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Commons Chamber

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 4 June 2003

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 4 June 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

NOTTINGHAM CITY COUNCIL [Lords]

Read a Second time, and committed.

TRANSAS GROUP BILL (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 11 June.

Oral Answers To Questions

Wales

The Secretary of State was asked

Unemployment

1.

What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary about the number of unemployed people in Wales in (a) May 1997 and (b) May 2003. [116421]

Unemployment in Wales is down 45 per cent. since April 1997 and down at least 33 per cent. in every Welsh constituency. Youth unemployment in Wales is down 79 per cent. during the same period and long-term unemployment is down 84 per cent. The Welsh economy is on track for long-term sustainability and prosperity.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In Preseli Pembrokeshire, we exceed that figure, with a 46 per cent. fall in unemployment. Despite that, 75 jobs have recently been lost in Milford Haven in my constituency, primarily because of a lack of broadband facilities. Will he please hold discussions with BT and particularly the regulator, which seems to be the stumbling block in this instance, to see whether moves can be made to roll out broadband in Wales to avoid such unnecessary loss of jobs in future?

I shall certainly do that. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Broadband is being rolled out extensively across Wales, but more needs to be done, particularly for rural areas, including Pembrokeshire, and she makes her case very well.

Will the Secretary of State please tell the House what is being done in Wales to increase employment opportunities for those between the ages of 50 and 65? When he replies, will he also tell the House what is happening with regard to the under-employed in the Wales Office?

I shall answer the serious part of the hon. Gentleman's question first. He asked what is being done for older workers. The Government have a strategy in place to assist older workers, including, in particular, those in valley communities who lost their jobs in the days of heavy industry and have found it difficult to get back into work. To that extent, I am delighted that levels of economic inactivity are falling and that there was a 54,000 cut in economic inactivity last year. That is the first time that that has happened for a very long time.

In respect of the Wales Office, I say to the hon. Gentleman that he either wants a strong Wales Office or he does not. Of course, Plaid Cymru wants to abolish the Wales Office as it wants independence for Wales and does not want anybody representing it in the United Kingdom Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that jobs in the manufacturing industry in Wales are crucial to the economy? I am sure that he is aware that a joint report by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Office of Fair Trading about the UK insurance market is about to be announced. Does he agree that some manufacturing companies in Wales will look keenly at the findings of that investigation, because their survival will be decided in relation to the heavy burden of insurance policies on such companies?

The Government are addressing the issue, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to join me in welcoming the 25,000 new manufacturing jobs that have been created in Wales in the past year and, in particular, the reports in recent days that new optimism and opportunity are opening up for Welsh exporters as a result of the strengthening of the euro against the pound. That has provided a big window for Wales, especially in Europe.

On behalf of the Opposition, may I wish the Secretary of State best wishes for his happy event on 14 June?

Since the Secretary of State came to his post, we have seen a massive decline in the manufacturing industry. The latest big name closure is that of LG in Newport, with the loss almost 1,000 jobs. Does he put that miserable record down to the fact that he has not been paying enough attention to Wales?

We have created 68,000 new jobs in Wales in the past year. Employment has increased to record levels from the miserable level under the Tories. Some 25,000 new manufacturing jobs have been created. Yes, the LG closure is a disappointment. The project involved about £247 million of public money and was supported by one of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), then Secretary of State for Wales. It has shown that what we should do is disperse our investment support across a much wider base of economic activity rather than concentrate it in one prestige project, which found that it could not continue its activity because of world demand.

The Minister is not dispersing support, but dispersing manufacturing jobs in Wales—that is the problem. Order books have contracted for the past six months and exports are down for the past four months. Instead of swanning around Europe selling out British interests on the European Convention, should he not be spending more time listening to the voices of manufacturers talking about matters such as the climate change levy and the extra burdens of red tape and offer an apology for the 1 per cent. jobs tax that his Government introduced last April? Manufacturing is in meltdown in Wales, and the Government must act before more thousands of jobs are exported to his beloved Europe.

The hon. Gentleman obviously swotted very hard for that question, but we should stick to the facts. The reality is that for the seventh consecutive month business activity in Wales remains above the British average, that the latest export figures for Wales show a rise of 9 per cent. on the fourth quarter of last year compared with the same period a year ago, and that Welsh companies are doing better than other British companies. The hon. Gentleman wants to run down manufacturing in Wales. I recently visited the finest and largest manufacturing centre in Britain—Airbus in Broughton, which is an example of more manufacturing jobs being created in Wales. Some 25,000 new manufacturing jobs were created last year, compared with the dreadful record of the Tories, who massacred our manufacturing sector.

Defence Aviation And Research Agency

2.

When he last met the Secretary of State for Defence to discuss the progress of the Red Dragon Project at RAF St Athan; and if he will make a statement. [116422]

I welcome the fact that the construction of a new state-of-the-art repair and maintenance facility by the Defence and Aviation Repair Agency at its headquarters base in St. Athan is under way. The DARA development will also be the focus wider plans by the welsh Development Agency to develop a high-tech aerospace park at St. Athan. That leading-edge facility will secure and create around 4,000 new jobs.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. I, too, am delighted to hear that the £80 million super-hangar that is being constructed in my constituency in the Vale of Glamorgan is well on schedule. However, when he next meets the Secretary of State for Defence, will he seek an assurance that during the construction of the hangar sufficient work is directed to DARA from the Ministry of Defence to maintain current manning levels? I fear that if that assurance is not forthcoming, a large number of highly skilled, highly paid jobs could be at risk over the next 12 to 18 months.

I should pay tribute to my hon. Friend. No one has worked harder to secure that development in his constituency. He is a model constituency MP and deserves to be re-elected with a resounding majority at the next election.

As for the matter that he raises, I am aware of his concerns, which he has discussed with several of my ministerial colleagues. I shall certainly bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. In saying that, I should also point out that Wales is currently doing very well out of defence industry contracts, including Oshkosh, General Dynamics and Cogent. The Red Dragon project in my hon. Friend's constituency is the icing on the cake.

Will the Minister actively support a strategy to make Wales a global aerospace centre of excellence, with projects such as Red Dragon in the south and related civil and military aerospace projects in north and mid-Wales, where our regional airport structure and manufacturing companies, such as the beleaguered KTH company, might be well suited?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good and important point. I re-emphasise what I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) about the Welsh Development Agency's development of the aerospace park project at St. Athan. That is central to what the hon. Gentleman wants to achieve. I am sure that, working together in partnership with the Government here in Westminster, a Labour Government in Cardiff and the WDA, we will achieve it.

Local Government Elections

3.

What consultations he has had with the First Minister on the date of the local government elections in Wales. [116423]

I have discussed with the First Minister my view that, although the date of local government elections is a matter for the National Assembly, it should be combined with the European elections a month later.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Would it not also make sense if, as well as having the Euro elections and the council elections on the same day, both elections took the form of an all-postal ballot? If European countries can have different systems for the European parliamentary elections, why cannot we in the United Kingdom opt to conduct ours via an all-postal ballot system, so as to increase the turnout and give greater to access to voters?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Government are considering this matter and trying to encourage more postal voting. Indeed, many more postal votes were cast in Wales—there were four times as many in my own borough—as there were in the last Assembly elections. That is an encouraging trend, but my hon. Friend raises a valid point.

A commission recently reported on electoral arrangements for local government in Wales and made recommendations about the introduction of voting at 16 and the use of a proportional system for voting. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues in the Assembly about introducing those recommendations?

I am horrified by the Secretary of State's first response. The local elections were moved by a full 12 months so that they would not be on the same day as the Welsh Assembly elections, and the turnout was a miserable 38 per cent. I know that the Secretary of State is not keen for the people of Wales to have a say in how they are governed, but will he please give an assurance that the local election date will not be moved by another month? Also, while we are at it, let us have a vote on the European Convention.

I shall come back to the question of Europe in a minute, if you will allow me to do so, Mr. Speaker. On the Welsh side of the hon. Gentleman's question, the turnout in the English local elections was only 30 per cent. The Government are planning to hold the European elections and the English local elections, including the Greater London elections, on the same day next June. There is a strong case for doing the same in Wales. On Europe, this Labour Government have held more referendums than any other Government. [Interruption.] The Conservatives have never held a referendum on anything. The treaty that will come out of the European Convention will be subject to exactly the same parliamentary procedures. [Interruption.]

Agency Workers

5.

When he next expects to meet representatives of employment agencies to discuss the use of agency workers in the small firm sector in Wales. [116425]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have no plans to meet representatives of the Wales and south-west region of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. However, we would be happy to meet them if asked.

I am sorry that the Minister is not going to meet them in the near future, because has he had a chance to consider the possible impact of the agency workers directive on the recruitment of temporary staff in Wales? Is he aware that the CBI has estimated that the directive could cost more than 60,000 jobs in Wales alone? Surely, if he and the Secretary of State really want to help manufacturing, they will do all that they can to stop that job-destroying directive.

The hon. Gentleman has raised this matter about seven times in the House. He is certainly persistent and diligent in pursuing it, and I do not criticise him for that. Yesterday, at the Employment and Social Policy Council, my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions at the Department of Trade and Industry failed to reach agreement on the Commission's proposals. The British Government's position is that we will continue to work for a directive that gets the right balance between protecting agency workers and protecting their jobs.

Does my hon. Friend welcome the opportunity for the small firms sector that will arise from the welcome news today that Celsa is to restart steelmaking on the ASW site in Cardiff? Will he do all that he can to ensure that the jobs that might be advertised by employment agencies go to redundant steelworkers from ASW?

I do indeed welcome the news that the project that Celsa is engaged in at the former ASW plant in Cardiff is to go ahead. I take note of my hon. Friend's point, and I would say that any agency recruiting workers for Celsa in Cardiff would certainly have to look in the first instance at the former employees of ASW. Their skills are in very high demand, and I have no doubt that the quality work force who were treated so badly by ASW will provide an excellent work force for Celsa.

National Health Service

6.

If he will make a statement on the national health service in Wales. [116426]

Under our Government the national health service in Wales has been receiving record investment, and record numbers of patients are being seen.

The Health and Social Care Bill says that foundation hospitals will provide goods and services from the NHS for people in England. Why is Wales excluded, given that 26,000 people from Wales seek treatment in England each year?

One of the Conservatives' problems is their inability to recognise that devolution was designed to allow different parts of the United Kingdom to do things differently. That is what is happening in Wales. The hon. Lady does not, of course, advertise the fact that the Conservatives believe in 20 per cent. cuts in health spending. [Interruption.] Oh yes, they do. Their leader has advocated those cuts. Moreover, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), a former Secretary of State for Wales, says that 20 per cent. is not enough. What does the hon. Lady believe in, and what does the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) believe in?

Despite what is said by the knockers in the Conservative party who presided over a long-term decline in the health service, is it not the case that under this Government a record number of new hospitals have been built, a record number of nurses have been recruited, and a new cancer centre has been built at Glan Clwyd hospital in my constituency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under the Conservatives, 100 hospitals were closed in Wales. Under Labour, 10 new hospitals are being built or have already opened. We are recruiting 3,500 more NHS staff, an extra 6,000 nurses, an extra 525 consultants and 175 more GPs. That is an excellent record, compared with the dreadful record of the Tories.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with colleagues here and in Cardiff about the impact of the establishment of foundation hospitals along the border with Wales? What has been the effect of recruitment of staff from Welsh hospitals, and the treatment of patients from Welsh hospitals in the English foundation hospitals?

Obviously patients have the right to cross the border in either direction, but we are keeping the matter under close review, and I have already discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Coal Miners' Compensation

7.

When the Welsh subgroup of the coal health claims monitoring Group last met; and what assessment was made of the effectiveness of the claims procedures. [116428]

The Welsh sub-group last met on 7 April, when I was delighted to welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard) as members.

The progress on payments under both the respiratory disease and the vibration white finger schemes in Wales speaks volumes for the valuable contribution made by the group.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but could he be a bit more precise and let me know what criteria—[Interruption.]

Could my hon. Friend tell me what criteria are used to determine priorities when the miner's estate is the beneficiary, and what is the current position relating to payments in Wales and specifically in my constituency?

I can tell my hon. Friend that £4.5 million has been paid for respiratory disease in his constituency, £1.3 million has been paid under the vibration white finger scheme, and £228 million has been paid for respiratory disease throughout Wales. We may not be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, but at least we can see the tunnel for the first time.

The priorities are the oldest miners, the most ill, and the widows. As for estate claims, if there is any indication of a short life expectancy the process may be accelerated and the claim considered more urgently. We will, however, look at cases individually. I pay tribute to the Minister for Energy and Construction, who has been wonderfully supportive in especially difficult cases, helping to secure for our miners the justice that they so richly deserve.

There is one group of former miners in Wales on which there has been absolutely no progress—not a single penny has been paid. I refer, of course, to those who worked in the private mines. Since those mines were licensed by the National Coal Board, which received a levy on every tonne of coal produced, do not the Government have a responsibility to those men, whose suffering is every bit as real as that of those who worked in the nationalised industry?

