House of Commons
Monday 11 June 2007
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
I have written again to the hon. Gentleman on 8 June to provide an update on this case.
Will the Minister reconsider his position on this case? Mr. Mudada is a minister of religion and an opposition activist working for the Movement for Democratic Change. He has applied twice, and he has been in this country for five years.
I want to appeal to the Minister on urgent compassionate grounds. Mrs. Mudada, who has been to my surgery twice, has not seen her four children, the youngest of whom is nine years old, for almost five years. They were being looked after by their grandmother in Harare, but she is now dead. This is surely an urgent, compassionate case. The Minister said to me in his letter that the children can apply for entry clearance, but until Mr. Mudada’s status is cleared up, they cannot. Whatever the Minister’s views about whether Mr. Mudada is a genuine asylum seeker, he should clear the matter up so that that mother can see her children.
I have made it my policy not to discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the case if he would find it convenient. Generally, it is the policy of the Border and Immigration Agency to enforce decisions when an independent judicial process has concluded that somebody does not have the right to be in this country, and that it is safe for them to go home. Obviously, I look with particular care at cases from Zimbabwe, given the despicable nature of the regime there.
Foreign Prisoners (Deportation)
Discussions are going on all the time.
Last year the Prime Minister told the House that
“it is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 960.]
However, the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 explicitly rule out deporting people with criminal convictions to the European economic area. Will the Government stop talking tough about deporting criminals while exporting the powers to do so? Or will the Government retrieve those powers to deport criminals and enable the Prime Minister to fulfil the pledge that he made to the House?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman will have looked very closely at those immigration regulations, referred to as statutory instrument No. 1003; however, if he looks at them again he will notice that they say no such thing. The Government are still able to consider all deportation cases, whether the individual is from the European Union or not.
May I take the right hon. Gentleman’s mind back to the free movement of people directive, which was laid before the House? I do not think that any party prayed against it, and therefore I assume that it has all-party support, if not the support of all Members. That directive sets out our policy for deporting people from the EU. We will consider people from the EU for deportation if their offences are serious, and I anticipate that we will deport a good 300-plus this year alone.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping the promise that he made to the House on Report of the UK Borders Bill to review the Home Office policy on informing the victims of crime of the deportation of foreign nationals from prison. When does he anticipate the new policy being in place?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the time that he has taken to brief me on the troubling circumstances of the individual case about which he addressed the House at some length earlier this year. If we are to rebalance the criminal justice system and the immigration system in favour of the victim, it is important that we disclose information when we are able to do so. I hope to put in place a new policy to do so on request from right hon. and hon. Members within the next month.
The Prison Officers Association is on record as saying that it is very concerned that when foreign nationals have completed their sentences, that is the point at which people consider what to do with them. Frequently, they remain in custody for two or three months, which is absolutely wrong on human rights grounds and everything else. Will the Minister assure the House that the planning of what to do with them is started well before their sentences expire?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House last year that we would bring forward considerably the point at which we consider a foreign national prisoner’s case for deportation. We now routinely consider cases six months before the sentence comes to an end. It is because we now consider cases much earlier in the process that we have almost doubled the rate at which we send foreign national prisoners back to where they came from.
I have raised the case of James Bishop with the Minister before. The person who killed my constituent was removed from this country before the trial took place. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is having discussions with the Foreign Office as well as with the Ministry of Justice so that those who are removed will not be able to reapply for entry clearance, and that if they reapply it will be clear to entry clearance managers and entry clearance officers why they were removed from the UK, so they will not be allowed to return?
My right hon. Friend has previously raised the case with me; I have such discussions with my colleagues in the Foreign Office every fortnight. Crucial to making the progress he wants is the introduction of biometric visas in every visa post around the world. We have now introduced them in 67 countries and we already find that thousands of people are reapplying whom we know about through our records. That is why it would be such an error to shut down the biometric identification system in which the Government are investing.
I sit in the London courts and an increasing number of serious crimes are being committed by people who come to the UK from the new EU states. Does the court have the power to order their deportation? Should it not have the power to do so?
In the case of EU nationals, the free movement directive sets the framework for the policy we have to adopt, but for foreign nationals more generally the provisions in the UK Borders Bill are exactly right and mean that people who commit a serious offence in this country will face the prospect of automatic deportation, and if they want to appeal against it they can do so from the country they came from.
Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if foreign prisoners are held in any devolved part of the UK the devolved body will be consulted when they are being deported?
There are close arrangements for dealing with matters between devolved Administrations. Obviously the detention estate available in Scotland is run by the Border and Immigration Agency, but colleagues in the BIA in Scotland are in close day-to-day contact with officials from the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office.
The Minister’s attempts to reassure the House about the deportation of foreign prisoners are pointless unless he can give us accurate figures about how many former foreign prisoners are still at large in the UK and how many are still under lock and key. He may be aware that when I asked how many former foreign prisoners were in young offender institutions, the former prisons Minister, now the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, replied that the data are
“not available without disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, 8 February 2007; Vol. 456, c. 1093W.]
If Ministers cannot say how many former prisoners are still locked up, the Minister needs to clarify whether the Government really do not know, which would be alarming, or know but will not tell us—which would be disgraceful. Which is it?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was clear about the seven or eight key failings in the criminal justice system that resulted in the crisis of foreign national prisoners not being considered for deportation appropriately last year. One issue was the difficulty of identifying whether people in the criminal justice system are foreign nationals. To remedy that, we have set in train work with the police; pilots are under way and the lessons from them will be applied across the criminal justice system. Our determination to deport those who have no right to be in this country is clear, which is why we have invested extra resources and doubled the rate at which we are sending foreign national prisoners home.
Detention without Charge
First, with your permission Mr. Speaker, I am deeply saddened to report to the House the death today of PC Jon Henry while on duty in Luton with Bedfordshire police. Tragic events such as his death highlight the dangers that police officers face day to day in their task of protecting the public. I have spoken with the chief constable of Bedfordshire police, Gillian Parker, and passed on my sympathies and those of the whole House to the friends, family and loved ones and colleagues in the police service of PC Jon Henry.
I believe that events in the past 12 months have strengthened the case for extending pre-charge detention. However, I believe that we ought to seek broad agreement, if possible, on the way forward and have therefore opened consultations on the matter to see if a consensus can be reached.
I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s very proper expressions of condolence with regard to Constable Henry and his family.
When the Home Secretary consults on detention without charge, will he bear in mind the need to consult police and prosecutors in all parts of the United Kingdom? He may recall that his predecessor did not feel it necessary to speak to the Lord Advocate about that, and given the widespread concern in Scotland about the Prime Minister’s dealings with Libya last week, will the Home Secretary promise me that this will not be another free gift to the Scottish National party?
Yes, I will try to ensure that all those proprieties are observed, in the spirit as well as in the letter. I do not accept that there is anything improper about the proceedings over the past week or two, which was the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I agree with those elements of the Scottish press that say that this was more spin than substance, however effective the spin side might have been from the point of view of the First Minister. Nevertheless, it is right to remember that with such important issues we should carry out the fullest and widest possible consultation.
In the Home Secretary’s consultations over the period of detention without trial for terror suspects, will he bear in mind the fact that many of us feel that 28 days is already rather too long for detention without trial, and that the idea of extending the period to as long as 90 days could be counter-productive in gaining the co-operation and support of many in the country who wish to be part of the community rather than alienated from it? Detention for 90 days will not bring about the peace and justice that the Home Secretary wants, but will probably drive some people into the arms of those whose arms he would rather they were not driven into.
It is always a difficult balance. I do not disguise my recognition that it is difficult for Members to balance the requirements to counter terrorism effectively, to fight it and to ensure national security with the need to ensure that when we strengthen powers we strengthen scrutiny appropriately, too. My hon. Friend says that people may have had misgivings last time we debated the matter, and that is true, but there was a majority view that given the new circumstances, a period of 28 days was justified. The events of the past 12 months have shown that to be correct. The consideration of one or two cases last August took 27 or 28 days—right up to the limit. There are about six examples of cases that took that long over the past 12 months. The case for the extension is strengthened. I remain persuaded of the case, but I recognise that others are not. That is why I am trying to consult as widely as possible to see whether we can reach a compromise and consensus.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to the counter-productiveness of extending detention without trial, especially in certain areas of the community, which could concern the ability to recruit sources. Has the Home Secretary received any representations from agencies involved in counter-terrorism that might be worried that it is already hard to recruit informers in the communities that pose a threat to us? If he has, does he recognise that that might be a result of the proposed legislation or the legislation that has already been implemented?
It is always difficult to recruit people in the midst of a sharp struggle. That was the case in fighting republican terrorism and I have no doubt that it is difficult at present. On the other hand, we receive a lot of support from across the community. That is essential, because I have continually expressed the view from the Dispatch Box and outside the House that ultimately we will not defeat terrorism through the security apparatus. It is a necessary but insufficient means. The way to defeat terrorism is by bringing the community of this country together. It is at the grass roots, in the communities, in the streets, in the mosques and outside them, and in our universities that we will fight out the battle for values and ideas. The security apparatus is one dimension—but only one.
Acts of terrorism and the threat of terrorist attacks affect everyone in this country, not only those who sadly suffer the immediate effects of terrorism. Some of my constituents have said that they are concerned about travelling to London and other cities because they are afraid of terrorist attacks. Such attacks are an attack on our freedom. What plans does the Secretary of State have to consult members of the public, organisations, and the victims of terror? Does he believe that the balance should lie with the safety of the public or the individual freedoms of the terrorists?
