal has been done between the usual channels, and I have not discussed the timetable motion at all with the Government. They do not know what I am about to tell them—what the attitude of the Opposition is towards the timetable motion.
Given the importance of communicating to the people of this country the extent of the Government's contempt for Parliament entailed by the allocation of time motion, will my hon. Friend confirm that, if we start the Second Reading debate at 5 pm, continue for an hour and have a further hour on Third Reading at the end, it means, in practice, that fewer than 10 minutes will be available to debate each of the 19 tabled amendments?
My hon. Friend always does his homework impressively and I am sure that his calculations are right. As he says, it is a disgraceful and also an extremely sad state of affairs.Let me set the curiosity of the House at rest. Had there been some consultation and had we not had such an egregious example this afternoon of an attempt to manipulate Parliament and deliberately waste even more time—the Government acknowledged that it was scarce—I might have been open to the idea, because we accept the need to take a rapid decision on whether to hold elections in Northern Ireland, of accepting some form of timetable motion. However, in view of the circumstances, the Government's attitude and their squalid tricks this afternoon, there is no question of that. We must stand up for what we believe in—that Parliament deserves to be and must be treated with some respect, and that the Government's treatment of Parliament is nothing less than a constitutional disaster. I shall therefore urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the motion. At this 11th hour, I do not have any great hopes, but I would like to see some last-minute repentance when the Government come to understand the impact of their actions, as viewed not just on this side of the House, but by distinguished Members on their own side.
I shall enter the Division Lobby against the guillotine motion, which is an outrageous example of the House being brought into disrepute by the charade of our lawmaking process. It is the ultimate example. It was within the competence of the Government to have accorded some extra time for the Committee stage—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State, from a sedentary position, says nonsense, but he was not prepared to give way in his speech. I wanted to intervene on him and I believe I am correct in saying that when he was challenged, he said that he did not decide on Government business. Before coming into the Chamber I tried to inquire who was the guilty party and the Whips told me, "It is not us, Guy". The fact remains that someone somewhere in Government arrogantly decided that all stages of debate would be concluded at 10 pm. It is a shameful exercise, and I am not prepared any longer to acquiesce by my silence in this charade of lawmaking.If the Secretary of State can contain himself, I shall take him back to 10 minutes to midnight last Tuesday evening, when I asked him when he would publish the Bill. He told me, "Thursday", but as he sat down, the blood drained from his face because he realised that he had screwed up: he did not mean Thursday and it was, in fact, published on Friday. The reason it was published on Friday is that it is a complicated Bill and the parliamentary draftsmen did not have enough time to complete it sooner. It is all right for the Government to have as much time as they need to prepare for a complicated Bill, but it is of no consequence to Parliament. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State should be more sensitive to the legitimate requirements of the House to see a final Bill properly printed, to be able to consider amendments and to consult other people and parties about them. To buttress my case, I draw attention to clause 6—a catch-all clause lobbed into the Bill, which it makes it even more complicated. Basically, it provides that if anything in the Act needs altering, the Secretary of State has absolute power to alter it. That is a total power, which I believe requires the utmost scrutiny. It means that the Secretary of State can alter anything by statutory instrument without an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That demonstrates how the rivets have been put on the Bill as it has been going down the slipway. No one else has time to consider it and I am not prepared to go along with this charade. It is a thundering disgrace.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the bombing this morning at the Ulster Unionist party's headquarters.Since taking an interest in Northern Ireland matters in this place, I have been struck forcefully by the extent to which elected representatives in the House, in other councils and in the legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland require a great deal of courage to go about their day-to-day business, doing things that many of us on this side of the water have always taken for granted. The Secretary of State, in introducing the timetable motion, referred to the need for urgency. Given that this is a mess of the Government's own making, no one on either side of the House could possible dispute that there is an element of urgency to today's proceedings. However, urgency is one thing, indecent haste is something quite different, and the terms of the timetabling motion, insisting on a conclusion by 10 o'clock, constitute indecent haste. Having said that, I am mindful of the fact that it is already past 5 o'clock and that we are eating into valuable time. I in no way disagree with the hon. Members for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), but I wonder whether, even at this late stage, everyone having put their objections on the record, it might be possible to recognise the inevitable and deal with this without a Division, which would be an unacceptable use of exceptionally precious time. It would be a good example of responsible opposition, which, I regret to say, would stand in stark contrast to the attitude displayed by the Government.