I recognise the justice of the hon. Gentleman's point. Our monitoring group has discussed that issue, which continues to be the subject of discussions between solicitors representing the claimants and the Department of Trade and Industry. We have done everything we possibly can to bring the matter to the top of the agenda.

National Assembly Elections

8.

What assessment he has made of the level of voter turnout in the last elections for the National Assembly for Wales on 1 May. [116429]

The turnout in the recent Assembly elections was disappointing and the Government and the Electoral Commission are looking at ways of addressing that issue.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right. The actual turnout for the Assembly elections in Wales was extremely disappointing at 38 per cent. If that had been the turnout at a general election, the House would be bewailing the end of representative democracy. Does it not show that the people of Wales do not believe their Assembly is worth anything at all and that their local government and this House are where decisions are made? When will he understand that devolution is not always the answer to the problem?

Presumably, exactly the same logic applies to the borough of Macclesfield, where the turnout was just 30 per cent.—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman suggest, therefore, that that item of representative democracy should disappear? Of course not.

The hon. Gentleman is a great patriot for Macclesfield—I will not take that from him—and an excellent Member of Parliament but the truth is that turnout in all elections at every level has been falling across the democratic world. It is a great concern and we should all address it seriously.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the reason for the low turnout in the Assembly elections is probably that voters did not believe that the Assembly was relevant to the problems in the communities? If we are to increase the turnout in the next Assembly election, can he advise the leadership of the Assembly to stop wasting money on projects such as the glorified opera house in Cardiff bay, which cost £100 million, and instead spend that money to create jobs in some of the most deprived valley communities?

It is important that we recognise that Cardiff and Wales should be going for world-class excellence in every area. The valley communities that my hon. Friend and I represent are part of that drive to make Wales a world-class nation. In respect of turnout, I do not think that one can draw the conclusion that he has reached. The turnout at the Scottish elections was much lower but the Scottish Parliament has greater powers. The turnout at the last general election was lower than at the previous one. We must address the issue across democratic politics on a non-party basis.

Higher And Further Education

9.

What plans he has to encourage closer links between higher education and further education institutions in Wales. [116430]

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are very aware of the Assembly Cabinet's strategy for reconfiguration within the Welsh continuing education sector. We strongly welcome the progress that is being made towards greater collaboration between higher education and further education institutions in Wales.

Will my hon. Friend continue to study the proposals from University of Wales college, Newport and Coleg Gwent for close integration of the work of the two institutions to enable students in south-east Wales to progress seamlessly to higher levels of skills and qualification, and will he commend that model elsewhere in Wales and the United Kingdom?

I join my right hon. Friend in welcoming the important work on closer links between Coleg Gwent and the University of Wales college, Newport. I know that he takes a keen interest in that issue. I also welcome the support being given by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales for that reconfiguration and closer collaboration. A total of £5.3 million is being made available across the principality. I will continue to take an interest in the progress on that work. Those close links are important to the development of education in Wales.

Broadband

10.

What discussions he has had with National Assembly colleagues regarding implementation of the Broadband Wales programme. [116431]

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend—

That is always wise, Mr. Speaker.

I have regular bilateral meetings with National Assembly colleagues, and Broadband Wales is one of the many subject areas discussed.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker—I was so excited about getting in on Wales questions. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the National Assembly on the roll-out of broadband in Wales, and on the £110 million that has been invested to ensure affordable broadband in the region? Does he agree that the roll-out of broadband is as important in Wales as it is in Scotland, that it is rapidly improving and that a celtic alliance between the two nations should be supported?

The answer is yes, and I welcome the highest talent from all parts of the House to Wales questions.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked

Engagements

Q1. [116549]

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 4 June.

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

UN weapons inspectors said 12 weeks ago that it was their "strong presumption" that Saddam Hussein had not destroyed, among other things, 10,000 litres of anthrax, 80 tonnes of mustard gas and large quantities of VX nerve agent. Where are these weapons and what does the Prime Minister say to allegations that their threat has been exaggerated? Does he share my hope that one day, every leader who gases, tortures and buries—dead and alive—hundreds and thousands of his own people will be removed by force?

In relation to weapons of mass destruction, my hon. Friend is of course right to say that it was accepted by the entire international community, and not least by the UN Security Council, that Saddam Hussein did indeed have weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to the security of the world, which is why the resolution was passed last November. In respect of the search for weapons of mass destruction, I would point out to the House that the Iraq survey group, which is 1,300 to 1,400-strong, is literally now just beginning its work, because the priority after the conflict was to rebuild Iraq and to make sure that the humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people were achieved. Perhaps I can take this opportunity to inform the House that the Intelligence and Security Committee actually contacted the Government in early May to conduct an inquiry into the role of intelligence in Iraq. I welcome this and I can assure the House that the Government will co-operate fully with it.

As for my hon. Friend's other point, I hope that we all recognise that in addition to the weapons of mass destruction issue, as I saw for myself in Iraq, the people of Iraq, whatever the problems of rebuilding that country, are delighted that a brutal dictator who murdered hundreds of thousands of their people has gone. And the British Army and the British people should be proud of the role that this country played in removing him.

The Leader of the House has said that rogue elements within the intelligence services are undermining the Government and that their numbers are growing. Does the Prime Minister agree with him?

It is obvious from what the "Today" programme has said—if that source is to be believed—that of course there was somebody from within the intelligence community who spoke to the media. But I want to say that the security services and intelligence services do a superb job on behalf of this country. Over the six years that I have been Prime Minister, they have been magnificent in the information that they have given, in their professionalism and in their integrity.

The question is not the "Today" programme but that the Leader of the House made very serious allegations about the security services. I agree with the Prime Minister that the security services fulfil a monumental role on behalf of the Government, but the Leader of the House said that they are seeking deliberately to undermine the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister can clear this up right now. Can he tell us how senior he believes these people are and how many of them there are, and what he intends to do about these allegations?

In fairness to the Leader of the House, he did not say that the security services were engaged in anything, but that somebody from the security services was talking—and it is pretty obvious that that is the case. The right hon. Gentleman asks me who it is and how senior, but according to the BBC, the source is anonymous, so obviously I do not know. There is serious point in what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I do not believe that the person who is talking is a member of the Joint Intelligence Committee and I want to make it clear to the House—I have spoken and conferred with the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee—that there was no attempt, at any time, by any official, or Minister, or member of No. 10 Downing street staff, to override the intelligence judgments of the Joint Intelligence Committee. That includes the judgment about the so-called 45 minutes. It was a judgment made by the Joint Intelligence Committee and by that committee alone.

The Leader of the House, in an interview with The Times and on the "Today" programme, did not talk about one person, but about a growing number of members of the security services. The Leader of the House made allegations about the security services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and the Prime Minister is not supporting him. We are also hearing allegations from others in the security services that the Prime Minister misled Parliament and the country in the run-up to the war. Those are highly serious allegations. Surely the essential way to deal with the problem is for the Prime Minister to publish the dossier given to him by the JIC before the one that he published in September. Will he do that today?

In relation to all those issues, the Intelligence and Security Committee is at full liberty to go through all the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments and produce a report on them. Because of the importance of the issue, it is only right that a report be published so that people can make a judgment on it. However, the claims that have been made are simply false. In particular, the claim that the readiness of Saddam to use weapons within 45 minutes of an order to use them was a point inserted in the dossier at the behest of No. 10 is completely and totally untrue. Furthermore, the allegation that the 45-minute claim provoked disquiet among the intelligence community, which disagreed with its inclusion in the dossier—I have discussed it, as I said, with the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee—is also completely and totally untrue. Instead of hearing from one or many anonymous sources, I suggest that if people have any evidence, they actually produce it.

But the Leader of the House is not an anonymous source. The Prime Minister stands in his place saying that these allegations are wrong. If so, and if he did not add the 45-minute point to the dossier, why will he not publish the dossier given him by the JIC before he finally published the one in September? Surely that would clear up the point, because it was given to him as evidence that could be put in the public domain. He can do that now and clear the matter up. Of course we welcome the fact that the Intelligence and Security Committee will look into it, but I remind the whole House that the Prime Minister will let that Committee see only the intelligence reports that he wants it to see. It reports directly to him and he can withhold any part of, or all of, its reports. However, the Committee is being asked to investigate the Prime Minister's role and that of his closest advisers. Given the allegations made by the Leader of the House today, surely the only way to clear up the problem is to have an independent inquiry?

As far as I am aware, the Leader of the House was not making an allegation about the intelligence being wrong. On the contrary, he was rebutting the allegation that the intelligence was wrong. In relation to the Intelligence and Security Committee, it is not true that I will withhold from it the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments. I will give it all the JIC assessments. In addition, the Committee can, in accordance with its normal practice, interview those people in the security services who drew up the JIC reports. That is surely a fair way to proceed. I will then publish the report.

If I may say so to the right hon. Gentleman, he had intelligence briefings as well. I suspect that the problem for him is that he has been wondering over the past few days whether to jump on this particular bandwagon or not, and he has made the wrong choice.

The allegations made by the Leader of the House today have changed everything. He is alleging that elements of the security services are actually seeking to undermine the Government. The Prime Minister cannot pretend that this is just a simple and small issue. The whole credibility of his Government rests on clearing up these charges. I simply say to the Prime Minister that these allegations are not going to go away. He has one former Cabinet Minister who says that he has duped the Cabinet; another says that he committed a monumental blunder; and, today, the Leader of the House has attacked members of the security services. Surely the reality is that the only way is to hold an independent judicial inquiry, if he will not produce the evidence, and to do it today.

I have already said that we will produce all the evidence for the Intelligence and Security Committee. I really think that that is the sensible and right way to proceed. It can then come to a considered judgment and I will publish the report. I repeat that all the allegations that have been made are completely without any substance. Indeed, if the right hon. Gentleman wants me to, I shall go through a few more. For example, it was reported that there was a meeting in New York between the Foreign Secretary and Colin Powell in which they expressed their doubts about weapons of mass destruction. On the day concerned, the Foreign Secretary was in France. As for the allegation in The Mail on Sunday that the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, ambushed me over weapons of mass destruction—lies. I have the following statement from the German embassy:

"The German embassy rejects in the strongest possible terms your"—
The Mail on Sunday's
"claims made on today' front page article … The content and the quotations attributed to Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer are pure fiction."
That at least is consistent. It was alleged that the source for the 45 minute claim was an Iraqi defector of dubious reliability. He was not an Iraqi defector and he was an established and reliable source.

The truth is that nobody believes a word that the Prime Minister is saying now. [Interruption.] That is the truth. We now have the unedifying sight of the Leader of the House being sent out to do the Prime Minister's bidding and to attack elements of the security services, which is disgraceful. Will the Prime Minister either publish that dossier right now, or hold an independent inquiry so that the public can judge for themselves?

Again, let me point out to the right hon. Gentleman that what the Leader of the House was saying was what was clearly true, which is that there were people speaking anonymously to the media. I want to repeat, however, that in respect of Iraq and of every issue that I have handled over the past few years, our intelligence services have been absolutely magnificent.

I say, with the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that the fact is that in the end there have been many claims made about the Iraq conflict. It was claimed that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die in it; that it would be my Vietnam; that the middle east would be in flames; and—the latest claim—that weapons of mass destruction were a complete invention by the British Government. The truth is that some people resent the fact that it was right to go to conflict. We won the conflict; thanks to the magnificent contribution of the British troops, Iraq is now free, and we should be proud of that.

Q2. [116550]

May I remind my right hon. Friend of the serious school funding problems in my constituency? While there are arguments about whether the Government provided enough money or whether the local authority has passed on all that it should have done, parents and teachers are not bothered about who is at fault. They look to us to sort out the problems, to make sure that there is enough money for this year, and that there is no repeat next year. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to get to the bottom of the story of what has gone wrong this year and guarantee that sufficient money will be made available next year to ensure that education in schools in my constituency is of the high standard that we have come to expect?

Again, let me say that I totally understand the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. They are the reason why Ministers have had several meetings with representatives of the Barnet authority. As my honourable Friend knows, Barnet received a 7 per cent. floor increase in education formula spending share per pupil. That was a significant uplift, but it is true that some schools still have problems. We are working hard to see exactly where those problems are located and how to deal with them. However, along with a significant uplift in pension contributions and extra teachers' pay, there has been real pressure on local education authority budgets. In some cases, the full amount of education spending has not been passed through. We need to make sure that it is passed through. That is what we are looking at, in respect of both this year and next year.

The Prime Minister is saying that more time is needed and asking for public patience when it comes to finding categoric evidence of weapons of mass destruction, but does he not understand that many people, in this country and internationally, treat that with some scepticism? More time and a degree of patience with regard to the progress already being made were exactly what Dr. Hans Blix appealed to the UN for. The Prime Minister was unwilling to extend that courtesy to Dr. Blix, despite having voted for it. Why then does he expect people to extend that courtesy to him?

For two reasons, the situation is completely different. First of all, what I said in relation to Hans Blix: I do not have the words in front of me now, but I think that what I said in this House, when asked many times, was that, if Saddam was co-operating fully, time was not the issue. The process could take as much time as Dr. Blix needed. However, if Saddam was not co-operating fully—and even Dr. B1ix found that he was not—that meant that Saddam was in breach of resolution 1441.