The ultimate right is the right to the preservation of one’s life, because if we cannot protect individuals’ lives, we cannot, by definition, extend to them the opportunity to exercise any other rights, given that they all depend on an individual’s existence. I would have thought that that was self-evident. That is why, when balancing the rights of the 60 million individuals who make up the community, we must have a degree of proportionality. However, that is not reflected in at least one of the judgments of the European Court, the so-called Chahal judgment, which is why we will continue to contest and appeal against it.
The key thing is to involve the whole community. Two groups of people on both extremes wish to divide the community. There are apologists for al-Qaeda who argue that this is essentially a war by everyone else on Islam, which is untrue. There are those on the extreme right of politics who argue that this is a war by Muslims on everyone else, which is equally untrue. Both those groups ought to be pushed to the fringes as we unite everyone in this country across communities and ethnic and religious backgrounds.
On behalf of the official Opposition, I join the Home Secretary in paying condolences to the family and friends of PC Jon Henry. I am afraid that today’s tragic events are a salutary reminder of the risks that policemen and women take on our behalf.
May I crave your indulgence for a second, Mr. Speaker? I think that this will be the last Home Office questions that the Home Secretary will face. May I take this opportunity to wish him well? We have had our differences a number of times over the years, but at every turn I have always accepted that he has done what was in the national interest, in his judgment.
The idea of allowing the police to interview terrorist suspects after they have been charged is put forward to allow a suspect to be charged earlier and to maximise the chance of conviction. That is less controversial than increasing the time of detention without charge and will represent a major increase in police effectiveness. Will the Home Secretary tell us why it has taken two years to implement the idea?
Ideas such as post-charge questioning, the pre-charge extension of detention facilities and the question of intercept have a political, social and legal dimension and often require a great deal of thought and consultation. As it happens, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman has supported the measure for a considerable time. I took the decision that it could be introduced a while back, but I wanted that to take place alongside the introduction of a package of measures. I thought that some of those measures might be more controversial, which is why there has been a delay in bringing this forward.
The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to urge me not to have knee-jerk reactions to events. When I came into my post, I did not want to bring in yet another series of new laws, because that would have been another ground for criticism. I hope that we will be given credit for delaying and thinking things through, after some scrutiny.
I agree with the Home Secretary about wanting to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Reference has already been made to the attitude of some senior policemen to the effectiveness of gathering intelligence. Let me quote one:
“the trust that exists between police and public is critical to all we do, and is absolutely vital in counter terrorism. It fundamentally affects the level of support, and of course intelligence that we receive from communities.”
As has already been said, the greatest risk of extending detention without charge is that it will act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism and cause the flow of intelligence from the community to dry up. What has the Home Secretary done to assess the effect of the proposed increase in detention on the attitude of the minority communities?
I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by whoever made them.
I guessed that it was Peter Clarke. If I remember correctly, those words were part of his comments in the Colin Cramphorn memorial lecture. I agree that when we consider every single measure, we must balance its short and longer-term effects on countering terrorism and its effects on keeping the community on side. That is a difficult job. For instance, I have said continually that I believe that members of the Muslim community in this country are the victims of terrorism twice over, first because they suffer like the rest of us when bombs go off, and when there are explosions and terrorist attacks, and secondly because they are at the front line of counter-terrorist measures. Of course we must always consider that. What I have relied on is a degree of scrutiny and judgment—that has taken some time—and the view of the police, as expressed officially. That view is not that the extension is inevitable or an absolute requirement; it is that the police can envisage circumstances in which it may become necessary to go beyond 28 days, and they therefore believe that I should raise the matter for consideration, inside and outside Government. I am therefore weighing in the balance the immediate effects and the possible consequences, and I lay great stress on the view of the police.
The information is not held centrally in the form requested, as arrests statistics are collected on a recorded crime basis only. Our focus is on police activity that tackles crime and brings offenders to justice. Since 2003, crime has fallen by 10 per cent. Since 2002, the rate of offences brought to justice has increased by 39.6 per cent., and sanction detection rates have increased from 19 per cent. in 2003-04 to 24 per cent. in 2005-06.
In common with the majority of the British people, my experience has been very different from the position that the Minister sets out. After great effort on my part, I received a letter from the Metropolitan police telling me that the person who burgled my mother’s home—she is in her 96th year—asked for 1,396 offences to be taken into account when he was brought to justice at the age of 19, under Operation Wipeout. Does the Minister think that the 19-year-old who burgled my mother’s house is the cleverest thief who ever existed, or would he agree that it is an absolute disgrace that those offences went undetected for so long?
We are all appalled by cases such as that involving the hon. Gentleman’s mother, and we all want people who burgle—particularly those who burgle an elderly, frail, vulnerable woman in her own home—to be brought to justice. That is why we have undertaken a whole range of measures to ensure that more people are brought to justice, and to make sure that when people burgle homes, they are brought before the courts and sentenced appropriately. As regards people who commit less serious offences, we have introduced fixed penalty notices and sanction detection rates to try to encourage police officers to bring more people to justice, and to ensure that more offenders are brought before the courts, both for the kind of serious crime that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and for less serious offences.
Crime in my constituency of Bridgend is at a four-year low. Auto crime, violent crime and criminal damage are down, but as the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) says, there is a problem with burglary. My local police force has found that the hot weather increases the problem, as people leave windows open and doors unlocked. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a responsibility on the public to protect themselves from crime, especially during the current heat wave, by ensuring that windows and doors are locked?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Of course people have a responsibility to protect their own property, and of course they should lock doors and windows and take all the other sensible measures that we should all take; but alongside that, we need to send out a clear message that burglary is a serious crime, and that we expect burglars who are caught to be charged, put before the courts, and dealt with appropriately. Although it is of course sensible for people to protect their homes and do what they can, we need to send out the clear message that burglary will not be tolerated.
Last Monday, a reply by the Under-Secretary to a question I had tabled showed that the number of traffic officers declined from 7,525 in 1998 to 6,511 in 2005, which is a drop of more than 1,000 in seven years. Does he consider, as many criminals use vehicles, that that will help or hinder the arrest rate?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the figures he quoted are last year’s figures. The latest figures show an increase in the number of road police. He will know, too, that we take road policing very seriously, which is why, for the first time, we included it in the national community safety plan, which is an important step forward. Automatic number plate recognition systems are being used successfully by a large number of forces, so the message on roads policing is: policing the roads is important, because it helps to disrupt criminals who have to travel. I agree with him on that, and we have taken steps to deal with the problem.
My hon. Friend will know that many hon. Members, myself included, would like the arrest rate in our constituencies to go down. We would like the crime rate, too, to fall rather faster. What is the correlation between the arrest rate and the crime rate? Has he done any work on that, and which police force has the highest correlation?
On the question of the individual police force, I will have to write to my hon. Friend, but he has raised an important issue. The fact of the matter is that where the number of arrests goes up, there is a correlation with the crime rate. Obviously, we want to drive the crime rate down, and crime reduction correlates with increased police activity on the streets. Alongside the number of arrests in an area, it is important to have a visible police presence on the street, which is why the roll-out of neighbourhood policing is significant. The additional measures that we have introduced such as fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder give the police another option apart from arrest when dealing with crime on the streets. As I said, there is a range of options available to the police, which they can use as appropriate on the street when dealing with criminals and crime.
May I endorse the expressions of condolence to the family, friends and colleagues of PC Jon Henry, following his terrible death today?
Just as important as arrest rates is what happens after arrest. Is the Minister aware that figures revealed by the BBC today show that 8,000 sexual offenders have been released on caution. That is only the tip of the iceberg, however, as there was a 160 per cent. increase in the number of cautions issued for violent offences in the same period. Does the Minister agree that that is a grave affront to the basic principle that justice needs not only to be done but to be seen to be done, and that it is a direct consequence of the Government’s reckless expansion of so-called summary justice and the bombardment of the police with endless illogical targets?
May I begin by joining the hon. Gentleman in his expression of condolence? With respect to cautions, whether they concern sex offenders or anyone else who has offended, that is a matter for the police to determine according to the individual circumstances of the case. The police have available to them a menu or range of options to deal with offenders. They make a professional judgment in liaison and consultation with colleagues about the best way forward, and cautions are part of that. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the individual circumstances of each case in which a caution was used, I bet that he would find that he agreed with a significant number. If he looked at those individual circumstances, rather making a grand political point and adding them all together, he would find that the truth is much more complicated than he has portrayed it.
One of the factors affecting arrest rates is the increased pressure on police officers to issue penalty notices to satisfy Government targets. Given that half those notices are paid and do not carry a criminal conviction, what confidence can the public have that issuing what are little more than glorified parking tickets is really bringing crime to justice?
The hon. Gentleman knows that crime has fallen. Before the introduction of fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder, a large number of those offences went unpunished. We need to ensure that the system of fixed penalty notices and penalty notices for disorder works effectively and efficiently. In many respects it does and it has enabled the police to deal with an offence on the street in a community, which they would not have been able to do before.