Members representing English constituencies who get themselves involved in Northern Ireland affairs are not usually those who seek general popularity. Indeed, some might say that they are not even very sensible. But the reality is that we are a United Kingdom, and Parliament, inadequate though it may be, represents every member of it, of every political party and every shade of view.I have the greatest respect for the Secretary of State. He is an honourable man who fulfils a difficult task very well indeed. But I am today very concerned by the fact that it is felt necessary to timetable such important legislation in this manner. It has become a habit of the Government to treat the passing of legislation as merely a question of spending sufficient hours in a way that can be properly marshalled, and it is not good enough to come to the House of Commons and say, "It is true that the House of Lords must have two days, but despite this being a matter of such importance I intend you to have only one." I am very disturbed. I dislike the timetabling of Bills anyway, but on a matter that is of almost constitutional importance, I have to say that, in my political experience, Members, however discursive, ill informed or sadly misinformed they are, and from whatever part of the globe they come, have the right to express their views in the House of Commons in a proper way. To do that, they must have time, and we must have the time to disagree with them. Those who seek to curtail debate, whatever their reasons and whatever the so-called urgency, do democracy, and certainly the House of Commons, ill, and I am sad to see it today.
I thank the Secretary of State and other hon. Members for their comments on the incident at my party's headquarters this morning. As hon. Members may know, an envelope containing a device and addressed to me was being opened by one of my researchers when the device was activated. Had it operated in the way in which the people who made it planned, that gentleman could have received fatal injuries. What happened was a very serious incident in itself. I say to the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who speaks for the Opposition, that I, too, hope that, like those who sent a letter bomb to my constituency office some time ago, the people responsible for today's incident will be apprehended. I am sure that the police will spare no effort in that regard.We have always been opposed, and we continue to be opposed, to guillotines. They are wrong in principle and in this case. However, we are realistic and we know that the Government have a majority. We welcome very much the comments and support of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), but even reinforced by that formidable support we would be unlikely to defeat the Government were the motion pressed to a vote, so I shall not speak at great length. Two points will suffice. First, the Bill is unnecessary and should not have been introduced. It would not have been if the Government had thought the matter through clearly. There is a conflict between the Northern Ireland Acts of 1998 and 2000. Conflict has been clear, and inconsistency has been clear for some time. Any simple thought by the Government from October onwards would have made them realise that there was a problem that could and should have been resolved. There was plenty of opportunity to resolve the problem, but rather than doing so, people waited to the last minute, hoping that somehow it would go away. It has not. That is unnecessary; with a little bit of thought, the Government could have dealt with it. As the Government failed to think the matter through and to act, it is unfair that hon. Members should be penalised by lack of time. The Government could either have given more time after 10 o'clock or followed the good example of the other place and allocated another day. There is plenty of time for that, given the business that the Government have scheduled for the rest of the week. Secondly, until a few minutes ago, I was under the impression that the Opposition line was to make their point on the guillotine, but not to divide the House. That will only penalise us, as we will lose another 15 to 20 minutes. I ask the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford to think.
I have great sympathy with the position in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been put and the necessity, because of circumstance, of tabling this guillotine motion. I also felt sorry for him last Tuesday night, when we again addressed at 10 pm a very difficult problem in Northern Ireland. However, that is nothing new. This Administration, like earlier Administrations, have given us a dosage of late-night debates on some of the most crucial matters of life and death.I must not waste time on this guillotine debate, because we as a party must oppose the guillotine. The reason is simple. We are talking about a fundamental change in the democratic process. It is not necessarily a suspension of the elections sine die. It might be an abolition of the elections, because the only redeeming aspect or possibility of bringing an election back to the political forum of Northern Ireland is, in the terms of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, if trust can be re-established. Who measures the degree of trust that would trigger an election? That is a very subjective theme on which to base whether we have an election. Is it the Secretary of State's judgment to say that trust has been reestablished or is it the Prime Minister's judgment? That is what the Bill is all about. The reality is that, by the suspension and possible abolition of elections, we are handing to the parties in Northern Ireland—particularly Sinn Fein and, I must say, the Ulster Unionist party—a veto as to when, if ever, elections will be held. If they say that they do not have trust, there will, according to the Bill, be no elections. That is a very dangerous precedent. Although I have great sympathy for the Secretary of State, we must record our opposition to the guillotine. Such fundamental principles are involved that we cannot let them go without debate. I extend my sympathy to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and his party, and to the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), who was attacked physically. That is an attack on us all, as we have said so often in this House.