The second point is that of course the situation is different now that Saddam has been removed from power. The first priority after the conflict—and this, quite rightly, is the reason for the pressure on us—is to take the humanitarian and reconstruction measures necessary to put Iraq back on its feet. The Iraq survey group is 1,300 or 1,400 strong, and it is the main group charged with going into Iraq, investigating all the sites and interviewing the scientists and witnesses. That group is starting its work now—literally now. The reason I ask people to be patient is that the group has just gone into Iraq: it should be allowed to get on with its job, investigate the sites, interview the witnesses and then report back to us.

If the Prime Minister acknowledges that public scepticism exists, rightly or wrongly, will he acknowledge also that it is liable to be increased by the comments of the Leader of the House about the rogue elements in the security services? Who are the public to trust if the Government are letting it be known that they cannot wholeheartedly trust their own security services? Does not that underline the need for a fully independent judicial review of just what has gone on?

The intelligence that formed the basis of the dossier that we put out last September was based on Joint Intelligence Committee assessments. There was never any question of Ministers, officials or anyone else trying to override that. With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the Intelligence and Security Committee will be able to go through all those intelligence assessments. If the Committee wants to refer to those assessments, it can. That will then be published in its report. Rather than having allegations made by anonymous sources that are completely untrue, is it not better that people with evidence should present it to the Intelligence and Security Committee and allow that Committee to make a judgment?

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is scepticism about the matter, but perhaps he should go back and look at some of the words that he has used and the false allegations that he has made. Then he will see where the scepticism might have originated.

Middle East

Q3. [116551]

What plans he has to visit Bethlehem before 25 December to discuss progress on a settlement of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

I am sorry to hear the Prime Minister say that. Christmas could not be celebrated last year in Bethlehem because of the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. International voluntary workers, including Alistair Hillmans, a constituent of mine, were illegally arrested by the Israelis on territory that is not theirs. Given the new determination under the new middle east peace plan—the road map—would it not be good if the Prime Minister could say, "I will be in Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas this year."? Would it not be good if such towns as Jenin, Tulkarm, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Dura and Dhahiriya were all part of a consolidated Palestinian state?

My hon. Friend's point is right. It is important to do all that we can to make sure that there is freedom of access to Bethlehem this year. As he rightly points out, as a result of the situation in the middle east, people were not able to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem last year. However, it is worth pointing out that, for the first time in several years, we have the prospect of the peace process in the middle east moving forward. I very much welcome the initiative that President Bush has taken in that regard. If we can get some sort of normalisation under way, I have no doubt that it should include access to Bethlehem. I am sure that that will be one of the points that those who are trying to negotiate the first steps in reviving the peace process will take into account.

Why does the Prime Minister not grasp the nettle and reaffirm the probity and efficacy of his Government by holding a clear judicial inquiry into the matters that are of public concern?

I have answered the allegations that people have put. I have answered them not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. There is a proper way of proceeding. The all-party Intelligence and Security Committee will look into these matters, as it has asked to do, and will make a report. The specific allegation made about the 45 minutes is one that the Committee is perfectly able to investigate and reach conclusions on. I hope that if it concludes that what I have said from the Dispatch Box is correct, our security services—never mind the Government—will receive an apology from those people who made that allegation.

Engagements

Q4. [116552]

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Liverpool on becoming the European capital of culture? Will he also congratulate Cardiff, which put in a great bid, and the other cities on the shortlist? What plans are there to build on the success and momentum created in Cardiff and the other shortlisted cities?

I offer my warm congratulations to Liverpool on becoming the European capital of culture. For my own safety, I should point out that the decision was taken on a recommendation by an independent committee—

There is an established and reliable source for that, anyway.

My commiserations go, of course, to those cities, not just Cardiff, that made fantastic efforts in their bids. Because they have done so well, the Government intend to invest a particular sum to ensure that those cities that did not win, because Liverpool did, will still be given a chance to develop as cities of culture.

Q5. [116553]

The governors at Neville Lovett community school in my constituency are likely to have to disband its learning support unit in order to balance the books. Does the Prime Minister think it right that those who need support in their education are likely to lose it because the Government have not got their sums right on school funding?

Obviously, I do not know the situation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. However, we have put in a huge increase in his area, Hampshire, over the past few years, and there was a particularly large increase this year. I cannot say for sure exactly how the money has been allocated by the local education authority, but I do say to Conservative Members who say that they want even more money to go into education that it is curious to demand that when their policy has been not to support extra investment, but to cut it by 20 per cent. across the board.

Does the Prime Minister recall saying in the September debate that we knew that Saddam had been trying to buy uranium from Africa? Has he been advised since then that it is accepted that the documents on which that claim was based were forged? I have never questioned the good faith of my right hon. Friend, so could he not save the Intelligence and Security Committee a lot of time in its inquiry by correcting the record now on the alleged uranium from Africa, and on the alleged weapons ready in 45 minutes, and say that he regrets that, in all good faith, he gave the House information that has since turned out to be wrong?

No, I am afraid that I have to say to my right hon. Friend that I will not do that, for this reason. There are two quite separate allegations. My right hon. Friend started with the allegation about uranium from Africa. There was intelligence to that effect. I shall not go into the details of the particular intelligence, but at the time it was judged by the Joint Intelligence Committee to be correct. Until we investigate properly, we are simply not in a position to say whether that is so. In respect of the 45 minutes, however, that is a wholly different allegation. I have to say to my right hon. Friend that the Joint Intelligence Committee made that assessment on its own behalf with no interference from anyone. I shall certainly not stand here and say that that assessment is wrong, as the committee's judgment is that it was right. The committee is in a better position to make that judgment than either me or, with respect, my right hon. Friend.

Q6. [116554]

Yet again, Greenpeace has today highlighted the use by the Government, in the Home Office, of timber from unsustainable sources. Will the Prime Minister accept that the use of unsustainable timber must be stopped—[Interruption.]

Order. The House must let the hon. Lady ask her question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?] Because her name is on the Order Paper and she is entitled to ask a question.

There is evidence from Greenpeace. We should declare war on the illegal use of timber and end the mass destruction of forests once and for all.

I am getting instructions from further along the Bench. Is this to do with a fence around Marsham street?

I regret to say that, along with everything else, I am not 100 per cent. up to speed about the fence around Marsham street. The Home Secretary seems to be disputing rather vigorously the claim that is being made.

Probably he would. I shall look into the matter and drop the hon. Member for Guildford (Sue Doughty) a line about it. It may be an issue to take up with the contractors rather than with the Government.

Iraq

Q7. [116555]

What action he has taken since 14 May to gather documentation in relation to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We believe that documents relating to Iraq's WMD programmes have been carefully concealed, including at the homes of scientists and other personnel connected with those programmes. As I informed the House a moment or two ago, a new organisation, the Iraq survey group, has been set up to take charge of the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, among other things. The group will harness intelligence resources and the investigatory skills of about 1,300 to 1,400 staff from the US, the UK and Australia. It will subsume the existing smaller operations and investigations being carried out by the US military. It will also include former United Nations arms inspectors, and it represents a significant expansion of effort in the coalition hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

Tonight at 7 o'clock, Mr. Speaker has given me an Adjournment debate on the situation in detention of Tariq Aziz. Could the Prime Minister ask the junior Minister at the Foreign Office who will be replying to the debate to enlarge on the processes by which the documentation that is found may relate to trials, not only of Tariq Aziz but of some others? Do we not have to be rather careful, whatever our views, about victors' justice? Surely those people have to be brought to trial one way or another?

I agree with my hon. Friend: they have to be brought to trial in a proper way. That is something that we are discussing at present both with our allies and with the United Nations. I shall certainly pass on to my hon. Friend, the Foreign Office Minister who will reply to the debate, the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made. I hope, however, that he will recognise and support us in one thing. Sometimes over the past few days, it has been almost as if the whole issue of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction were a curious invention. The weapons of mass destruction issue and Saddam have been around for 12 years in the UN, as have Saddam's efforts at concealment.

When I was replying to my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), I forgot one point. It is sometimes said that it is very curious that, if those weapons were ready to fire, they were not found immediately. The answer to that lies in the very point we made in the dossier, which is that once Saddam started to realise that United Nations inspectors were coming back in, as I think I said continually at the Dispatch Box, there was then a concerted campaign of concealment of the weapons. Indeed, I think I also Said—if not at this Dispatch Box, then elsewhere Publicly—that one benefit of that, although there were obviously a lot of problems with it, was that it would make it more difficult to reassemble those weapons; but that does not in any shape or form dispute the original intelligence.

As for the other point that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow makes, about the tribunal and how these people are tried, I can assure him that if they are tried they should be tried according to proper and due process.

Those of us who argued that the conflict in Iraq was illegal continually had the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction thrown at us by the right hon. Gentleman and others. Is it not high time to have a full public inquiry? It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to rely on a report by the Joint Intelligence Committee, because he can be selective as to what he produces, and when all is said and done, the Committee is answerable to him.

I suspect that whatever we did would not be good enough for the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that he and his colleagues were opposed to this from the very beginning, and from the moment the conflict ended and all their predictions of disaster turned out to be untrue, they have been looking for a way of getting back into the argument, saying it was all a terrible mistake.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman one thing. I have been to Iraq and spoken to those Iraqi people; yes, it is true that there is an enormous job of reconstruction to be done in that country, but seeing the literally tens of thousands of bodies in mass graves uncovered in Iraq, and realising that these people had been deprived of freedom for decade upon decade, let us be thankful that someone who was a threat with his weapons of mass destruction and also a brutal tyrant has been removed once and for all.

G8 Summit

12.32 pm

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the G8 summit in France.

I pay tribute to President Chirac's very skilful chairmanship in guiding our deliberations. We reached significant conclusions on the middle east, on weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and on Africa and sustainable development. In addition, we committed ourselves to strengthening the conditions for growth in the world economy. In all, 16 action plans and statements were released at the summit, copies of which have been placed in the House Libraries.

First, on the middle east, we all recognised that a solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem is not only vital for stability across the middle east but would deprive terrorists of an issue that they exploit for their own inhuman ends. I need hardly remind the House of the bleak pattern of mistrust, hatred and violence that has blighted the lives of generations of Israelis and Palestinians. Children have been growing up in an area with seemingly no prospect of peace. From the beginning of the intifada in September 2000 until the end of March this year, 2,300 Palestinians and more than 600 Israelis have been killed. There have been too many dashed hopes to be anything other than cautious in assessing the current situation, but since I last reported to the House, the road map for peace has been published, the Israeli Cabinet has accepted it and there has today been the historic meeting between President Bush and the Palestinian and Israeli Prime Ministers in Jordan.

The whole G8 summit united behind the initiative that President Bush is taking, and fully endorsed what is now agreed on all sides as the only ultimate answer to this problem: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. That is an objective of historic significance both for the middle east and indeed for the whole world community, and we in the United Kingdom will continue to support it with every means at our disposal.

Secondly, on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, there was a striking unanimity of purpose that we must urgently strengthen our co-operation in the fight against those two closely related threats. On weapons of mass destruction, we underlined that North Korea's uranium enrichment and plutonium production programmes and its failure to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards were a clear breach of its international obligations. We called on it to dismantle its nuclear weapons programmes. We emphasised the proliferation implications of Iran's advanced nuclear programme and called on Iran to sign and implement an IAEA additional protocol without delay or conditions. President Putin made it clear that in the meantime Russia would suspend its exports of nuclear fuel to Iran. Those are important steps to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and I welcome them.

In addition, we took stock of progress on the $20 billion programme launched last year to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear, biological or chemical materials left over from the former Soviet Union, to which Britain has made a commitment of up to $750 million. We put in place mechanisms to improve the prioritisation and co-ordination of technical assistance for countries seeking to assist in the war against terrorism. We launched new initiatives to tackle man-portable surface-to-air missiles and to tighten security controls on radioactive sources, and we agreed on measures that represent a new drive to cut off terrorist financing.

Thirdly, on Africa and development, the summit brought about the welcome participation of many African and developing nations. We all agreed that a successful outcome to the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Mexico in September and the successful completion of the development round by 2005 are of central importance. The wealthy nations of the world simply cannot any longer ask the developing world to stand on its own two feet but shut out the very access to our markets that is necessary for it to do so. Reform of the European common agricultural policy will be vital in that regard.

In addition, we agreed to resolve all other outstanding WTO issues including the compulsory licensing of drugs—the so-called trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, or TRIPS, question—which is important for poorer countries to access drugs for their people, and also essential for progress in the Doha round.

We had extensive discussions about the problem of HIV/AIDS, which now afflicts 42 million people around the world. All of us welcomed President Bush's recent announcement of a $15 billion US initiative to combat it, and I hope that at the European summit in Greece, the European Union will agree to match the US commitment to the global health fund—potentially up to $1 billion a year. We remain on course, too, to eradicate polio from the face of the globe by 2005.