With reference to burglary, the Crimestoppers page in last week’s Lowestoft Journal showed that there were no burglaries at all in Lowestoft the previous week, in line with the trend. We still have a problem with criminal damage, but recently one of our safer neighbourhood teams, with the local council, blitzed an area of town, clearing away piles of fly-tipped rubbish, returning 16 children to school and seizing or reporting 20 cars. Will my hon. Friend congratulate all the people involved in that and encourage other safer neighbourhood teams throughout the country to get stuck in and deal with criminal damage?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing to the attention of the House the excellent work of the Lowestoft Journal and its Crimestoppers page, which seems to be having a dramatic impact on Lowestoft, especially the report of no burglaries that he highlighted. The important point made my hon. Friend—we should draw attention to it because of its relevance to the rest of the country—is the fact that successful neighbourhood policing, as he mentioned, involves not only the police but the council, schools and health services. Effective neighbourhood management, alongside effective neighbourhood policing, means that we get not only the sort of results in Lowestoft that my hon. Friend described, but similar results across the country.
Fourteen per cent. of officer time was spent on patrol. The figure is not broken down by rank. Some 63.1 per cent. of officer time was spent on broader front-line activities. All the figures are for 2005-06. Other front-line activities not captured by the definition of “patrol” include arrests, dealing with incidents, gathering intelligence, responding to 999 calls, carrying out searches, dealing with informants, and interviewing suspects, victims and witnesses.
Is not the fact that 14 per cent. of police constables’ time is spent on patrol a national disgrace? The fact that at any one time only one in 58 police officers is out on patrol is also shameful. Is it not the case that under the present Government pre-emptive patrolling by police constables on foot in most of our towns and cities effectively has come to an end?
No, I do not perceive it in those terms, precisely because of what I said. Patrol means visible, yes, and available. To define patrol alongside policing generally is wrong. That is why we prefer the front-line figure, which encompasses all those active elements to which I referred, including arrests, dealing with incidents and gathering intelligence—all elements that go to meeting what our communities would expect from policing. That, together with the figure for officers on patrol or ready for patrol, comes to some 75 per cent. I accept the implied point that of the remaining 25 per cent., some 20 per cent. is incident-related and other paperwork. We need to drive down the amount of police time spent on paperwork, but I do not regard what I have said about front-line policing and patrol as shameful in any way. It is a matter of great celebration for our communities that our police are doing such a good job.
Police constables on patrol put themselves at serious risk every day of their lives on behalf of us and every citizen. That was tragically illustrated in Luton town centre this morning. As a Luton Member, may I add my condolences to those of other Members on behalf my constituents, who depend upon people such as Jonathan Henry and others? I pay tribute to him and convey my sympathy to his family. Will my hon. Friend, and indeed my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, look again at how we can deal with knife crime, which is still too prevalent and at how we can protect police officers in the future?
First, I join my hon. Friend in passing on condolences to the family of Jonathan Henry and, indeed, to anyone associated with policing in Bedfordshire, not least in my hon. Friend’s home town of Luton. As he says, it was an appalling incident and we all pass on our sympathies.
On my hon. Friend’s broader point, we are doing much on knife crime, but it would be wrong, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at the last summit held in Downing street, to assume that it can be dealt with only by legislation by the Government. Yes, it is about legislation, but it is also about culture, awareness and education and some of the responsibility must go to parenting and families. Only by tackling all three of those elements, which we are trying to do, will we get rid of the scourge of knife crime. However, I broadly agree with all the sentiments that my hon. Friend expressed.
The Minister’s figures from 6 March 2007 show that a staggering 16.5 per cent. of patrol officers’ time is spent on paperwork. Has he any workable proposals to cut red tape for our police?
The issue is not simply red tape. About half the time that the hon. Gentleman refers to is spent on incident-related paperwork. There must be proper due process in relation to audit trails and paperwork, not least in preparation for the matter being dealt with in the criminal justice system. I am with the hon. Gentleman on the other half of the equation: some 7.98 per cent. of the figure relates to non-incident-related paperwork. Through work force modernisation, considering who is doing what job in the police force and greater use of technology such as handheld personal digital assistants, we are working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and assorted forces to drive that figure down. I am with the hon. Gentleman on that figure, but the notion that somehow we will get rid of all paperwork is not correct because of, quite rightly, due process in relation to the criminal justice system.
In the light of that answer, does my hon. Friend agree that a truer estimate of time spent on the streets would involve the increase in neighbourhood policing? That is the cornerstone of Sussex police’s approach; they have introduced 53 new specialist neighbourhood teams, ensuring that every neighbourhood has its own dedicated group. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will support the extra funding that has gone into those areas and, indeed, increase it, so that such measures can reflect what is necessary for local people and what they feel is important?
I broadly agree with my hon. Friend and will certainly agree to support the existing funding levels and the overall policy of neighbourhood policing, which is making a profound difference to communities up and down the country, as I see when I go out and about on my travels. She also can be assured that the sustainability of the neighbourhood policing fund and policy will be an important cornerstone of our bid in the comprehensive spending review, but it is not for me to pre-empt or prejudge the outcome of that review.
The definition of front-line policing that the Minister said that he preferred includes time filling in forms. Officers involved in that are not on the front line; they are in a back office. Four years after a previous Home Secretary promised a “bonfire of the paperwork” to free up more police time, the Police Federation says that bureaucracy has got worse, and the Government’s own figures show that police officers spend more time on paperwork than on patrol. Instead of waiting 10 years to set up another review, when will the Government act to cut red tape and get police officers back on the beat, where the public want to see them?
As I said to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), it is fundamentally mendacious to assume that the 14 per cent. figure relates only to the time when the police are available and carrying out policing. That is simply not the case. Yes, of course we need to drive down paperwork, and we will be saying to the Flanagan review that we need to do more on targets and wider bureaucracy, but it is not right for the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) to dismiss as blithely as he does the figure of 63.1 per cent. that I quoted, which I repeat relates to arrests, dealing with incidents, gathering intelligence, responding to 999 calls, carrying out searches, dealing with informants and interviewing suspects, victims and witnesses. I do not doubt that paperwork may be involved, but one does not have to be a genius to work out that any such paperwork probably contributes to affording our citizens due process under the criminal justice system. I would be happy to find out which part of the criminal justice system the hon. Gentleman wants to get rid of.
Policing of major events is the responsibility of the relevant local police forces from their normal budget. In exceptional cases, in which particular strain would be placed on a police authority’s budget, additional Government support may be provided.
Is not it absurd that Merseyside police should be refused extra resources for policing the many events during the European capital of culture year of 2008, especially given that Liverpool represents the whole United Kingdom that year and in light of precedent for other events elsewhere? Does my hon. Friend agree with the statement in another place that the people of Merseyside should be so pleased that Liverpool has been honoured in such a way that they should be prepared to forgo adequate policing for the duration?
May I take the opportunity to congratulate Liverpool on being awarded the status of European capital of culture? It is a fantastic opportunity for Liverpool to show not only Europe but the world what a great city it is.
I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that all police forces in England and Wales have received sustained increases in finding under the Government. For Merseyside, the increase in total grants is £98 million—a 45.5 per cent. increase—since 1997. Merseyside also has 123 more police officers than in March 1997 and the number of police community support officers has doubled in the past six months to 466. The increases have put Merseyside police in a strong position to cope with the additional demands arising from Liverpool’s year as European capital of culture. I hope that local authorities and businesses will consider contributing to policing costs, as they stand to reap significant benefits from such investment.
Will the Under-Secretary meet me and bereaved parents to hear the case for funding a major police murder inquiry into the deaths at Deepcut Army barracks, as recommended by Devon and Cornwall police?
Order. The question is out of order and the hon. Gentleman is out of order in raising the matter here.
Although I understand the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) made about his constituents’ concerns about suffering a lower level of policing through management of the events in 2008, will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary bear it in mind that the Liberal Democrat administration of Liverpool has had five years to plan for those events but has signally failed to provide the funding, thus taking Liverpool into £20 million of debt? By notifying the chief constable too late to allow him to plan properly, the administration is left asking taxpayers throughout Britain to fund Liverpool’s year of culture. Are not all of us who wish Liverpool well in that year in danger of being let down by its administration?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The policing costs are not a sudden or unexpected pressure. Liverpool opted to bid to be the European capital of culture; it was a voluntary decision. One would presume that those responsible chose to bid on the basis that the benefits would exceed the costs. They should factor in the cost of security when they decide to bid. As my right hon. Friend said, the administration has known since 2003 that Liverpool would be the European capital of culture. The local police have had plenty of time to prepare and plan, and that is certainly true of the local authority.
My right hon. Friend knows that the chief constable and the assistant chief constable have already briefed my hon. Friend the Minister for Security, Counter Terrorism and Police on the policing aspects of the year. He also visited Merseyside—
Order. I think that the Under-Secretary has made the point.
Acceptable Behaviour Orders
None. There is no such proposal.
Will the Minister therefore account for the fact that there have been very credible newspaper reports that the Government are planning to introduce antisocial behaviour orders or acceptable behaviour contracts for first-time offenders of burglary? Will the Government now take this opportunity to restore the balance in favour of the victims of burglary, such as the mother of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), because the law has moved too far in favour of the offender rather than the victim?
The hon. Lady makes a reasonable point, but it is precisely the Government’s position that we expect people caught and charged with burglary to be put before the courts. That is what we expect. We do not expect behavioural interventions to happen for burglary, though it may be that, on conviction, a criminal sentence is given by the court, with an antisocial behaviour order applied as well as the criminal sentence. Intervention before, however, is not appropriate. As far as the Home Office is concerned, we believe that any burglar should be arrested, charged and put before the courts.