Does not the hon. Gentleman underestimate the resent electoral strength, power and veto of the SDLP? The Assembly and the Executive would still be in existence and the election would already have taken place had the SDLP separated itself after Sinn Fein proved itself to be incapable of being a democratic party and was involved in Stormontgate—
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go down that route: it is outside the scope of the motion.
You have disappointed me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by not allowing me to respond to that attack on my party, but I will abide by your ruling. We know which party withdrew from the last Administration: it was the party of the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), and no other, that withdrew, bringing about the collapse of the Government. Had its members stayed on in their posts, we would not be here tonight.
When my hon. Friend speaks about the hon. Gentleman's party, what exactly is he talking about?
I wish that I had had notice of that intervention, because I am somewhat nonplussed as to how to respond.We must record our opposition to the shortness of this debate on a very fundamental aspect of democracy in Northern Ireland. We now have the ludicrous situation whereby many party members who paid their deposits for nomination for election last Friday week and last Monday are still waiting for it to be repaid as the Bill goes through. That is how much politics and the democratic process have been, and are being, brought into disrepute in Northern Ireland.
Of course, all hon. Members sympathise with the official Unionist party and condemn the attack on its headquarters. I wish that the leader of that party had been as liberal with my party after it was attacked in North Belfast with a 100 lb bomb in a building where two senior citizens were being attended to by their Member of Parliament. At the time, no one in this House, not even the Secretary of State, thought to mention that. I am glad that he did so today. I condemn all such actions equally. Whatever the place may be, no one should plant a bomb or anything that would cause grief, wounding or even killing. That must be utterly and totally condemned. I hope that the people who bombed the official Unionist party's headquarters and the people who bombed the advice centre of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) will be caught and brought to justice, and that the law will take its course, showing that the law does rule in Northern Ireland.It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that I am wasting time, but he tabled the motion and allowed us three hours to discuss it. He cannot say to me, as a representative from Northern Ireland, that I am wasting the time of the House. I had nothing to do with the three hours that he appointed; neither I nor my party were consulted. As he knows very well, because I spoke to him personally in the House last week, we are grateful that he made an effort to get Members from Northern Ireland a copy of the draft Bill. Otherwise, we would have received a copy only when we walked into the House today. The House should not conduct its business in such a way. The Bill does not postpone but cancels the election. In the case of postponement, a date would be set. Even someone in Dublin, who must have been at the meetings there, gave a date in October. However, that disappeared when the matter came up for discussion. We have no date and the statement made it clear who would make the decision. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to that. The Bill would wipe out a date for elections, so we are considering cancellation. That is very serious. The Secretary of State is a fair man and I know that he wants to help the people of Northern Ireland. He may be helping them in the wrong way, but we shall not judge him for that. Some day he will answer to a higher authority. However, surely we should have time to debate the matter properly. I ask him to give us time to do that.
The date of the next general election to this House has not been announced. It may be in 2005 or 2006, but we will not know until a month beforehand. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that elections to this House have been cancelled?
It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill. The measure that set up the Assembly provided for a fixed-term Assembly. I sit in the European Parliament, and I know on the day I am elected when the next election will take place. That should apply in the case that we are considering. My party took the Government to court to deal with the matter, and we have therefore done our bit. After the Bill is passed, the election will be cancelled—that is the truth.
Is not the comparison that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made ludicrous? Clearly, elections to the House have to take place in a stipulated period of time. The Bill makes no such stipulation. The Secretary of State could decide to hold them in five years.
My hon. Friend is right. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made his point. The subject pulls together voices from all over the community. I do not often agree with the SDLP, but its members agree with me and I agree with them about the Bill. We should not pass it and the elections should take place when they were set to happen.
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I am beginning to be sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) raised the matter, because it is taking us away from the motion. We must not discuss the Bill at this stage.
I believed that we were discussing the timetable motion, not the Bill.
We are considering the timetable motion.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to get on the wrong side of the Chair today, because I mean to stay until the bitter end to vote on the Bill.The House does itself no good with anybody in Northern Ireland when it acts in the way in which it is acting to put off the elections.