I also set out in some detail my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's proposal to establish a new international finance facility, which could deliver a doubling of current aid flows for recipient countries committed to economic reforms and good governance. Finance Ministers have been asked to report back to leaders on the proposal by September. It is important that we now sustain the momentum behind the initiative.

G8 leaders also took the opportunity to discuss with President Mbeki and other African leaders the good progress that we have made in partnership with the NEPAD—New Partnership for Africa's Development—leaders over the past year in implementing the Africa action plan that was launched at Kananaskis. Over the past year, we have seen the largest ever US commitment to aid for Africa, and many European Union countries, including our own, are increasing aid and development programmes substantially. Consistent with the African-led initiative, we discussed the steps that are being taken to resolve the appalling crisis in Zimbabwe. We condemned the action taken by the Zimbabwean authorities on Monday against their own people and called on the Zimbabwean Government to accept their citizens' rights to demonstrate against the regime peacefully.

I was also pleased that we endorsed the initiative that I launched last year to reduce corruption by getting companies in the extractive industries to make public the tax and royalty payments that they make to Governments, and for those Governments to publicise their receipts. I believe that this simple idea could have a powerful impact. Transparency and increased accountability are the best defences against corruption.

Leaders also had a full discussion on the world economy and agreed on the central importance of fostering macro-economic stability and intensifying structural reform as the essential preconditions for strengthening growth. Chancellor Schröder also briefed us on the steps that Germany is now taking to modernise its health and pensions systems and to increase the flexibility of the labour market, and President Bush expressed confidence in the strength of the US economic recovery, based on rising productivity and a pick-up in domestic demand.

Finally, G8 Heads agreed to step up our collaboration on science and technology to help combat the long-term problem of climate change. It is crucial that we tackle this, but in ways that encourage sustainable growth and development. The G8 must lead the way, working in partnership with developing countries. We will focus on renewable energy, the hydrogen economy for transport, fuel cells and biodiversity.

After the sharp disagreements in the world community over Iraq, the summit represented an important coming together of leading nations. In the past few weeks, we have seen the restoration of unity in the UN with resolution 1483. As important as anything else, on the very issue of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, there was a renewed sense of urgency and purpose. Of great significance, we have seen the middle east peace process, despite all the cynicism, moving forward again. Whatever the differences of the past few months, the summit showed common purpose on these key issues. It is now the task of the whole world community to build on the objectives that have been reached which are of such fundamental importance to us all and to the wider world.

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

The G8 meeting in Evian came at a time of rapid change in world events. Renewed optimism characterises the middle east peace process, as the right hon. Gentleman said, and we face a massive obligation to rebuild Iraq and to equip it to be governed at last by its own people. International institutions and relations between countries are still under strain, and the continent of Africa is threatened by widespread famine, the blight of HIV/AIDS and the disastrous political collapse in far too many countries.

I begin by expressing the hopes of Conservative Members for the success of today's potentially historic meeting in Aqaba between President Bush, Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas. We support the creation of a Palestinian state living alongside a secure and respected Israel, as the Prime Minister said. We therefore join him in warmly welcoming President Bush's commitment to the great prize of peace in the middle east and realise that great perseverance will be 'required from all sides if that peace is to be achieved. Continuous reciprocal steps are essential for the success of the road map.

The G8 summit talked of a comprehensive peace settlement involving Lebanon and Syria. As the Prime Minister knows, for the road map to work it must be more than just a bilateral agreement between Israel and Palestine, so how will the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, as referred to in the discussion, be integrated into that road map process? What admission in Evian did the Prime Minister receive from the Russians, Germans or French that the removal of Saddam Hussein has assisted rather than retarded the momentum towards the middle east peace settlement?

The G8 summit represented an important opportunity for divisions between world leaders over the war in Iraq to be addressed. Some nations, such as Russia, with its willingness to halt nuclear exports to Iran, appeared more willing to address those divisions than others. We should welcome that, and I agree with the Prime Minister that that was a significant step. However, while I welcome the unanimous adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 and the more positive signs of co-operation between the G8 member states in building sustainable peace in Iraq, may I ask what is the Prime Minister's latest assessment of the timetable under which Iraq will be equipped to govern itself? Are there any hospitals that, even now, weeks after the military action has ceased, still require basic medicines and supplies? If there are, what plans are in place to ensure that that is resolved?

On Africa, last week Bob Geldof powerfully warned that famine and disease are once again stalking that continent, and Ethiopia is running out of food. Some 8,000 people a day are dying of HIV/AIDS across the continent, and Zimbabwe has been brought to its knees by the contemptible conduct of a dictator, Robert Mugabe. I welcome the fact that the G8 at last discussed Zimbabwe. That is vital. I also welcome its condemnation of Mugabe's brutal actions and his continuing activities. What action is being taken in response to the emergency in Zimbabwe? What future action does the Prime Minister believe we can take, and what do his Government believe they will do alongside other Governments to resolve that? What action is being taken in response to the emergency in Ethiopia?

We welcome the expressed intention of the EU heads of state to support President Bush's commendable initiative to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. We hope that the next EU summit will at last turn those words into firm action. Does the Prime Minister think that that will be the case?

We are surprised and disappointed that the Prime Minister's statement makes no mention of the Congo. The country is on the precipice of the most bloody ethnic genocide. The French were the first to refer to the issue of troops, and were even critical about British troop deployments, which I find a bit rich. Is it not right that France and Belgium should take the lead in ensuring that, if necessary, security forces go to the region, where historically they had such an influence, or would that in itself cause a major problem? Will the Prime Minister tell us what sort of troop deployments he believes Britain is capable of committing, and whether he considers such a commitment necessary?

While every effort must be made to alleviate the suffering of so many Africans, we must also lay the basis for self-government in Iraq. The search for WMD must continue urgently, without let-up. I do not believe that the issues raised in this country in the past few days were about weapons of mass destruction. I believe that Saddam Hussein had them, and I hope and believe that we will find them. It is right for Britain to have liberated Iraq; the Prime Minister was right to do so. However, the reconstruction of Iraq requires that there should be a foundation of trust in the Government's actions at the time and subsequently. There is the risk of jeopardising that trust. I hope that over the past half hour, the Prime Minister has had time to reflect on the need to re-establish that trust, and that he will now review his position and grant an independent judicial inquiry.

On that last point, I have said all that I need to say, except that it is a bit much that when a series of allegations are made, all of which are untrue, people say what a terrible thing it is that trust in the Government has been damaged. It is important that if people have evidence to justify allegations, they give that evidence, and so far they have not done so.

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman's comments on the G8, the Jordan meeting is extremely important. I agree that the road map must be amplified to include the Lebanese and Syrian tracks, and it will be. That must be another dimension of moving the middle east peace process forward. It is important to recognise that America always said, and President Bush made it clear, that once the issue of Iraq was dealt with, he would move on to the middle east peace process. There is no doubt that it is much easier to make progress on that now, with the regime in Iraq changed.

In relation to Iraq and resolution 1483, because the UN is now involved in the process again, we are better able to access support for the hospitals and the infrastructure, medicines, supplies and so on. My assessment, although obviously my visit was only brief, is that real efforts are being made by our troops and by the authorities on the ground to improve the situation as rapidly as possible, but it is a massive undertaking. One of the things that I was told by our military out in Iraq is that, for example, when the Iraqi special republican guard were retreating, they sabotaged much of the machinery, which must be replaced. As we know, looting and problems of security were experienced at some of the hospitals, but I am informed that the situation is improving. It is not improving as fast as we would like, but it is improving. However, we must be clear that the job of reconstruction is massive. That is why it is important that we redouble our efforts, and ensure that we show the same vigour in prosecuting the peace in Iraq as we did in prosecuting the war.

As for the weapons of mass destruction, I point out again that the Iraq survey group is the body that will be able to go and interview the scientists and experts and visit the sites. There are literally thousands of sites. As I was told in Iraq, information is coming in the entire time, but it is only now that the Iraq survey group has been put together that a dedicated team of people, which includes former UN inspectors, scientists and experts, will be able to go in and do the job properly. As I have said throughout, I have no doubt that they will find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

The alternative thesis is that, having for years obstructed the UN, having had 12 years of sanctions, having kicked out the inspectors in 1998, and having invited an invasion by defying the UN, Saddam decided to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction anyway. That is an odd thesis to accept. [Interruption.] Someone is shouting out "Rumsfeld". I have read carefully what the Secretary of State for Defence in the US said, and the comments of Paul Wolfowitz. It should come as no surprise that their comments have been taken completely out of context. If people read the full transcript of both interviews, they will see that what they are arguing is that it will be difficult to say exactly what has happened to the weapons until we collect the evidence through the Iraq survey group. That is precisely what we would expect. I repeat that it has always been the Government's case that there was a systematic campaign of concealment once Saddam knew that the inspectors were going back in.

On Africa, the right hon. Gentleman made some important points. We recognise the urgency of the crisis in Ethiopia. We have raised with the European Commission the importance of Europe stepping up its efforts to get its own money through. We have already allocated £48 million of emergency aid, and we will see what more we can do.

On HIV/AIDS, I believe that the European Union will match whatever commitment to the Global Health Fund the United States has given. It is important to realise that the $15 billion commitment of the US is not just to the Global Health Fund but to bilateral projects between the US and recipient countries. The situation is the same with us. We put hundreds of millions of dollars a year into HIV/AIDS programmes all over Africa and elsewhere, but we are also increasing our commitment to the Global Health Fund. There is recognition that this pandemic scourge—thousands of people die every year—has to be tackled. What is more, if it is not tackled, many African countries will not have the human resources to rebuild themselves.

It is important that the summit made the statement on Zimbabwe. Measures can be taken, such as sanctions, but we must recognise the limitations on what they can achieve in Zimbabwe. The most important thing is that we work closely with the surrounding countries in Africa to get them to realise and understand that we must deal with the problem in Zimbabwe, because it threatens to blight and destroy the lives of many people, not only in that country but all over the south of Africa. We must work with the countries in the region on that.

In respect of the Congo, we will make a UK commitment in so far as we can, but that will be for logistics and support. The French and others are willing to take the lead in the force around Bunia. The UN MONUC force is also there. I have to be frank about the fact that I do not think that these plans are in a sufficient state of readiness. We are seeing what more we can do with others to ensure that we can make a better and swifter response. I am convinced—this was also discussed at the summit—that the ultimate solution to this problem is for Africa to take on these peacekeeping tasks. That is why the UN plan that we agreed to back is so important. It will mean that in the next few years there will be properly equipped and properly trained regional peacekeeping forces all over Africa, with which the developed world can help and which can move swiftly into any conflict. The number of troops required in these situations is not great, as we found in Sierra Leone, but if they are not properly trained and equipped they cannot do the job. In the end, this is something that we have to help Africa to do for itself.

Although there are obviously some disappointments about the summit, welcome progress has been made on a number of key fronts, not least nuclear non-proliferation, the new practical assistance for Africa in the field of peacekeeping, and the big tantalising prize of the further advancement of the middle east peace process. Let us hope that the steps under way as we speak will eventually lead to the emergence of two stable and secure states, living side by side in peace and security.

We very much welcome the announcements on Iran and North Korea, urging them to cease their nuclear developments and to verify their progress. There is no doubt that the non-proliferation treaty must be upheld, and there is an obvious need for the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect Iran's facilities. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that the United Kingdom must continue to preserve its balanced and sensible policy on Iran? It is distinct from the stance adopted by the United States, as he knows only too well. Will he spell out what mechanisms he would consider if the Iranians did not respond to the call issued in the past few days by the G8 membership? Will he rule out taking military action against Iran? Does he see further potential for the development of a common European front on this issue?

It is correct to welcome the movement, such as there was, towards rapprochement among the nations that were in disagreement with our country and, primarily, with the United States over what has taken place in Iraq, although there is a great deal further to go. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the Germans and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the French bridle somewhat at the sight and sound of the American President arriving in continental Europe and remonstrating with those who, in a candid and upfront international way, chose to take a different view from his own and that of his Administration of what took place in Iraq?

Does the Prime Minister share the sense of disappointment at the lack of progress on debt relief? The statements on water, sustainability and NEPAD were full of worthy sentiments but rather empty of content. Does not that pose a longer-term danger to the G8, which is losing credibility, especially in the eyes of the developing world?

Given the aid that is being provided to Africa, which is welcome, does the Prime Minister acknowledge that those countries would benefit from a big improvement if they had the capacity to produce their own generic drugs? Does he see scope for further progress on that? What contributions are the British Government making towards such an end?

Does the Prime Minister see scope for the cutting of farm subsidies and export credits? What is his view of the proposals from the European Union and the United 'States currently before the World Trade Organisation?

Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity at the summit to raise again the position of the nine British citizens held at Camp Delta? They are in a legal no man's land. In response to the Father of the House in a different context, he referred to the need for trials. No charges have even been brought against those British citizens. That is contrary to all the principles of international justice to which our country subscribes. If the boot were on the other foot, and we were holding American citizens in a similar fashion, all hell would have broken lose on Capitol hill and we would not have heard the end of it. Did the Prime Minister have any opportunity to raise that fundamental concern about our own passport holders with the President and representatives of the United States?