In relation to antisocial behaviour, will my hon. Friend consider having discussions with police forces up and down the country with a view to introducing a knives amnesty? Some years ago, the Coventry Evening Telegraph, together with the police, introduced a voluntary amnesty, which was very successful.
A knives amnesty is obviously a matter for local police forces, but we are prepared to consider any representations that we receive with respect to that or any other matter, including antisocial behaviour orders.
Acceptable behaviour orders may or may not be effective against some burglars, but what is beyond doubt is that many burglaries and other crimes are drug related. The Home Office has rightly taken up concerns about rising crime rates in my area, but at the same time has cut funding to the drug intervention programme by 11.5 per cent. in this financial year—with very little warning to the drug action team or other local drug and alcohol advisory teams. Is that not a bad example of joined-up government?
Before 2003, there was no such thing as a drug intervention programme. Furthermore, the £149 million that I believe we are spending on drug intervention programmes means that, for the first time, people arrested for drug-related offences now have an intervention programme that not only treats their drug-related addiction, but punishes them for the criminal activity that they have undertaken.
East Midlands Special Operations Unit
First, I believe that I may have inadvertently accused the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) of being mendacious, which I am sure is unparliamentary. I meant, of course, that he was totally misguided, but I was not referring in any way to his veracity or honesty. I apologise for that.
As to the east midlands special operations unit, Home Office funding totalling some £6 million for last year and this year has been provided. Continuing funding from 2008-09 will, of course, be a matter for the comprehensive spending review.
I am sure that the Minister agrees with me that the east midlands special operations unit is doing some exceptionally valuable work in dealing with high levels of organised crime. May I remind my hon. Friend that he made a statement on the police grant earlier this year, in which he accepted that Derbyshire was, shall I say, not the most generously funded police authority? Clearly, if there is no guarantee of ongoing funding for this special operations unit, there may be some doubt about its future—hence my question.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. Not just for the benefit of Derbyshire, but for the other four forces involved in the east midlands, may I explain that since the discussions on merged forces, east midlands as a region above all others has made considerable progress in terms of closing the gap on protective services? I realise that that is, at least in part, because of the work done by the east midlands special operations unit. That will be a factor when we come to consider the east midlands generally under the comprehensive spending review and policing therein.
The hon. Gentleman will know better than I do whether Northamptonshire is in the east midlands. If it is, I can call him to speak.
In that case, I call the hon. Gentleman.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I should like to ask a question on behalf of Northamptonshire police, which is one of the forces in the east midlands. The Minister has just said that everything they were doing was correct and exactly what the Government wanted, including closer co-operation on serious crime such as human trafficking. However, the Government will not give a guarantee of funding for the future. Surely that is a mistake. Should not the Minister give such a guarantee?
I simply cannot give that guarantee, because of the due process across Government in relation to the next three years of the comprehensive spending review.
One of the few positive outcomes of the abject and abortive attempt to amalgamate the five forces of the east midlands, including Leicestershire, was a renewed focus on the performance of those forces in the areas in which they have amalgamated and co-operated in an effective way. The east midlands special operations unit is a classic example of this. It is a beacon grouping which could give lessons to those in other parts of the country who wish to avoid having a regional force. I endorse the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) for an extended funding commitment in the public spending review, and I hope that the Minister will back that call when the matter is under review later this year.
As I have said, this is a matter for the comprehensive spending review, but I agree with my hon. Friend and all colleagues from the east midlands, including Northamptonshire, that there has been considerable progress on the protective and level 2 services agenda. That can be—and, I hope, will be—recognised in the next CSR, but I cannot pre-empt the review.
We are constantly reviewing and updating our counter-terrorism strategy. As part of this, I am pleased to announce that, tomorrow, we are launching the security and counter-terrorism science and innovation strategy. This strategy has been developed across government, led by the new Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office, and is a practical example of how we are developing a more strategic and integrated response to the threat. Science and innovation will be critical in driving forward these changes and delivering new counter-terrorism capabilities.
I thank the Home Secretary for his answer. In July last year, the Government published a document on countering terrorism, which was a review of the 12-point plan set out by the Prime Minister after 7/7. Will the Home Secretary give us an update on which of the points have not yet been fulfilled, and tell us what actions he plans to take to fulfil them?
From memory, I think that all but one of them have been either started or completed. On the overall picture, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we have increased the annual spending on counter-terrorism and resilience to £2.25 billion across government over the past 12 months. In the past month, we have announced the refocusing of the Home Office towards counter-terrorism, crime and immigration, to supplement the effort of the increased resources. Most recently, I announced last week my intention to bring forward a new counter-terrorism Bill containing a range of measures, on which we hope to consult and to achieve, at best, solidarity and, at a minimum, consensus across the House. Two weeks later, I shall be leaving and handing over to a new Home Secretary, so the fight for counter-terrorism, my interest, will go on. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all Members of the House for the constructive and emollient approach that they have adopted towards the Home Office in the past 12 months; it would have been very difficult to go on without the laudable appreciation that has so often been exchanged across the Chamber.
We shall certainly miss my right hon. Friend. In dealing with counter-terrorism, is it not also important to remember the victims of terror? Will my right hon. Friend tell me whether anything can be done urgently to look into the approximately 120 outstanding claims of the victims of terror on 7 July? Some have lost limbs or sustained other serious injuries, and they have been waiting a very long time for a final settlement of their claims. Should not this matter receive much greater priority than it has done?
I would love to say—indeed, I will—that, in the case of my hon. Friend missing me, the feeling will be mutual. Attention to the victims of the terrorist atrocities in London is given the highest priority. I cannot think of another occasion on which all the victims of a major tragedy have been seen, or at least had an offer to be seen, by at least two Cabinet Ministers. Both I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport have tried to do that. When I last inquired about reports of delays in such payments, I was satisfied that most were either the result of complicated medical evidence being awaited or claims having been submitted in the past few months. People sometimes do not claim during the initial period, as the symptoms only become obvious at a later stage. At my hon. Friend’s request, I shall reassure myself that those cases are not being neglected or receiving a lack of priority.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the G8 summit, which took place between 6 and 8 June in Heiligendamm in Germany.
1 pay tribute to Chancellor Merkel’s outstanding chairmanship. The purpose of the summit was to take forward the agenda first established at the Gleneagles G8 summit of 2005, on climate change and Africa.
On climate change, the scale of the challenge, environmentally and politically, has been becoming clearer month by month. There is now a scientific consensus that the planet is warming dangerously. If we do not halt and then reverse the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, we face a potential catastrophe. Sir Nicholas Stern’s report has shown that early action will save money; late action will cost it. Therefore, for the environment, this is urgent.
Politically, the problem has been clear but daunting. The United States was not part of the Kyoto treaty. The major emitters in the years to come will include China and India and developing nations. They want to grow their economies. They fear that action on climate change will limit their growth and hence keep their people—hundreds of millions of them—poor. Added to all that, Kyoto barely stabilises emissions—it is now obvious that we need substantially to cut them—and it expires in 2012.
At Gleneagles, we set up the G8 plus 5 dialogue—the first time that the US and China have sat round the same table debating how to put a new deal together. There is still a long way to go, but for the first time an outline agreement can now be seen that meets the environmental test of cutting substantially the harmful emissions and the political test of bringing developed and developing nations, notably America and China, together.
We agreed at the G8, for the first time, that a new global climate change agreement should succeed the current Kyoto treaty. We agreed, for the first time, that at the heart of that agreement should be a substantial cut in global emissions. The summit sent an important signal that the global target should be of the order of a cut of at least 50 per cent. in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—the target set by the European Union, Japan and Canada.
We agreed at the G8, for the first time, that the process for such a new agreement should be set out. We agreed that the UN is the only body able to finalise a global deal on climate change and that a comprehensive agreement should be reached in 2009. We called on all countries to see the UN climate change meeting in December as the first step towards achieving a comprehensive climate change agreement.
The most important change was in relation to the position of the United States of America. Again, for the first time, President Bush signalled that he wanted the US to be part of the new global agreement, and would lead the attempt to get consensus among all the main countries, including China and India, so that that consensus could shape the final global deal. That is crucial. There will be no effective climate change accord without the US, and the US will not agree without China being part of it. Now we have an agreement in principle, a goal and a process to achieve it. Much remains to be done, but on any basis that is a substantial step forward.
We agreed that tackling climate change and addressing energy security were complementary goals. We highlighted the importance of tackling energy efficiency, dealing with emissions caused by deforestation and helping developing countries, which are likely to be worst hit by climate change, to adapt to its impacts. We agreed on a renewed effort to develop and deploy new low-carbon technologies, and we have sent a strong message that emissions trading schemes, both within and between countries, will play a key role in giving incentives to business to invest in those technologies.
Heiligendamm was never going to be about finalising a deal. It was about sending a clear signal on the shape of the post-2012 climate change framework, and that is exactly what it did. The United Kingdom, for its part, will work hard in the G8, in the United Nations and elsewhere to deliver the objective that is of such fundamental importance to the future of the world.