That last issue did not come up at the summit, but we have raised it with the US Government. I have said what I have said about it already. Obviously, that situation cannot continue indefinitely, although it is complicated by the fact that information is still coming from the people detained there. I cannot say any more than that. That information is important.

On the middle east peace process, I think we are agreed that what is happening is an important step forward.

It is important that Iran realises the seriousness of the international community's intent on this issue. The IAEA must be able to carry out its work without any conditions. No one is threatening military action in respect of Iran, but it must understand that the whole of the world community—there was complete unanimity on this at the G8—does not find it acceptable that this nuclear weapons programme continues to be developed in Iran. Both on that issue and in relation to the issue of terrorism and its support for terrorists, it has to understand that we are very serious about the unacceptability of these activities. We have worked very long and hard to have a proper dialogue with the Iranian Government. I welcome that and I think that it is good to do so, but it has to happen on the basis of being absolutely upfront with them about the concerns that we and the whole international community have.

In relation to President Bush's speech in Europe, I thought that, far from being a remonstration with the Europeans, it was a reaching out to Europe. I think that he did that very effectively, and he made it very clear that there were issues such as the middle east, tackling global poverty and HIV/AIDS, on which he wanted a good and robust partnership with the European Union. Of course, he defended his position in respect of Iraq, as we would expect him to do. What is more, he was in Poland, where I had been the day before, which had fully supported our action in Iraq.

On debt relief, we are making progress. There are certain issues to do with exactly how the heavily indebted countries programme works and the issue of topping up. We are trying to resolve those issues, but I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, in terms of debt relief, as a result of the measure that was driven forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, we have now seen $62 billion worth of debt forgiven. That is very important indeed.

On generic drugs, we have given tax relief for research on the development of those drugs by our countries in respect of diseases that are the particular problem of developing countries. We have to resolve the issue of the so-called TRIPS by the time of the WTO meeting. I hope that it will be resolved, because it is very important that, when we have the drugs that can help developing countries, we make them available to them.

Finally, in relation to the WTO, a change has happened in the sense that the French proposals on agriculture in respect of Africa are a step forward, because they recognise in principle that export subsidies are unacceptable and should go. It was not possible to reach full agreement in respect of all the aspects of the French proposals, but they are a significant step forward. Again, I hope that there will be a coming together between all members of the European Union and the United States on the other hand so that we all make it clear that there should be a programme for phasing out the agricultural subsidies. If that does not happen, the developing world will be left in the position of being able to produce crops and carry out agricultural production, but not to gain access to our markets on a fair and equitable basis. After the G8 meeting, I am more hopeful that we will be able to resolve the matter, but it will be difficult.

I very much welcome the statement in the report that the G8 has endorsed the initiative taken by this country to ensure transparency in the oil industry and other extractive industries and the recognition that there should be publication of accounts, as corrupt leaders and companies have taken billions of pounds out of Africa. Can the Prime Minister confirm that absolutely every country will now take the legislative measures necessary to force its companies to make their accounts transparent? Can he let us know how that is to be brought into effect?

On the issues to do with governance and corruption, the peer review group mechanism has been set up under NEPAD—the New Partnership for Africa's Development—and I think that about 15 or 16 countries have already agreed to submit themselves to that process, which will judge how far they have come in tackling the problems of corruption. In respect of the extractive industries, what we have agreed is that the proposal should be taken forward. The detail has got to be worked out, but it will not work, in my view, unless it is a clear requirement across the board. Obviously, there are companies that want to participate in principle, but if they have to be transparent and accountable while other companies do not, it will be very difficult for them to compete. We are now looking at how to ensure that, both in the countries of origin of the companies and in the developing countries, we introduce mutually acceptable and binding legislation. That is what we are doing now.

When the Prime Minister was discussing Iraq with his fellow G8 leaders, he presumably recalled that they all supported the unanimous Security Council resolution 1441 saying that military force, if necessary, would be justified to disarm Saddam. Did he remind President Bush that the case for war against Iraq without a second resolution and in the face of the opposition of the majority of the Security Council was that those weapons posed such an imminent threat that an immediate military invasion was justified without giving any more time to Mr. Blix and his inspectors? Do I understand the Prime Minister's position today to be that he still believes that, and is telling the House that he thinks that that assertion was factually accurate, is factually accurate and will be proved factually accurate? If he is still standing by that, does he realise how serious it will be if it turns out that it was not true at all and the consequences that that will have for our confidence that the problems of Iran and Korea will be dealt with on a truly internationalist and legal basis?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman and I agree on some things, but I am afraid that we disagree on this matter completely. First, let me point out to him that the basis on which we went to conflict was that in resolution 1441, Iraq was given a final chance to comply fully and unconditionally with the UN inspectors, and the conclusion that we drew six months later was that it was not doing so. The problem in the UN Security Council is that we could not get an agreement even to the fact that, if it carried on not complying fully and unconditionally with the UN inspectors, we could take action. That was obviously an unacceptable situation.

That is the first point to make. The second is that I stand entirely by the dossier that we issued and the intelligence contained in it. I have also pointed out in the statement and on other occasions both at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere that, of course, Iraq undertook a sustained campaign of concealment of the weapons. The Iraq survey group is the group that is going in now and which will interview the scientists and experts and examine the sites, and it has the expertise, including former UN inspectors, to do so. When we get a proper and fully documented account of what it has found, we will present it to people, because it is right that they know the outcome. I suspect that both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I would be sensible to suspend our judgment until that time, but I stand fully by what our intelligence agencies put out. I say to him—he will have some experience of this—that I have dealt with those involved for six years and I have not only found them to be people of total professionalism and integrity, but found the quality of what they produce to be among the finest anywhere in the world.

In trying to heal the divisions in the world that have appeared with regard to the difference of view about how to handle the crisis in Iraq, did the Prime Minister apologise to President Chirac for misleading all of us about the position of France on the second resolution? I think that he told the House, and many of us, that France had said that it would veto any second resolution. It is now absolutely clear that President Chirac said on 10 March that the inspectors needed longer, but if they failed to disarm Iraq, the Security Council would have to mandate military action. Does that not mean that he misled us and should apologise to us as well?

I am sorry, but again, we have a complete disagreement on this issue. First, the remarks that President Chirac made are now on the record and are history, and were about France saying no whatever the circumstances. Actually, there is an even more important point. What I said to my right hon. Friend and to the House was that France made it clear that it would not accept any resolution that involved the automatic use of force in the absence of compliance by Saddam or an ultimatum. That was what I said to her and to the House, and it is true. That is what he said. Therefore, we would have been back in a situation in which we would have had to come back to the Security Council once again and come to another resolution, but without any threat to use force if Saddam did not comply. In the end, that was the problem, and it is the problem as I explained it to the House, to her and to the country at the time.

We know that the spread of scientific knowledge will facilitate the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We know that serious terrorist threats exist. Does the Prime Minister agree that no amount of media barracking or political potstirring about Iraq will change either of those grim realities?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman; he is absolutely right. That is why we were entirely justified in taking the action that we did.

On weapons of mass destruction, can my right hon. Friend say what will be the composition of the Iraq survey group, to whom it will report, and how it will relate to the United Nations?

We have been putting together the Iraq survey group for a significant period since the end of the conflict. It will comprise roughly 1,300 to 1,400 people. In addition to weapons of mass destruction, it will consider evidence to do with mass graves and so forth. I think I am right in saying that there will be more than 100 British personnel. It is headed by an American, but the deputy is a British brigadier. It will include experts and scientists who have expertise in this area, as well as some former UN inspectors.

As for the future involvement of the UN in the process, we accept, for obvious reasons, that there will have to be some independent verification at the end of it—that is what the world community will expect and it is what we should do. In resolution 1483, which we passed in the UN a short time ago, we agreed that we would have a discussion about how the UN could be put back into the process. The Foreign Secretary is continuing that discussion with his counterparts, and when it is concluded we will state its outcome. The process must be carried out only on a considered and deliberate basis over a period of time.

It is no surprise to me that the issue is as difficult to deal with as it is proving to be, because I have to keep pointing out to people that our case—precisely the case that I constantly made standing here—was that after Saddam realised that action was under way, an instruction went out to have a concerted campaign of concealment of these weapons. That is why there is no doubt at all that it will require a concerted effort to find out from the scientists, Iraqi experts and others exactly what happened to these facilities. The alternative thesis is that Saddam voluntarily decided—in an extraordinary act of perversity, when he knew that he was going to be invaded through refusing to comply with the UN inspectors—to get rid of the weapons anyway. I think that that is highly unlikely.

Did the Prime Minister explain to the European leaders at Evian how he persuaded the House of Commons to vote for war on the basis of assumptions and claims about weapons of mass destruction that remain unproven? That is the essential parliamentary point that he is always seeking to blur. When he made his great speech to the House, was he deliberately seeking to mislead us or was it a blunder based on unsound intelligence reaching him? Can he not understand that an authoritative answer to that question can be given only by an independent, sovereign inquiry headed by a distinguished judge?

I do not think that I ever persuaded the hon. Gentleman of the case for action in any event. What I find remarkable about him and others who talk like that about the issue of weapons of mass destruction is that Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is a well-documented historical fact. As I say, the Iraq survey group will examine exactly what has happened in the past few months.

As for the idea that Saddam and weapons of mass destruction was some sort of whim or hunch of the security services, he was the person who used weapons of mass destruction against his own people: he gassed and killed thousands of them. He then engaged in a four, five or six-year programme of concealment. He said that he never had a biological weapons programme, and was shown to have one; he said that he never had a nuclear weapons programme, and was shown to have one; he said that he destroyed all the material back in the early 1990s, yet even Dr. Blix put out a 173-page document in March this year detailing exactly what was unaccounted for, including 10,000 litres of anthrax. So, with the greatest of respect, whatever happens now, let us please not have this ridiculous assertion that Saddam and weapons of mass destruction was an invention by the Americans, the British or our intelligence services.

The agenda at the G8 summit that the Prime Minister described also affects the United Nations. Was there any discussion about the need to reform the United Nations—an organisation that was established in the rather different circumstances of 1945—particularly with a view to dealing with states that are collapsing or collapsed and with psychopathic killers who take over nation states, brutalise their own populations, and destabilise regions? That is the challenge for the United Nations, and the G8 should have discussed it. If it did not, could it be on the agenda for the next occasion?

My hon. Friend is right. In fact, that was part of the discussions we had. There is a clear acceptance that we need to take seriously our responsibilities for states that are dictatorial, abusive and repressive. One of the discussions we had on the last evening of the G8 was an interesting and frank discussion between leaders about what we do about states that are repressive and dictatorial. It is self-evidently the fact that we cannot take military action against everyone. What is happening in Zimbabwe is absolutely appalling, but I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we take military action there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Perhaps some people are.

What is increasingly clear is that unless we deal with these problems to do with freedom, human rights and democracy, the world is a less stable place. That is why I have noticed that since Saddam has gone in Iraq there is a real opportunity for change across the whole middle east. States are undertaking programmes of democratic reform that were not doing so before, the middle east peace process is under way, and at long last there is at least the prospect of getting a stable and democratic Iraq. That is why the points that my hon. Friend makes are absolutely right. The question of what we do about each and every one of these states is a different matter, but he is absolutely right that it is a serious issue upon which the United Nations and the international community should unite.

If the Prime Minister and the whole G8 are prepared to rely on the International Atomic Energy Agency and its protocols to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to North Korea and Iran, why, even today, can he not bring himself to admit that that self-same agency's analysis demonstrated that the intelligence reports of African imports of uranium into Iraq were based on fabricated documents?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. In relation to the IAEA, and indeed to any such international bodies, I would simply say that they cannot carry out their work unless they get the full support and compliance of the country concerned. That is why the G8 called on Iran to stop putting conditions on the work that the IAEA does.

In connection with weapons of mass destruction and the inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee that the Prime Minister has sanctioned, would he extend that to allow the Foreign Affairs Committee likewise to be given access to that evidence and those witnesses? That would meet the problem of the independence that might perhaps be lacking in relation to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

We will proceed in the normal way in respect of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee and so on. I do not think there is any cause to change the normal rules that we apply to those Committees. I would simply point out, though, that it is not a question of my agreeing to inquiries—the Intelligence and Security Committee has the right to oversee the way in which the intelligence services and security services work. That is what it is charged with, so it is the appropriate body to do so. Of course, the Foreign Affairs Committee is entirely entitled to carry out its inquiry, too.

I hope that my hon. Friend realises that it would not be sensible to have two inquiries competing in exactly the same way. Having said that, there will be every opportunity for the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee to carry out their work, but it will be carried out in accordance with the normal conventions and traditions.

I welcome most warmly the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon; I accept that conflict in Iraq was necessary with or without weapons of mass destruction. Does he agree that the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, and that that is affecting the security and economic position not only of that country but of the countries that surround it? Does he acknowledge that the only way of achieving a pluralist democracy and a sense of stability there will involve the removal of Mr. Mugabe? Without that, no progress will be made. What is the Prime Minister prepared to advocate should be done?

First, what the hon. Gentleman says about Zimbabwe is absolutely right. This is a very serious situation indeed; that is clear. It is difficult to see how there can be any proper security and prosperity for people in Zimbabwe while the country continues to be run in the way it is. I entirely agree with all that. The question is, what do we do about it? In the conversations that I had with the African leaders at the G8 summit, I impressed upon them—and I believe that they understand this—that this is now affecting the whole region of southern Africa. In the end, they will be the people who are best placed to take this forward, if indeed they are committed to ensuring that the changes in Zimbabwe happen. There is a limit to what we can do, but within that limit, we will do everything that we possibly can. That is why we put the matter on the agenda at the G8 summit. We had a discussion, and we discussed it with the African leaders, too. In the end, however, I believe that the most powerful force for change in Zimbabwe will come from those surrounding countries.

On the discussions on the reconstruction of Iraq, may I draw the Prime Minister's attention to the report just published by Human Rights Watch, "Basra: Crime and Insecurity under British Occupation"? It concludes:

"Basra citizens remain fearful for their lives and properties …Basra's hospitals reported …five gunshot homicides daily, with another five to seven cases of injuries attributed to gunshots."
It goes on to state that the massive stocks of unexploded ordnance are a real threat to the children in Basra. Was that breakdown in civil society discussed at the G8 summit, and what urgent proposals were made to stop Iraq sliding further and further into chaos?

There are undoubtedly real security problems in Basra and elsewhere, and they are being tackled by the British troops and the authorities. The British troops are doing a fantastic job in improving the situation there. Of course it is going to be difficult, although I think it is sometimes possible to exaggerate the difficulties. In relation to Basra in particular, they have made huge steps forward. On the human rights front, my hon. Friend should not be in any doubt. This is not a case of a country—Iraq—whose human rights record was superb and which has now been pushed into chaos by the British and American forces. The very human rights bodies that are now able to put out information about what is happening in Basra and elsewhere were the bodies that were kept out when literally hundreds of thousands of people were dying in Iraq as a result of Saddam's regime.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister and the French President are chums again, but may I ask why that did not extend to the Prime Minister strongly supporting President Chirac's proposal for the European Union to suspend subsidies on farm exports to Africa, provided that the US did the same? Is the right hon. Gentleman just afraid of the other President across the pond?

I thought I had said that I supported the French proposal on this issue. With the greatest of respect, however, we have to go further than either the US or France is going at the moment. We have to get rid of export subsidies in relation to agriculture altogether. The French proposal is an important step in that direction, but the hon. Lady should not be naive about it. We still need to go much further. That is also true in respect of America; it has the same obligations. Our position, therefore, is that we need to push further than both of those countries are doing.

My right hon. Friend has made much of the survey teams that will look for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but is he not concerned that the failure of the coalition to look for those weapons as a matter of the highest priority in the immediate aftermath of the war could well have provided the opportunity for many of the weapons—if they are there—to find their way into the hands of the various terrorist groups that are operating in and around the middle east?

What the survey group will do is conduct a thorough investigation over a significant period of time, because these weapons have been concealed. After Saddam was got rid of, the first priority for the troops had to be the humanitarian situation and the reconstruction of the country. It is obviously a different situation from when Saddam was in charge of Iraq and had weapons of mass destruction—now that he has gone from Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction are concealed. I am not saying that this is not a crucial issue—it is, which is why a team of 1,300 or 1,400 will go in to investigate it. But I do not think that it is wrong for the coalition to have said that our first priority at the end of the conflict—which, after all, ended only six or seven weeks ago—had to be reconstruction and the humanitarian position of the Iraqi people. Indeed, we would have been criticised roundly if we had not done so.

During the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, I, like many of my colleagues, wrote to my constituents saying that if the American President and the British Prime Minister were telling us that there was a serious national danger, I was inclined to believe them. I am inclined to believe the Prime Minister, but he must realise that great questions have now been asked by members of his own Cabinet at the time he was telling us those things. He talked in his statement about transparency and increased accountability. Why then will the American Congress be holding its investigations into this matter in public, while the Committee that the Prime Minister wants to deal with the issue does so in private? Why has he become so averse to inquiries over the past six years? He seemed very happy to order inquiries into the actions of the last Conservative Government when he became Prime Minister, but I do not think that he has ordered one into the actions of his own Government.

First, the position that we set out is the correct position. The reason why we took the action that we did was for the reasons stated. As I said earlier, I stand entirely by the dossier that was put out by the Government based on the intelligence that was authorised by the Joint Intelligence Committee. It was not made up by the Government; it was not overridden by the Government in any shape or form at all. In relation to what is happening in America, that is the normal way in which the Americans deal with congressional oversight of the Government there. I think that they would be quite surprised at how much prominence has been given to this issue by our media here, when in America it is simply seen as part of the normal way in which congressional hearings work. In relation to us, we have a particular way of dealing with these issues, and that involves the Intelligence and Security Committee. It was voted for by both sides of the House of Commons. It can look at all the Joint Intelligence Committee reports, it can interview the intelligence people concerned, and it can give a judgment. I have said that that judgment will be published for the House. Frankly, if it looks into those Joint Intelligence Committee reports and interviews the intelligence people, it will get to the truth about the 45 minutes, and so forth. The reason I am speaking so confidently about this from the Dispatch Box today is that. I am quite sure of what it will find.

Since President Chirac has been mentioned today in relation to overseas trade and development, will the Prime Minister reiterate his welcome for the fact that the President has altered his position on the common agricultural policy in relation to export subsidies to Africa? Will he confirm again that an agreement on the so-called TRIPS question will be signed—or that there is a commitment to a signature—before the Cancun conference in September? Does he agree that the opening up of world trade would be of the utmost interest to the developing world—the third world—so that it might avail itself of the prosperity to which we have become accustomed?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are two really big outstanding issues for the WTO round in Cancun in September. One is the issue relating to pharmaceuticals and TRIPS; the other is to do with agriculture. We did not reach agreement at the G8, but I think that the atmospherics—if I can put it like that—are now much more positive towards reaching agreement. My hon. Friend is quite right; we should welcome the fact that France has taken a step forward on the issue of export subsidies, but we have to go further, and that then has to be echoed by other countries. There is, however, a better prospect of getting movement on this issue now than there has been for some time. That is vitally important, for the reason that my hon. Friend has just given; the developing world really needs this to work.

The Prime Minister has referred to the question of what we do about other brutal regimes. Did he discuss with the international leaders the much-needed development of international principles—the sort that we have tried to develop in regard to genocide—to establish when it is right for states to intervene militarily to remove brutal regimes? After all, we intervened in Sierra Leone to restore an elected Government, the Americans intervened in Grenada, and—much more controversially—the Prime Minister now rests much of his case relating to Iraq on the removal of that ghastly regime.

Is it not very difficult to see what separates those suffering under brutal regimes in Zimbabwe, Burma and North Korea from those suffering in the other countries that I have mentioned?

The right hon. Gentleman raises a good point. It is at the heart of the dilemma. If the international community cannot reach agreement on an issue, in what circumstances should military action be authorised? We supported it in Iraq, in the end, because last November I felt that we had reached an effective agreement in the international community that Saddam was to be given a last chance, and that if he did not fully comply he was to be dealt with by military action. He did not fully comply.

The history of UN resolutions speaking of a specific security threat in relation to Saddam was well known, but the right hon. Gentleman's point is valid, and there is no easy answer to it. We know of the appalling way in which the Burmese authorities have once again treated the opposition leader in Burma. These are difficult issues. I have been met by a chorus of, "We should take military action in Zimbabwe," on the Opposition Benches, but if people actually think about that they will realise that it is quite a difficult thing to do.

The point is that there is a need, at the very least, for the international community to come together and exert concerted pressure on those brutal and repressive regimes. History teaches us that if we do not deal with those regimes, in the end they become worse and worse, and finally their impact affects us all.

Did the G8 consider the worrying signs that the world economy might be moving towards deflation? In particular, did the group consider what concerted steps might be taken to counteract deflation if the threat proved more definite?

There was a discussion about the world economy, obviously. Most people, in fact all people, indicated their belief that the world economy would pick up. I think that the two most necessary things are a sense of confidence in both the United States and the eurozone—there are at least some signs that that is happening—and, obviously, an improvement in the security and terrorism situation in the world as a whole. Part of the downturn in confidence has resulted from the security and terrorism threat.

I would say that the consensus around the table was that the prospects of the world economy, and those of the American economy in particular, are rather better than they were.

I supported the coalition action in Iraq without reservation. I believed what the Prime Minister said then, and I believe what he says now about intelligence information on weapons of mass destruction. I have little doubt that the inquiries being held by the various committees will find nothing other than that the Prime Minister dealt with that information properly. Does he understand, however, that there would not be such widespread scepticism about what he is saying today had not he and his colleagues for the past six years subordinated the instruments of the state to the narrow partisan interests of his Government?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the first part of what he said. As for the second part, I recall exactly the same allegations being made about a previous Government in the 1980s.

Probably by us, yes. That is absolutely true.

There is often a very great gulf between what is actually the position and the exaggeration that is sometimes simply part of the business of politics.

Given the positive signs emerging from both the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiating teams, we seem to see a real prospect of the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the next three years. Does the Prime Minister agree, however, that a viable state alone is not enough? Such a state must also have the economic means to lift its people out of the grinding poverty that they have endured for more than 30 years. What economic aid will the United Kingdom Government give the nascent Palestinian state, and will it be reflected in aid from the other G8 countries?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will do what we can in the United Kingdom, and also in the European Union. There is an important role for Europe, which often wishes to play a bigger part in the middle east peace process. We can help the Palestinians with their living standards, infrastructure, investment and development of the country. That will not work, however, unless we ensure that the peace and security situation is better stabilised. The truth is that if we did manage to secure greater security normalisation, the lifting of restrictions accompanying that would of itself have a huge and beneficial impact on the Palestinian people.

We welcome what the Prime Minister said about tackling AIDS and HIV, and look forward to a more positive outcome at the meeting of the World Trade Organisation in Mexico.

In answer to a question, the Prime Minister spoke of people being naïve. Does he not accept that some of the countries at the summit were naïve in not recognising the possibility of evil regimes? Can we trust North Korea and Iran, which have been brutalising their own people in different ways, subsiding terrorism with Hezbollah, and threatening South Korea and Japan, to act on the guidance given by the G8?

The hon. Gentleman's point is worthy of consideration. That is why the G8 agreed that we must call on both countries to co-operate with the international authorities in respect of their nuclear weapons programmes.

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the central point. The weapons of mass destruction programmes of some countries allow them to divert enormous amounts of energy and resources, and to justify the repression of their people. That is why it is important to deal with them. The thought of either North Korea or Iran having a serious nuclear weapons capability is a thought that should trouble everyone.

Can the Prime Minister explain why he and President Bush blocked the UN weapons inspectors' return to Iraq earlier this year, just before the bombardment started? Can he also explain why the current weapons inspection in Iraq is being undertaken not by the UN, but by an American and British operation? Does he not think that if people are to believe his assertion that weapons of mass destruction exist, there must be an independent inquiry in Iraq and an independent, open and public inquiry in this country? Many people simply do not believe that the cause of the war had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction. They think that it had everything to do with American military power and with handing out contracts to American companies—which is now happening.

Let me try to disentangle the various conspiracy theories from what my hon. Friend is actually saying.

We did not continue weapons inspections because back in November we said that Saddam Hussein would have a last chance to co-operate fully and unconditionally. He did not do that. Indeed, we believe—and our belief is based on what we know and the information that we have received—that instead he embarked on a systematic campaign of concealment. That is precisely what he did last time. It is not as if Saddam had no track record on weapons of mass destruction; he has always had a track record. We took the action for the reasons stated.

I want to make this absolutely clear. We agreed on the basis of that resolution last year that Saddam should have a final chance to comply fully. If he had complied fully, there would have been no conflict; but he did not, and that is why there was a conflict.

Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Amendment

1.39 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that the Fishery Limits Act 1976 shall have effect regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972; that Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 shall have effect as though it had not been repealed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration etc) Act 1993; to confer upon the Secretary of State powers to license fishing vessels to fish within United Kingdom waters; to exclude vessels of specified nations or specified vessels from fishing United Kingdom waters; to negotiate common policies with other countries to preserve fish stocks; to invalidate any provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Community; and for connected purposes.
This is a simple, sensible, even innocuous measure to provide that the European Communities Act 1972, which made European Union law superior to British law, shall not apply to the Fishery Limits Act 1976, by which Britain followed the worldwide trend that had been pioneered by Iceland, which placed fishery limits at 200 miles; in our case, the limits were at the median line. However, we were not able to benefit to the same extent as everyone else because European Union members were exempted from the Fishery Limits Act.

The world took that step to ensure proper conservation, to build stocks and to develop domestic fishing industries. The national waters of most of the world's fishing nations experienced benefits. After a certain amount of trial and error—there were errors in Canada with cod—nations placing 200-mile fishing limits were able to control foreign access, to rebuild or to replace stocks that were over-fished, to develop fishing sustainably and to build and to develop domestic fishing industries.