Two years ago the Gleneagles G8 agreed to a global increase in aid and debt relief of $50 billion by 2010, with $25 billion of that extra for Africa. It also agreed to universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010, the tackling of other killer diseases, a commitment to funding primary education, support for an African peacekeeping force, and a big debt write-off. Britain is already meeting its commitment to increase aid for Africa: I am proud to say that we have trebled it. Before the summit Germany announced an extra €3 billion over four years, and America announced an extra $15 billion for treating HIV/AIDS over five years. Overall aid has risen. We should not ignore what has already been done, or the almost $40 billion of additional debt relief for Africa since 2005, but we will need to do substantially more to ensure that the Gleneagles provisions are observed.
The G8 did, however, reiterate its commitment to delivering universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010. Since Gleneagles, around 1 million people in Africa have been receiving the antiretroviral drugs that they need. Now the G8 has agreed to fund a total of 5 million. That is more than the G8 share of the commitment as predictions stand, but we can do more in years to come to meet the 2010 goal if the need arises, and we are committed to providing $60 billion over the next few years in Africa to help to achieve that. We are also committed to meeting the estimated $6 billion to $8 billion shortfall in funding for the global fund to fight HIV/AIDS, and—reflecting United Kingdom policy—to providing the long-term predictable funding that is necessary to achieve the fund’s overall goals.
The G8 committed itself to taking specific steps to tackle the alarming feminisation of the AIDS epidemic. In sub-Sarahan Africa some 60 per cent. of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women, and three out of four young people living with HIV are women and girls. The G8 committed itself to scaling up its efforts to deliver universal access of services to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to their children, to paediatric services and to maternal and child health services, at a total cost of nearly $5 billion.
The G8 also committed itself to working to fill the immediate $500 million financing gap for the education fast-track initiative. Again in line with broader United Kingdom policy, the G8 committed itself to helping to provide long-term predictable funding to ensure that every child gets to school, and reiterated its commitment to ensuring that no country that was seriously committed to education for all would be thwarted in the achievement of its goal by a lack of resources. That will help the meeting of the millennium development goal of universal primary education by 2015.
In addition, the G8 committed itself to identifying, agreeing and supporting lasting solutions to the financing of peacekeeping missions in Africa. That is essential if key missions such as the African Union mission in Darfur are not to limp on hand to mouth for month after month. We agreed a strong statement on the crisis in Darfur. The truth is that President Bashir of Sudan has consistently refused to admit a hybrid United Nations-African Union force, and has consistently moved only under the threat of pressure from outside. Unless he now agrees to the G8 and UN demands, we are committed to a new and tougher package of sanctions, through the Security Council, to force him to do so.
Our last session was dominated by discussion of the world trade talks. The gap has now narrowed. There is the real possibility of agreeing an outline deal by the end of June. The outstanding elements amount to only a few percentage points either way. We are therefore closer to the headline numbers than ever before, but we have to move from wanting to do the deal to doing it. The meeting that will take place at G4 between 19 and 23 June will be absolutely crucial. Britain will continue to do all we can—and we have done much over the past months—to bridge the remaining gap.
The benefits of a world trade agreement for the wealthy nations as well as the developing nations are enormous. It would be good for business and jobs, good for the multilateral system, and good for the world's poorest. I urge the United States, the European Union and the G20 developing countries to get that deal done. It will be great to succeed. It will be a profound shame to fail.
As usual at G8 summits, I also had bilateral meetings with a number of leaders, in particular a long and frank meeting with President Putin, covering the range of issues currently under discussion—the Litvinenko case, Kosovo, ballistic missile defence and energy policy. I set out our view that people were becoming worried and fearful about the implications of present Russian policy. The President set out with equal frankness his views. It was right to have such an exchange. The issues were aired with complete openness on both sides. I said to him that we wanted a good relationship with Russia. He affirmed his desire to see Russia-UK relations strong, but the truth is that the issues between our two countries remain unresolved.
Therefore, this summit made a real breakthrough on climate change, more progress on Africa and showed again the value to Britain of its transatlantic and European alliances. I commend the outcome to the House.
I would like to start by thanking the Prime Minister for his statement. I wish to raise four main areas. The first is climate change. The agreement reached at the G8 is welcome and we should congratulate the Prime Minister on his part in achieving it. Clearly, the US Administration are now taking a different approach to climate change, but can he tell us the extent to which he believes that the change in language will be backed by changes in action? After the Prime Minister's first summit in 1997, he told the House that the United States could be on the verge of agreeing to legally binding targets. We still need that to happen.
Will the Prime Minister clear up the potential confusion about baselines for the targets? Does he agree that the cuts must be measured from a 1990 baseline? As he said, the involvement of India and China is vital. He said that the goal must now be a full successor to the Kyoto treaty, with binding targets, involving the US, India and China. What prospect does he see for real progress to be made at December's UN climate change conference in Indonesia?
The destruction of the world's forests is responsible for one fifth of carbon emissions, which is even more than those generated by transport. Does the Prime Minister agree that the language in the communiqué about deforestation is very disappointing? When it comes to climate change, clearly, international action is essential, but domestic leadership remains vital. Does he share my concern that carbon emissions in the United Kingdom have risen in the past decade?
The second major issue is tackling poverty in Africa. On debt relief, progress has been made since Gleneagles and we welcome that, but on aid there is some confusion and I would be grateful if the Prime Minister could try to clear up some of the figures. There is concern that the announced additional aid is not all new money. Will he confirm that the $60 billion headline figure amounts to $12 billion to be spent annually on AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and reinforcing health systems, and that up to $9 billion of that has been pledged annually already, or is part of existing packages? Therefore, according to those Oxfam estimates, the total annual increase in spending amounts to just $3 billion a year. What can he say to those who, after the enthusiasm of Live Aid, now feel quite disappointed?
A further concern is that countries do not stick to their promises. On HIV/AIDS in particular, at Gleneagles, the G8 pledged to make access to prevention and antiretroviral treatment available to all by 2010. We argued here for interim targets to make that possible. I listened carefully to what the Prime Minister said, but is it not the case that the G8 has effectively watered down its own commitment, that it is now promising to provide treatment for 5 million people, but that that falls well short of what is required?
A key part of ensuring that countries keep their promises is to examine the quality of aid, as well as the quantity. Is it not now time for an independent international body to measure and compare the impact and effectiveness of aid, and to drive up standards so that G8 member states achieve value for money in the aid they spend?
The Prime Minister and I agree that the best way to encourage development in the longer term is to promote free and fair trade. That is what the Doha round was meant to be about. President Bush’s special authority to agree a deal on trade ends on 30 June, so we are close to the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. What steps will the Prime Minister take in the coming three critical weeks, and especially in the run-up to the Potsdam trade meeting in a week’s time, to help get Doha back on track?
The third issue is Darfur, the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis. As the Prime Minister said, the G8 statement on Darfur covers important issues, such as an international force and the need for aid to get through to the refugee camps. The words are good, but will things actually change on the ground? Is it not abundantly clear to anyone who has visited that region that the real problem is the Khartoum Government, and their utter unwillingness to co-operate with the international community in putting an end to the killing? Does the Prime Minister agree that only strong and united action will overcome that resistance by the Sudanese Government?
The fourth issue is security. We welcome the measures on nuclear security and counter-terrorism, and the strong language about Iran. On Russia, when someone is murdered on British soil, the police and other relevant authorities should be able to pursue the perpetrators without fear or favour wherever their investigations lead. Will the Prime Minister tell us a little more about the progress that he made in his talks on that issue with President Putin?
The Prime Minister has indicated that after he leaves office he plans to remain engaged in the issues discussed at the G8, and especially climate change and development. We wait to see in what capacity; I even read in the papers that he might swap the Dispatch Box for a pulpit and the House of Commons for a church. Whatever he does, the Prime Minister can take credit for pushing the issues of climate change and poverty up the agenda of the group of most powerful nations in the world. The Opposition will always ask the appropriate questions about the delivery of the promises that have been made, but raising the profile of those issues is a genuine achievement for which many have cause to be grateful.
First of all, let me—[Interruption.] First of all, let me—
He is embarrassed.
No, you lose any sense of embarrassment after a time in this job. First, let me thank the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) for his generous words at the end of his speech—if not for his career suggestions.
There are important issues in relation to climate change. In 1997, the United States appeared to be ready to sign up to the Kyoto treaty, but before we put all the blame for that not happening on the change of Administration, it is worth pointing out that the US Senate voted by—I think—98 votes to none against the treaty, so there has long been an issue to do with how far the US is prepared to go in signing up to a global deal. It is particularly important to remember that there is no point in having a new agreement on climate change unless the US is involved, and unless China and India share the common goal—albeit perhaps with differentiated obligations.
That is why I do not consider the fact that the US will lead some of the meetings at G8 plus 5 or G8 plus 7 to be adverse. On the contrary, that is a good thing because the more the Americans are prepared to take a clear lead on this issue, the better. They will, of course, be anxious to ensure that China and India are part of the deal and that everyone has obligations, and the reality is that the Europeans would also arrive at that position.
The fact that we have the prospect of a new deal with a substantial cut in emissions at its heart is a huge step forward. Of course, the December meeting will be vital but, as I have said time and again, there is no point in getting a hundred countries around the table making an agreement if their emissions amount to only 20 per cent. of the total. The G8 plus 5 represents more than 70 per cent. of the emissions. China will overtake the US as the major emitter within the next few years, and India’s emissions are already rising substantially. Those countries will be worried and concerned to make sure that we do not impose on them obligations that limit their growth, but that is why the other part of this—I did not deal with this in detail in my statement—is technology transfer. As we develop the new technologies, we will have to share them with the developing world.
What the right hon. Gentleman says on deforestation is right, but there will be the possibility of making more concrete the actions proposed at the December meeting in Indonesia. On CO2 emissions, yes, it is true that we, like other countries, have got to do far more, but that is the purpose of the Climate Change Bill and other matters.
On Africa, there is a confusion here that it is important to pin down. At Gleneagles, there was a commitment to an extra $50 billion a year, $25 billion of which should go to Africa, and that was for aid and debt relief. What is then important is not that there is new money on top of the $25 billion, but that we say how the $25 billion is going to be met. Therefore, although it is true when people say, “Well, only several billion dollars of the HIV/AIDS money is new”, the important thing is that it is a major fulfilment of what was set out in general at the Gleneagles summit. So on HIV/AIDS, the more specific that we are on education and on treating other killer diseases, the more that this $25 billion stops being a general figure and becomes one that people can add up and thereby see what has happened.
The situation becomes very complicated for another two reasons. First, it is unclear the degree to which debt relief counts as aid; that is a separate argument in itself. Secondly, on HIV/AIDS treatment, World Health Organisation predictions are in the course of being revised. The G8 summit at Heiligendamm committed to providing help for 5 million people, which is a very substantial uplift on anywhere that we have been before. It is true that we may have to go further between now and 2010, when the commitment is set, but I think it somewhat unreasonable to say that there has not been substantial progress. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not saying that, but it is important for those campaigning outside to realise that for the first time, we are putting real numbers on HIV/AIDS treatment. Five million people getting antiretroviral drugs is a massive change from where we are at the moment. If we need to do more, we should be prepared to do more, and that is why this is described as an important step and not the total fulfilment of our commitments.
On the international body, this is a debate that will go on. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has outlined his approach to this issue, which is through a committee, but I agree that one way or another, it is important that we hold to account the international community for the commitments that it has given. But one important thing was agreed right at the end of summit. The Japanese, who will hold the summit next year, agreed that Africa should again be a central part of the agenda. That is an important thing, and I believe that the world will meet the commitments that it set out, but along the way there will be much debate.
It has to be said that, over the next few years, America will effectively have multiplied by a factor of five the amount of aid that it has given to Africa since President Bush came to power—something that is not always pointed out. But we still need some of the other European countries to do more, and part of our discussion inside the European Union and elsewhere will be to make sure that countries that have been falling back on their aid commitments in recent years step up to them.
On the world trade talks, the right hon. Gentleman is absolute right—the meeting next week will be crucial, but the gap has narrowed. The assessment given by Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, was noticeably more upbeat, but there is still very hard negotiating to do before we are there. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says on Darfur and the necessity for action there. On the talks with Russia, no, I cannot say that we have made great progress on the Litvinenko case. We shall continue, obviously, to do all that we can to press the Russians on this issue.
In his bilateral discussions with President Putin, was the Prime Minister not impressed by the case advanced regarding the Russians’ objections to the Ahtisaari plan—that they have adhered diligently to the Helsinki Final Act of 30 years ago, which said that the boundaries of European states would not be varied, and that they see a concession on Kosovo’s independence as being a green light to Transnistria and to other frozen conflicts in Georgia and Armenia being dealt with similarly? Have they not got a case that should not be scornfully set aside, and should we not listen to them, because there is prudent counsel even in the Kremlin?
What my hon. Friend says is the Russian case, but we have said throughout, and I believe this to be true, that Kosovo is sui generis for the reasons that have been given many times over the past few years. The difficulty comes if we do not take this issue to its conclusion, which is why we asked Mr. Ahtisaari to look at it, and if we do not then act on his conclusions, we will be in stalemate. I do not think that that would be good either for the people in Kosovo or for the region. I certainly do not dismiss and never have dismissed the Russian case scornfully, but none the less, we have moved on from where we were a few years ago. For most of us, it is difficult to see the way in which we achieve a solution, other than on the terms set out by Mr. Ahtisaari.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and I am sure that he speaks for the whole House in what he says about Darfur and the world trade talks.
In spite of the Prime Minister’s optimism, though, is not he disappointed as he leaves office that, although there is a commitment to talks, there is as yet no binding commitment to action on carbon emissions? Is not what is urgently needed an agreed framework for reduction, based on the principle of contraction and convergence? What is the Prime Minister’s honest assessment of the chances of achieving that? In view of Oxfam’s statement that Africa will feel the effects of global warming first and worst, does not it underline the need for agreed targets for reduction if the G8’s agenda for Africa is to have any chance of being fully implemented? The truth is that the G8 statement on aid is in effect a promise to keep the promises that were made at Gleneagles. How can we be satisfied that that promise will be kept rather than the others?
Finally, although there is no mention of this in the Prime Minister’s statement, the G8 statement says that all participants reaffirm their commitment to combat corruption by implementing their obligations to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Is the Prime Minister satisfied that Her Majesty’s Government are fulfilling those obligations?
Yes, I am.
One always has to be careful about taking the attitude that everything has not been achieved, therefore nothing has been achieved. In relation to the first two points, the fact is that we have come a long way on a climate change deal. There never was a prospect of concluding a treaty or an agreement at this G8, but for the first time we have the agreement from the United States that it wants to be part of a deal; an agreement to a substantial cut in emissions; an agreement for China and India to participate in the talks leading to that; an agreement that it should be through the UN; and an agreement that it should happen in 2009. It is some progress, I think.
In respect of Africa, what is important is that our promises at Gleneagles were for fulfilment in 2010. I agree that unless we ramp up the pressure, there is a danger that we will not meet all those commitments. On the other hand, and again for the first time, there have been substantial increases in the promises made. One of the things that has happened with the summit, which is one of the values of having such issues decided at the G8 and very different from the G8s of years gone by, is that the occasion of the summit is the occasion for countries to come forward and start to make commitments. In other words, I think that but for the G8, we would have been very unlikely to get major and substantial increases in commitments on HIV/AIDS, or the German aid package and so on. Although it is right to say that there is a long way still to go on climate change and Africa, we have made considerable progress.
In the meetings that the Prime Minister had with President Putin, was the issue of national missile defence tracking stations being built in eastern Europe and in this country raised? Does he not think that there is a danger that the signal we are sending to Russia on that issue is one of encouragement of a new arms race? Would it not be better to have a moratorium on such constructions in order to encourage mutual disarmament?
Well, I did obviously have a discussion with President Putin about that. His view is that it is a provocation while ours is that it is something in which we have been engaged for a number of years and that it is not aimed at Russia—indeed, the very siting, in Poland and the Czech Republic, is an indication of that. As I understand it, the talks between President Putin and President Bush were reasonably constructive and it will be important that we continue to work with Russia on the issue. It is not a new issue that has suddenly arisen; we have been debating it for several years, which is why I do not really think that it came as a surprise to Russia, so it is important that we see it in the context of other issues.
Did the Prime Minister explain to the leaders at the G8 summit why the policies he has supported in the middle east have plunged Iraq into chaos, established Iran as the dominant influence in the region, engaged British troops in an unachievable mission in southern Afghanistan and are now destabilising both Turkey and Pakistan?
No, I did not. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I am afraid I do not recognise that either as a description of our foreign policy or, more important, of the challenge we face. As I have said many times, we shall not beat the terrorist threat by conceding to it.
I welcome the emphasis on the world trade talks at last week’s meeting, but does my right hon. Friend understand concerns that the meeting at Potsdam this month with the G4, which does not specifically include members from the least developed countries, may lead people to feel that the interests of the poorest in the world will not be adequately addressed? Can he advise me how the United Kingdom Government will ensure that their voices are properly heard and that the development package agreed at Hong Kong will be secured?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Part of what we did at the G8 was to recommit to the aid for trade package, which is a very important part of helping the developing world. However, within the context of the G4 and representation there from Brazil and India, we shall have the opportunity to debate the case on behalf of the developing world as well. Without going into details about the headline numbers, we are actually quite close—a lot closer than we have been—and the important thing to understand is that even if we were to agree what is on the table at the moment the benefits for the poorest countries in the world will be considerable; but I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that we have to remember that this is a development round and what was agreed at Hong Kong should be implemented.
May I add my congratulations to the Prime Minister on his achievement on the environmental front, particularly, and on taking such a strong line with President Putin? Does he agree that it may be desirable, and even necessary in the future, to link the world trade talks and the climate change agenda if we are to exert leverage on such countries as Brazil over deforestation, for example? Brazil is the major potential beneficiary of a new world trade agreement and if we lose the possibility of that linkage we may reduce chances of reaching the agreement that we so much want on both fronts.
I understand entirely the point the hon. Gentleman is making. I was quite heartened by the contribution of the President of Brazil at the G8, which made it clear not merely, obviously, that he wanted a good outcome to the world trade round, but that he took seriously Brazil’s responsibilities in relation to deforestation. Through the December meeting, there is a chance of agreeing something far-reaching on that—the atmospherics on that at least, I thought, were good.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks about increased expenditure on HIV treatment programmes, but may I raise with him the problems in improving programmes to reduce HIV transmission rates in a number of African countries? In some countries, such programmes have not been as successful as they could be because some donors insist that they are focused on the abstinence and being faithful parts of the ABC approach—abstain, be faithful, use a condom—and do not ensure that funds are made available for condoms? Did my right hon. Friend raise those issues at the conference, in particular with President Bush, as the United States is one of the donors that are the biggest culprits in the matter?