For all those purposes, control of national waters is surely essential. It is only the nation state that has an interest in building and handing on a flourishing, sustainable fishing industry with sustainable stocks for future generations of its fishermen. Alone among the great fishing nations, Britain was not able to do that because, in 1972, the then Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, in his desperate rush to get into what was then called the common market, accepted a common fisheries policy of equal access to a common resource. That policy was of doubtful legality. It was cobbled together just before the start of negotiations with Britain and Norway, two major fishing nations, deliberately to get access to our stocks. The policy kept Norway out then and has kept Norway out since.

We have attempted to live with the common fisheries policy for 30 years. We have attempted for 30 years to modify the policy, especially in the direction of greater national management powers. No one has attempted that more energetically than the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), but we failed.

The common fisheries policy itself has failed. Indeed, it was bound to fail because it is not a conservation policy. It is essentially a political policy to dole out shares of fish to European nations. Most of the fish—70 per cent. at least—that are being doled out are in British waters. Therefore, it has led inevitably to over- fishing; to illegality—any policy that means that fishermen are on the verge of bankruptcy drives them into illegality to survive; to deep damage to stocks, particularly cod, 'which in certain areas is near extinction, to a shrinking United Kingdom fleet; and to a damaging crisis where sacrifices have been required of this country. Industrial fishing, which has a massive by-catch of immature and edible species, goes on. Spanish vessels are admitted to our waters. They may be restricted in what they can catch but there are inevitably by-catches—fish we want to conserve.

My Bill gives powers to Government to say, as the industry is saying, "Enough is enough." They will decide when it is appropriate to use it. I do not conceal the fact that it will take will to use it, but it is about time that national will was exercised for the benefit of the fishing industry instead of fishing being continuously sacrificed to other purposes, whether it is the common agricultural policy, the rebate or whatever.

The Bill gives the Government power to stop over-fishing and, when they care to invoke and to use it, to control our waters. It gives them power to come to agreement with other fishing nations such as Iceland for reciprocal swap arrangements and for exchange of catches: our catches in their waters, their catches in ours. It allows anything like that to happen on a reciprocal basis.

The Bill gives the United Kingdom power to rebuild what have been described as the world's most perfect—they were certainly once among the world's best—fishing waters. It gives Her Majesty's Government power to keep out not only Spanish vessels but that long queue of other nations, the new entrants, many of which have big fishing fleets, which will inherit from membership the right of equal access to a common resource—again, I emphasise, our resource.

The Bill gives Ministers power to stop proposals that are currently in the draft European Union constitution to give the European Union exclusive competence—I think the only exclusive competence in the constitution; it is difficult to see why competence over fishing is in a constitution—over the marine products of the sea, whatever those may be, which could take that competence up to the beaches by eliminating the six and 12-mile limits. Just as important, the Bill gives Ministers a new weapon in those endless common fisheries policy negotiations, in which we always start at a disadvantage because we have the richest fishing grounds and everyone else wants sustained rights to those fishing grounds.

The Under-Secretary—it is marvellous to see him here today—is a big man. He has a big mission and he has a big problem, which is to save Britain's fish. I hope that, when the House tumultuously passes my humble Bill into law, my Bill will give him the one thing he needs to add to those characteristics: the big stick that he deserves.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Austin Mitchell, David Burnside, John Cryer, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Kelvin Hopkins, Lawrie Quinn, Mr. Alex Salmond, Sir Teddy Taylor, Ann Winterton and Mrs. Iris Robinson.

Fishery Limits (United Kingdom) Amendment

Mr. Austin Mitchell accordingly presented a Bill to provide that the Fishery Limits Act 1976 shall have effect regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972; that Part II of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 shall have effect as though it had not been repealed by the Merchant Shipping (Registration etc) Act 1993; to confer upon the Secretary of State powers to license fishing vessels to fish within United Kingdom waters; to exclude vessels of specified nations or specified vessels from fishing United Kingdom waters; to negotiate common policies with other countries to preserve fish stocks; to invalidate any provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Community; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 117].

Opposition Day

7Th Allotted Day

Iraq

I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

1.48 pm

I beg to move,

That this House recalls the Prime Minister's assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being used at 45 minutes' notice; further recalls the Government's contention that these weapons posed an imminent danger to the United Kingdom and its forces; notes that to date no such weapons have been found; and calls for an independent inquiry into the handling of the intelligence received, its assessment and the decisions made by ministers based upon it.

I begin by expressing a warm welcome to the Foreign Secretary. I think that it is the first time that we have seen him at a Liberal Democrat Opposition day. We hope that it will be the first of many such happy occasions.

The Prime Minister has rightly said that there is no more solemn decision for him than to commit British forces to military action. The decision of 18 March this year in relation to Iraq was, possibly uniquely, shared with the House of Commons. It was no less solemn by being shared in that way.

It was a decision that was taken against the background of unparalleled public anxiety, which brought more than 1 million people on to the streets of London. We know that a swift and professional victory has been won, and that United Kingdom forces played a distinguished role in it, although one cannot help observing that it would have been surprising if the most powerful military nation in the world—in coalition with others, including the United Kingdom—had been unable to defeat what had become virtually a third-world army, with ageing equipment, poor morale and inadequate leadership.

In view of the wording of the Liberal Democrat motion before us, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us exactly when the Prime Minister said that there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein to the United Kingdom?

I shall come to that point in due course, if I may.

I know of no current principle of international law that legitimates military action because it is successful or produces a benevolent outcome. The Government repeatedly expressed their determination—one would have expected no less—to act in accordance with international law. It is no secret that there was a dispute—some would say a continuing dispute—as to whether military action in this particular case was legitimate.

Since this is a matter of some controversy, it is right that I say what my own view is. Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 undoubtedly authorised military action, but resolutions of the UN Security Council are not the only source of international law. Such military action has to be seen against the principles of international law. It would have been legitimate only if it were truly a last resort, when all other diplomatic and political alternatives had been exhausted, and, indeed, if the action proposed was proportionate, involving no more force than was necessary to achieve the objectives of the resolutions. I did not believe then, and I do not believe now, that those requirements were or have been satisfied. There was still mileage—to put it colloquially—in the inspection regime, and the proposed use of force was by no means proportionate, in that it was designed to bring an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

If members of the United States Administration are to be believed, regime change was always their objective. Not so the United Kingdom Government. At a press conference on 25 March—a week after the House took its historic decision—the Prime Minister said:
"Our aim has not been regime change. Our aim has been the elimination of weapons of mass destruction."
Indeed, he said—and implied as much again today—that if Saddam Hussein had disarmed, both Saddam and his regime could have survived.

So it is clear from that analysis and from what we recall, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were at the very heart of the Government's position, as was the ability to use them within 45 minutes. The Government's case was that the United Kingdom and its forces in particular were at risk from the continued possession of those weapons. If my memory serves me right, Ministers said that, for example, British forces in Cyprus would be at risk if Scud missiles with a suitable range were armed with chemical or biological warheads.

The Government also advanced the case—sometimes, not always—of anticipatory self-defence under article 51 of the UN charter. That could be supported only by a belief that the threat was imminent, to the extent that an anticipatory right of self-defence arose.

I am interested in the exact wording that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is using. Is he saying that the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, said that there was an imminent threat, or that his interpretation of what was said is that there was an imminent threat?

I am saying that it was a clear part of the case made by the Government that there was an imminent threat that weapons could be launched at 45 minutes' notice, and that British forces in Cyprus, for example, were at risk from such weapons. If that does not amount to an assertion that the use of such weapons was imminent, I cannot imagine what it would take to satisfy the hon. Gentleman in that regard.

rose

The question of the imminent threat is very important. It is now clear that President Chirac had said that if the weapons inspectors failed to disarm Iraq, it would be necessary for the Security Council to approve military action. The only reason not to go through the UN, via the capacity of the Security Council, to secure agreement must have been that the matter was urgent and that there was an imminent threat; otherwise, we could have had unity in the international community and the Security Council.

Indeed. As I recall, when this point was made on the last occasion on which Dr. Blix appeared before the Security Council, he said that it would not be a matter of years or a matter of weeks before he and his team could complete their inspections, but that it could be a matter of months. That view was rejected, and as the right hon. Lady says, that can only have been on the understanding that the threat was so acute that Dr. Blix should not be allowed the time that he thought appropriate to complete the inspections.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

Much turned on the opinion of the learned Attorney-General, who ultimately—and unusually—made it known that he had expressed the view that military action was legal. It is axiomatic that on getting counsel's opinion, one should always be aware of the factual basis on which it was given. It is a reasonable inference that the Attorney-General proceeded on the factual basis then outlined by the Government. We are entitled to consider these questions. If the Attorney-General had known then that the immediate nature of the threat depended on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness, it is arguable that he might have changed his opinion. If he had known that Mr. Rumsfeld was likely to say that the weapons might have been destroyed before the war, it is arguable that he might have changed his opinion. If he had known that Mr. Wolfowitz would imply that weapons of mass destruction were not important in the decision to take military action, it is arguable that he would have changed his opinion. If he had known all three of those things, it is indisputable that he would have changed his opinion.

When the case for continuing with the policy of containment and deterrence was being made, the Government's response was that it had failed. The imminence and acuteness of the threat was the Government's answer to the continuation of that policy.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not also think that this adds up to the totally unsatisfactory position whereby an Attorney-General is in the other place and not in the House of Commons? Some of us—the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been among them—would have put these very direct questions to him. There are certainly two possibilities, if not more, in terms of distinguished lawyers on the Labour Benches who could have been appointed Attorney-General.

It is not for me to select those who should become Law Officers and sit on the Treasury Bench. The Law Officers are represented by the Solicitor-General, who is extremely able and competent, so there is no reason why these points could not have been made.

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say exactly where in the Attorney-General's opinion the word "imminent" is used or the concept of an imminent threat is mentioned? That is not the Attorney-General's opinion; that view is based entirely on resolution 1441.

We never saw the Attorney-General's opinion; what we saw was an abstract of it. As I said earlier, if ever one is sent counsel's opinion, one should ensure that the factual statement on which that opinion is based is also supplied.

I want to pick up on a point that the Prime Minister made with some robustness during his answers today. He said that there has been a concentration on humanitarian efforts that has inevitably had an effect on efforts to seek out any weapons of mass destruction.

I am bound to say that the primary task of the coalition forces was to secure any such weapons—or, indeed, the facilities for their manufacture—so as to prevent them from falling into the hands of the very terrorists who formed such an important part of the G8's conclusions during the past two or three days. I do not believe that the legitimate humanitarian objectives were in any way mutually inconsistent with the overwhelming and primary responsibility to lay hold of and secure any such weapons.

On the question of the existence of such weapons, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) provided something of a searchlight into the position in his forensic and most dignified resignation speech of 17 March. He said:
"Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target."—[Official Report, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 727.]
The right hon. Gentleman was suitably coy about the sources of information on which he based that conclusion, but I am willing to infer that during his time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he had access to information and material of the utmost sensitivity, and that he would not have expressed his conclusion in those terms unless he was satisfied that there was a sound factual basis for doing so.

I shall now deal with the question of the form of the inquiry. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he expects an inquiry to be mounted by the Intelligence and Security Committee and that he will co-operate in every respect and make all materials available to it. I am not sure how far he went in respect of making all witnesses available, but it is certainly the case that any inquiry—whether by the ISC or an independent inquiry—will not be effective unless it can see everything and question everyone.

I understand the purpose of the motion before us on weapons of mass destruction. However, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman, unlike critics on the Government Benches, bring himself to welcome the fact that one of the most murderous and barbaric dictatorships has been destroyed, and that the people of Iraq are free from Saddam? I have not heard that sentiment expressed by critics today, and I wonder why.

Let us be clear. I have said clearly in the House that Saddam Hussein was steeped in the blood of his own countrymen and women, but we cannot make assertions such as the hon. Gentleman's without taking some moral responsibility—collectively, if not on a party-political basis—for what happened. It was after Halabja, where 5,000 people were killed, that the British Government of the day extended further credit facilities to the Saddam Hussein regime. It was after the end of the Iran-Iraq war that the British Government of the day continued to extend such credit facilities. There was a time when, because of his opposition to Iran, Saddam Hussein received the support of the United Kingdom and the United States. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) may like to distance himself in a party-political sense from what I said, but it is not something easily understood on the streets of Arab capitals in the middle east.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is composed of people of independent judgment and senior Members of the House. I could not say otherwise, sitting in front of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in the presence of the right hon. Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor) who chairs the Committee, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) and the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) who was present a few moments ago. My comments are no reflection on their independence or their judgment. The ISC's recent report on Bali demonstrated its willingness to be critical of the Government. However, I do not believe that an inquiry by the ISC is the best form of inquiry for the specific circumstances of this case.

I refer back to the depth and extent of public anxiety evidenced by the number of people who turned out on the streets of London and elsewhere to demonstrate and by the postbags of every Member of Parliament. Clearly, we need an investigation that is answerable not just to the Prime Minister or the House, but to the public who came on to the streets in such numbers to express their anxiety.

Initially, I took the view that there might be scope for a special Select Committee of the House, but I have subsequently changed my view and I shall explain why. The Leader of the House made an important intervention this morning both in The Times newspaper and in an interview with Mr. John Humphrys. I have no doubt that that interview will become part of the learning process of young BBC interrogators and, perhaps, of budding Leaders of the House for a long time to come. I fear that anyone attending a BBC Christmas party is likely to hear that tape many times.

To be serious, that intervention raised the stakes on any interpretation. A senior member of the Government says that he believes that someone in the intelligence services undermined the Government. Those of us with long political memories will recall that that intervention echoes some of the events of the Wilson era. It raises the stakes in a highly significant way, which cannot be denied. Secondly, I have become more persuaded that the substance of any inquiry must inevitably be what passed between the Prime Minister's office and the intelligence services, which requires a unique scrutiny. I do not believe that a Committee of the House or Parliament can provide such scrutiny.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that the intervention of the Leader of the House upped the stakes, but he tabled the Liberal Democrat motion before that intervention was made.

Indeed. I would have argued what. I am arguing in my speech in any case. One cannot alter the fact of these events. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a student of John Maynard Keynes, but it was he who aptly said, "When the facts change, I change my opinion".

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman lack ambition for the House and for parliamentary Select Committees? Should we not all be saying that those are the right forums for an inquiry, in preference to a Franks inquiry behind closed doors or a Scott inquiry that will take us to 2004–05 before it reports? The House of Commons is the right place and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs should be buttressed in its campaign to prosecute this matter and gain access to security and intelligence documents.

I hope that I lack no ambition for the House and I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's criticisms in what I am about to say. I have already said that for any inquiry to be effective, it must have access to everything and to everyone—at all levels of Government, politicians and officials alike. When national security is not involved, there is no reason why an inquiry should not sit in public.

On the question of the time limit for production of a report, the right hon. Member for Livingston and myself formed an ever-lasting bond on the rain-spattered pavements outside the mews of Buckingham Palace, waiting to gain entry to the Scott inquiry, which went on for a considerable period—or, as some would argue, for too long. There is no reason why an inquiry of the sort that I seek could not be given a time limit within which to report. The inquiry should be headed by a judicial figure with experience of weighing evidence and attaching significance to it.

We have argued in the past that Select Committees should be given greater investigatory powers. What therefore is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's difficulty with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs investigating this matter?

It must be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Affairs Committee has a certain level of security clearance, but it is not a level of clearance that is apt in the circumstances with which we are concerned. [Interruption.] I am not talking to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), but to the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham). I know that he wishes I was talking to him, but I am talking to his hon. Friend. I was saying that the particular level of clearance given to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee might not be appropriate. Whoever is charged with the responsibility to investigate must have the ability to see everything and to talk to everyone. I am not convinced that that will be allowed.

I am a survivor of the Trade and Industry Committee's inquiry into the Iraqi supergun affair, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the record of those proceedings shows clear evidence of the fact that that Committee's efforts to get Ministers and officials to appear before it and tell it what they knew—indeed, to get a Member of the House to appear before it and tell it what he knew—were thwarted time after time. I confess that my experience does not lead me to be overly confident in the notion that a Select Committee inquiry would be the best way to deal with the matter.

The inquiry to be established will have several significant questions to consider. The Prime Minister used the word "overriding" on several occasions today, and he no doubt did so precisely and deliberately. The question that the inquiry must consider is whether Downing street sought changes to last September's dossier, as is now alleged, although such seeking may have fallen far short of overriding. The inquiry should consider who was responsible for the final contents and form of the so-called dodgy dossier. Who was responsible for the allegation that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger? That allegation was comprehensively destroyed by Dr. el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the course of the Security Council's proceedings, when he pointed out that the exchanges of correspondence appeared to be false. As later investigation proved, one item bore the name of a Minister who had not been in office for some seven or eight years.

In the light of what the Leader of the House has said, the inquiry must also consider whether there is any evidence of efforts by one or more persons in the intelligence services to undermine the Government. That would be a grave constitutional outrage if it were true, and it is therefore worthy of investigation. The inquiry should also consider to what extent the Government relied on Iraqi sources who may have been motivated by an understandable desire to overthrow the regime, and whose objectivity may have suffered as a result. In the light of what the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, frankly told the "Today" programme last week, the inquiry should also consider the extent to which our Government relied on uncorroborated information from a single source.

I hope that the whole House will vote for the motion. I apprehend from the interventions from the leader of the Conservative party that we may be able to look to him and his colleagues for support. Those who supported the Government have a stronger reason for voting for the motion than those who did not, because the supporters did so on the basis of statements of fact, some of which are now subject to question. Had they known so at the time of the historic vote on 17 March 2003, it is reasonable to infer that more of them would have found themselves unable to support the Government. I do not wish to speculate how many would have changed their minds, but it is not unreasonable to infer that had the facts and information now before us been available then, some who were persuaded to support the Government would have been unable to do so.

We owe it to ourselves to have a thorough investigation by an independent inquiry, but—much more than that—we also owe it to the whole country.

2.13 pm

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"believes that the Intelligence and Security Committee established by Parliament is the appropriate body to carry out any inquiry into intelligence relating to Iraq; and notes in relation to Iraq's disarmament obligations the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483."

I know that my hon. Friend seeks to set records, but it is a record to be intervened on while moving an amendment. I give way.

My right hon. Friend read out the amendment—unfortunately, I shall have to support it tonight, because I am subject to the Whips—which states that the Intelligence and Security Committee was set up by Parliament. It is not a matter of semantics to say that that Committee was not set up by Parliament. It is appointed by the Prime Minister and is answerable to him. It is not a creature of Parliament. The Foreign Affairs Committee is the only appropriate body, because it was set up by Parliament. The ISC might have been set up under statute, but the Committee is constituted by the Prime Minister, and is fatally flawed for that reason.

I shall deal with that issue immediately. The Committee was indeed established by Parliament and, for the avoidance of any doubt, I have in front of me a report of the Second Reading of the Bill that established it, from 22 February 1994. The Intelligence Services Act 1994, which contained provision for the establishment of the Committee, was approved, without Division, by all parties in the House. Although my hon. Friend would have been right to say that some of us, including myself, had some reservations at the time about whether that was the best mechanism for holding the intelligence and security agencies properly to account—there was an argument about whether a Special Select Committee was appropriate—nobody who has served on the Committee, or has had to give evidence to it, as I have regularly in each of the past six years, has anything but the highest regard for its independence, professionalism and integrity. Report after report from the Committee testifies to the fact that it is well capable of forensic examination of the issues and independence of judgment.

As for the appointment of the Committee by the Prime Minister, I shall lift the veil on a debate that has been going on for some time. One of the arguments—I am sorry, I shall rephrase that, because we do not have arguments in the Government: one of the differences of emphasis that I have had with some of my colleagues is that I think that it would be better to bite the bullet and establish a Select Committee. We could make similar arrangements for the security clearance of its members and the special security of all the evidence.

You were not cleared as president of the National Union of Students.

With great respect, I was cleared, but I do not want to go into that issue because it would take too long. Given my past, I can tell the House that my clearance under the old positive vetting procedure was not just a matter of a tick in a box. I had at least three successive grillings by officers of the security services, but in the end I received a tick. Years later, when the fact that the security services held files on me—which I already knew—became public, I refused to abuse my position as Home Secretary to see the files.

In practice, the membership list of the Intelligence and Security Committee is drawn up in the same way as the membership list of an ordinary Select Committee. It is drawn up by debate between the Whips across the Houses. The idea that somehow the Prime Minister can stop the publication of the judgments of the Committee is simply untrue.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that, because he is a distinguished member of the ISC. What actually happens is that every time the Committee reports, it does so—under statute approved by Parliament—to the Prime Minister. The purpose of that is to allow for redactions, or deletions—and it is always indicated where they occur—in the report, to protect highly sensitive information. To my knowledge, no Prime Minister in this or any previous Administration has ever desired or sought to amend any judgment made by the ISC. Were any Prime Minister—or Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, as those responsible for the day-to-day running of the agencies—to try to amend such a judgment, the Chairman and the members would be the first to tell the House about it, and in my opinion, it would be a matter for resignation. It would be preposterous to try to amend the Committee's judgment, and no one would try. I hope that that answers the point about the integrity of the Committee.

On that point, will my right hon. Friend give a cast-iron assurance that no amendments will be made to the report by the Prime Minister, or anyone else in 10 Downing street?

May I explain to my hon. Friend that amendments are never made to the report? I have just gone through the forthcoming draft report and I was asked for my agreement on a number of what are called redactions. As it happens, I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chairman of the ISC, that I refused to agree one deletion, on the grounds that I could see no good reason for it. As a result, I think that that item is now going to surface. What my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and I are asked to approve is, for example, that very sensitive source information or financial information be taken out. However, we never ever seek to amend the report, and still less to suppress its judgment. My hon. Friend asks for an undertaking that there will be no attempt to amend the report., apart from any deletions of the sort that I have described, and I give him that categorical and cast-iron undertaking.

I turn now to the overall context in respect of Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt briefly with that earlier, but only eight weeks have passed since Saddam Hussein's brutal regime fell. In that time, we and our coalition partners have set about the task of helping the people of Iraq to build a more secure, prosperous and democratic nation. Enormous challenges remain in what will be a long-term commitment, but we believe that the situation in the north and the south is slowly improving. However, as I told the House on 12 May—I am sorry to have to repeat it today—the situation in Baghdad and the surrounding region remains unsatisfactory. The establishment of a secure environment in Baghdad, and the provision of services there, are a top priority for the coalition. That was one of the main items of discussion between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush last week.

When I made my last report to the House on 12 May, I informed hon. Members of the progress that we were seeking to make to obtain a Security Council resolution establishing the "vital role" for the UN to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush had committed themselves at Hillsborough on 8 April. On the first day of our recent recess, United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 was passed. Copies have been placed in the Library, but I am pleased to tell the House that this resolution more than delivers on the Hillsborough undertaking.

Obviously, we all know that that is a Security Council resolution, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is a compromise, in that the UN is being given only a parallel role with the coalition, rather than the primary role in bringing an Iraqi interim authority into being. However, I read in the press that the American representative in Iraq has said that the idea of holding a conference to bring forward an Iraqi Government has been cancelled, and that a smaller group is to be selected for that purpose. What is the UN's role in that?

I was about to come to those matters, and I shall deal directly with my right hon. Friend's second point. Of course, the resolution was indeed a compromise. That is an inevitable and inherent—indeed, an admirable—part of the process by which 15 different member states of the Security Council come together to debate, negotiate and—we hope—agree Security Council resolutions.

Paragraph 11 of resolution 1483 reaffirms that Iraq
"must meet its disarmament obligations",
and also recalls Security Council resolutions 687, 1284 and 1441, the key disarmament resolutions passed since the Gulf war.

Resolution 1483 was passed unanimously, after much negotiation and after Britain, the US and Spain—the countries that moved the resolution—had first tabled the original draft. I always made it clear—in private to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), and publicly—that the draft was a draft and that if we wanted the unanimous agreement that we got in the end there would have to be compromises.

However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, among others, has sometimes suggested that it is possible to secure votes by some kind of additional pressure. I think that "bullying" was the word that she used, but the experience of the past nine months shows clearly that members of the Security Council make up their own minds on the issues before them. That is simply a matter of fact. Sadly, they did not agree to the so-called "second resolution" in March. We tried very hard, but the Security Council decided not to agree to that resolution, and we did not put it to a vote. However, it did agree last November to resolution 1441—again after a good process of negotiation and compromise, and it agreed to resolution 1483 on 22 May.

I ask the House this question: would France, China, Russia and Germany have called just two weeks ago for Iraq to meet its disarmament obligations if they had believed that those obligations had already been met? Of course they would not. Yet the Security Council—which is made up of grown-up countries perfectly able to decline to vote in favour of a US-UK resolution when they wish—repeated at the beginning of operational paragraph 11 that Iraq must meet its "disarmament obligations".

I shall deal directly with the other point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. It is true that Mr. Bremer has proposed that the Baghdad conference should be delayed and that, pro tem, there should be an arrangement of the kind that my right hon. Friend has described, to assist the coalition authority. We are in active discussion with the US about that, but we also believe that what the US and the coalition provisional authority—effectively, the US and the UK—are doing is fully consistent with resolution 1483.

I have two other things to say on this matter. First, I shall write with more details to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, and I shall place that reply in the Library. Secondly, one of the good things achieved by the process of negotiation on resolution 1483 was a significantly strengthened role for what was originally to be a special co-ordinator from the UN. That post is now that of a special representative, who has powers with which I believe the Secretary-General is very happy. In turn, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. de Mello, who I think is well known to my right hon. Friend; he is a man of the highest reputation and integrity in the international community. He has undertaken to report regularly to the Security Council. If he feels at any stage that what we are doing is unsatisfactory, he will make his own report to the Security Council.

I should add that under resolution 1483, the US and the UK—the coalition provisional authority—are required to make very regular reports to the Security Council. I am absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood—I am sure that the whole House is—in wanting to ensure that the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush about a vital role for the UN are translated into real action. I believe that they have been, in resolution 1483.