It was not a specific part of the discussion, but the effectiveness of transmission programmes was. My hon. Friend is right: the difficulty is that maternal transmission, as I saw for myself in Africa a short time ago, is a huge problem. More and more young people are growing up with HIV/AIDS through absolutely no action of their own.
I think we still have quite a long way to go. We agreed to earmark money up to $5 billion, but I agree that we still have to reach into the basic reasons why programmes are successful. Without question, those reasons involve absolute honesty about how we can best change behaviour and being realistic and reasonable about what we require of people. On the other hand, as a result of what we have agreed on the transmission programmes there will be a greater focus on the matter, and there will therefore be a greater opportunity to get those arguments across.
There is a lot to do on debt relief, HIV/AIDS and the environment, and on behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru I welcome the progress made at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm. Does the Prime Minister accept that it is standard practice in the G8 that necessary prior consultation on agreements should take place before they are signed with Libya or anybody else?
Of course it is. That is precisely why on the face of the agreement there is a requirement for consultation with the devolved Assemblies. Before any agreement can be concluded, there has to be consultation with devolved Government, including in respect of Libya and Scotland. All that would have been required was an inquiry from the First Minister’s office and the matter would have been cleared up immediately. Instead, we were subjected to a claim that we were trying to drive this through without consultation with the devolved Government in Scotland, which is simply not correct.
I thank the Prime Minister for taking the trouble, with all the pressures in his diary, personally to address the global G8 plus 5 legislators’ dialogue in the German Bundestag just before the summit. The fact that his leadership is so recognised explains why he was presented with an award for global leadership and environment by a senior member of the Japanese Government, Mrs. Koike, and Senator McCain from the US. There has been a shift on the part of the Americans, and my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the role that he has played.
The US proposes a meeting in the autumn of the G8 plus 5. Does the Prime Minister think that that will add value to the process, or does it merely duplicate the process that he started at Gleneagles?
I think that it does assist the process. If the United States holds such a meeting—of the G8 plus 5 or perhaps with two other countries—most of the countries sitting round the table will have agreed binding targets or will be in the process of agreeing them. Most will agree with the 50 per cent. cut in emissions, so it is somewhat unlikely that the US will hold such a meeting without some definitive progress arising out of it. For years, the world has said to America, “Get on board with this issue and start to lead on it”, and when it does the world says, “Are you trying to take it over?” President Bush made it clear at the summit that America saw the meeting as contributing to and not conflicting with the UN process. That is important. Unless we have agreement between the major emitters, the rest will never happen. I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words, and for his considerable work on the issue.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the recent spat between Russia and the west has little to do with the merits of missile defence and everything to do with the sensitivity that the Russians feel about how they believe they have been treated by the west over the past 15 years? Will the Prime Minister use such influence as remains to him so that on those matters, and only those matters, on which there is a legitimate joint interest—missile defence is one—the United States does not merely inform Russia of its intentions but tries to treat it as a partner in future policy?
Yes, I think it is important that America does that. After all, America and Russia share some clear strategic goals, not least in ensuring a unified UN position vis-à-vis Iran. America and Russia want to co-operate in plenty of areas, and the recent statements by President Bush and the offer made at the bilateral meeting by President Putin show that they both understand that they have to find a modus vivendi in which each country pursues its interests, but in a co-operative way. However, it is important that Russia understands that when we support democracy in certain countries, for example, we are doing so not because we are pursuing a strategic interest that is aimed at Russia, but because we genuinely believe that that is the right principle. We need to be able to have a dialogue with Russia in which we take account of its genuine concerns and fears, yet do not allow them to obscure things that it is important we stand for in the long term.
I, too, welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and congratulate him on the progress that he has made towards civilising George Bush. However, given George Bush’s record on climate change, what confidence can we really have that he will deal proactively with the problem in the remaining 18 months of his term of office? What assessments has my right hon. Friend made of the Chinese response to George Bush’s new-found commitments? Is China happy that he has done the right thing?
As I said earlier, if people want America to move, and it moves, let us at least say that it has moved and try to make the best of that. This is important, and things are lot a more credible because America is saying that it will hold its own meeting with very much the people around the table at the G8. Something else needs to be said because in this debate, to be frank, countries sometimes hide behind America’s position. The truth is that no one will agree a substantial cut in emissions as part of a global deal unless China is also part of that. The Chinese have adopted a constructive attitude. They have a principle—a common, differentiated set of obligations—that we need to flesh out. However, we will need to do that while recognising the two absolute realities of the question of climate change: America will not agree unless China is part of the deal, and China will not agree unless it is able to develop its economy. We have to find a solution somewhere in that.
I think that the solution is a set of interlinking systems that, around a carbon price, incentivises business and industry to develop the technologies of the future. That is why the European emissions trading system, as it develops, has the possibility of considerably incentivising business to make changes to the way in which it works. However, let us be clear: the European trading system would be more radical if there were also a system in America and an obligation on the developing world. There is every possibility of achieving that, but it is in the negotiation, which will involve America and China, that the solution will be found.
I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister agree that the use of condoms is critical in fighting AIDS. When he meets the Pope, either as Prime Minister or perhaps afterwards, I hope that he will take the opportunity to make that point.
Will the Prime Minister reflect on his policy with respect to meeting the target of global universal treatment for HIV? His Government have a policy of trying to remove women and children who are being treated in this country for HIV and AIDS to countries where there is not such treatment because they do not have the required immigration status. Especially at a time when we are using those countries’ doctors, is that humane and logical?
It is important that we ensure that we treat people who are here fairly. We will put £1.5 billion into HIV/AIDS treatment in Africa over the next few years. However, the trouble is that if we say that everyone who is HIV-positive and comes to this country can get treatment here, we will create a real pull factor for people to come here. We must be careful about how we do this.
I welcome the G8’s acknowledgement that the world’s poorest countries are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, whether that is desertification, drought or rising sea levels in places such as Bangladesh. I also welcome the commitment to working through the United Nations to ensure that climate change policy is implemented. Is my right hon. Friend confident that the United Nations has the clout to enforce such international agreements? Is this perhaps an opportunity to give a new urgency to questions of UN reform so that we can ensure that it will have the oomph to deliver in the future?
The point that my hon. Friend makes is important, and I think that he is right: once an agreement is made, it is important that it is properly enforced. Personally, I think that reform of the UN Security Council is now long overdue. However, he is also right in saying that for poorer countries adaptation will be very difficult indeed, and that is why a specific part of the communiqué is geared precisely to making sure that as part of a global deal we help the poorest to adapt to the change in climate.
Some unkind souls have suggested that in bilaterals with Sarkozy and Merkel, the Prime Minister took the opportunity to cobble together a deal on the European constitution, which would give us the constitution, but by another name. Perhaps the Prime Minister can assure us that that did not happen. If such negotiations or conversations did take place, would he like to share them with the House of Commons? We do have some right to be consulted, do we not? At the moment, the matter is not so much an enigma wrapped in a riddle as a secret locked away in a spin doctor’s briefcase. We would like to know.
I am used to unkind souls occasionally casting aspersions on what we are trying to do, but on that point I can assure the hon. Gentleman that although it is, of course, important to discuss the issue with our European colleagues, before we get to the summit which is coming up in the next couple of weeks, there will be ample opportunity to discuss those issues.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to say a little more about what he anticipates the benefits will be of expanding education in Africa in the way that he announced today? In my constituency, refugees who have rightly been granted asylum from such countries as the Congo, Cameroon and increasingly, sadly, Somalia, tell me when I meet them how grateful they are to Britain and to my right hon. Friend’s leadership for changing attitudes to Africa within the G8. He can rightly be proud of that change.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that. In relation to education, it is important that we ensure that we meet the millennium development goal. The interesting thing is that as a result of the debt relief that has been given in the past few years, there are millions more children at school in Africa. If anyone ever asks, “Where does the money go to when we give debt relief and so on?”, I would say that countries such as Tanzania have seen massive increases in the number of children in primary education as a result. The other point that she makes relates, of course, to the self-interested reason for action on Africa. If we allow those countries to descend into conflict or even deeper poverty, they become prey for various extremist forces, and of course they also create large numbers of refugees who then seek to come to our country, so there is a good reason of self-interest to act on Africa.
It seems to me that President Bush injected a welcome note of realism and was very constructive in pointing out to the G8 that there was no point in their talking to each other about climate change if the United States and the fast-developing economies of China and India were not involved in the process. The Prime Minister seems to recognise that, and he seems to see that it is in our interests to help those countries to reduce emissions. Has he seen the analysis that I have seen, which suggests that the marginal cost of helping China and India to reduce their carbon emissions is actually less than the cost of doing it for ourselves? In other words, it is in our interests, both economically and in terms of carbon emissions, to help them financially on that issue.
Yes, that is right, and of course the whole purpose of building up something such as the clean development mechanism—for all the problems associated with it, it none the less does generate real income—is to be able to create a resource through which we can help those countries to use technology. For example, as we develop carbon sequestration or hydrogen fuel cell technology, we can share that technology with them. That is a crucial part of the issue. The problem with the whole debate, as I reflected when I heard what the leaders were saying, is that it is a matter of fairness what obligations each country has. It is a matter of fairness that the developed world, having developed, should not penalise the developing world, which wants the benefits of development. Unfortunately, the climate does not change according to where the emissions come from; that is simply a matter of science and fact. Therefore it is important that we make sure that the technology transfer and the sharing of the science is an integral part of any deal. Otherwise we will find it very hard, for understandable reasons, to persuade China and India to be part of it.
May I join the Leader of the Opposition and others in congratulating the Prime Minister on his great success at the summit, which is a tribute not just to his personal skills but to the role that he has carved out for Britain, our special relationship with the United States and our pivotal role in Europe? Although the Outreach Five will be consulted throughout the process, does he not think that it is time that we should expand the G8 to include those five nations which, after all, represent 2.7 billion people, compared with the 800 million people in the G8? As a master of summitry, does he not think that it is time to expand the G8?
It is going to be an increasing feature—let me put it diplomatically—of those summits that they involve, as a matter of course, the other five countries. It becomes very difficult—a bit like reforming the UN Security Council—to see where we draw the line, but as the Chinese economy, for example, grows over the next few years, it will become increasingly bizarre to discuss the leading world economies without China being present. However, that is for another time.
On Kosovo, the Prime Minister and the House will recall the contribution made to the first Balkan crisis by the premature recognition of independence for Slovenia and Croatia by Germany. Can he give us an assurance that the UK Government are firmly against any premature recognition of Kosovan independence, particularly until the practical consequences have been worked out, not least the protection of minority communities in Kosovo?
The protection of minority communities is an important issue. That is where Russia, for example—[Interruption.]
Order. I expect hon. Members to stand at the beginning, so that I can make a calculation as to who I am going to call. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) should not come in at the last moment.
I have been here throughout.
The hon. Gentleman therefore had an opportunity to stand at the beginning.
Russia has a point in that it is important that we give proper protection to minorities. We are not going to move out of step with the international community—we will move in step with it—but the difficulty, as became apparent when we discussed Kosovo in detail, is that if we do not go down the path laid out by Mr. Ahtisaari, what happens? It is important that we do not do anything premature, but it is important that we reach a conclusion.
Unlike the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the implications of his question, I wholly congratulate the Prime Minister on adopting a robust attitude with the Russian President. Does the President understand that it is not just the UK but the whole European Union that wants to do business with Russia, but finds it increasingly difficult to do so as there is systematic use of torture by the police in Russia, the right to peaceful assembly is ignored, the murder of journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya remain unresolved, and companies such as BP and Shell are concerned that if they make significant investments in Russia in future they may be expropriated by the Russian Government?
That is not a bad policy.
But not one that we shall pursue.
The truth about the relationship with Russia is that we need good relations with it. My meeting with President Putin at a personal level was friendly and cordial, but it will become harder to have the type of relationship that we want unless it is on the basis of certain agreed values. That is how the international community works today and, as I said, there are a lot of issues to resolve.
As the Prime Minister knows, a child dies every 15 seconds from foul water and lack of sanitation in Africa. He will know, too, that 220 MPs signed my all-party motion the subject; we went to Downing street and delivered a petition. The G8 water plan at Gleneagles promised to ensure access to safe water for 75 per cent. of people at risk in developing countries. There is nothing in the communiqué, and nothing in the Prime Minister’s statement, that deals with water, sanitation and the problems that I have described even though, by any standards, they are a top priority. What practical steps did the Prime Minister take to deliver the promises made at Gleneagles at the G8 summit?
We are committed, as we were at Gleneagles, to deliver the water and sanitation pledges that we made. I think I am right in saying that that is in the G8 communiqué. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we will have to put specifics on that for the time to come, with respect to water and sanitation and also infrastructure, because part of the problem that many African countries have is the amount of time it takes for them to get any goods to any port that is able to ship them for export. It is not just a question of trade barriers; it is a question of basic problems in relation to infrastructure. Water and sanitation is another issue. This year we decided to focus particularly on HIV/AIDS and education, but the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about water and sanitation would make a very sensible focus for next year’s G8.
Following the Prime Minister’s cryptic response to the question from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about the G8’s commitment to fighting corruption, why should any major British company not assume that if it secures substantial business and employment by offering bribes to an overseas official in an allied country, the British Government will turn a blind eye to any breaches of the law and of our international obligations?
Because that is neither what we are saying nor what we are doing. Allegations have been made that are fiercely denied. That is not the issue. The issue is whether it is sensible for us to pursue an investigation that may go on for two or three years, which in my judgment would do enormous damage to a relationship that is of vital importance to this country. The hon. Gentleman should be wary of making allegations that are not undisputed—in fact, they are hotly disputed—and of saying that because the investigation is not going forward, the allegations are somehow accepted. They are not. The question is whether it is sensible and in this country’s interest to hold such an investigation, with all the damage that it would do. In the end, as I have said to the media, they have their job to do, but I have my job to do, and if I think something is contrary to the interests of this country, it is my duty to say to.
The Prime Minister will acknowledge that there have been reassurances after every summit meeting about new impetus behind the world trade talks, ever since the failure at Cancun. With more protectionist sentiment in the US Congress, and with a French President with an overwhelming majority but a constituency to defend, what confidence can we have that these assurances will be more concrete than previous ones, and what is the pathway after Potsdam to a final agreement?
Part of the trouble is that underneath the surface, an immense amount has been going on. The matter has formed part of every conversation that I have had over the past few months with President Bush, Chancellor Merkel, the presidency of the European Union and so on. I have spoken regularly to the Prime Minister of India and to the President of Brazil about it. There are three elements: Europe must cut its tariffs, America must cut its farm subsidies, and on non-agricultural access Brazil, India and others must agree to a lower coefficient for progress to be made. Those three positions are coming closer together, which is why leaders have gone ahead with the meeting on 19 June. They would not have gone ahead with it at all unless there was a chance of reaching agreement. If they can reach agreement on headline numbers there or thereabouts, there is the possibility of concluding the agreement by the end of the year on the detail of it. There has been quite a lot of progress—far more than appears—just in the past few weeks, but the outcome hangs in the balance. It is not correct, as some people think because the subject has not been covered, that the thing has gone down. It has not. The discussion that we had around the table at the end of the G8 summit was more upbeat than one might have expected. They are very close now, but a little extra movement is required by all three parts.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s candid exchange with President Putin. Does he agree that the abuse of human rights in Chechnya, the sale last year of more than $34 million worth of arms to the murderous tyranny in Sudan and the use of the veto to stop concrete action against the brutal military dictatorship in Burma are an additional three good reasons why President Putin is not yet greeted with the uncritical acclaim of the international community that he apparently expects?
Well, all these issues need to be examined. I think the most important thing is that Russia does understand that in the end there will be limits to the relationship that it is able to have with the rest of the world unless it is on the basis of shared values and shared principles. The problem is that of course people will want to deal with Russia and have to deal with Russia; we are engaged in talks with Russia on a number of different things that are of fundamental importance. I think the real question for Russia is this: does it want to maximise its relationship with the western world, in which case shared values and shared principles are the only basis on which to do it, or is it content to have it minimised? In the end, there is no point, as I have said before at the Dispatch Box, in our making empty threats—we are not in a position to deliver on those. What I tried to say to the President is that there is a real concern, as has been shown in the House today, and a sensible policy would take account of that. Of course, it is true that there are valid and legitimate points that Russia has to make about western policy towards Russia, but in the end those strategic interests can be gained only by recognising that certain values are fundamental to countries like ours and other western nations, and it is just not possible for them to be compromised.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have a named day question tabled for answer today about the rate at which the operational allowance paid to our brave servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan is due to be raised to take account of inflation. Imagine my surprise this morning, then, when I saw that the Press Association was reporting that reporters travelling with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Baghdad have been given that information ahead of my question being answered. What can be done, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that Ministers, particularly the next Prime Minister, put their responsibilities to the House before the needs of the press?
I can say to the hon. Gentleman that if his question has been answered properly today, I have no locus in this matter.
[14th Allotted Day]
We now come to the main business. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
That this House supports the principle that there should be an inquiry by an independent committee of Privy Counsellors to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath and to make recommendations on the lessons for the future.
The subject of a major inquiry into the Iraq war was last debated in the House last October. Given the extent of public anxiety on the issue, the mounting problems being experienced on the ground and the widespread feeling across politics in principle for holding such an inquiry, I make no apology for returning to it now. The motion calls for agreement to the principle that an inquiry of the kind led by Lord Franks into the Falklands war should be established. It does not of itself specify the timing or any further details and it therefore provides the opportunity for the Government to make clearer their own thinking or to come up with their own proposals.
A month ago, in a debate with some parallels to this one, we similarly proposed agreement in principle to the formalising of parliamentary approval for decisions to go to war. On that occasion, the Government responded constructively by accepting the principle and promising to produce detailed proposals and to consult the Opposition parties in the meantime. It was to be hoped that the Government would respond in similar fashion to this debate, which is in effect an invitation to them to set out in more detail inside the House their thinking on an inquiry that several Ministers have been happy to say they favour when outside the House.
The last time we debated these matters, the Foreign Secretary managed to get through the debate without conceding that a major inquiry would be held, only for the Defence Secretary to say, within minutes of the end of the debate,
“When the time is right of course there will be such an inquiry”.
If the Government believe that there will be such an inquiry, there is no reason for them not to accept the principle of it today. That is all that the motion calls for. In addition, the Leader of the House said on 23 February:
“I think we have all made clear there will be an inquiry in due course”,
perhaps forgetting that the Foreign Secretary had not made that clear when the matter was debated—and, indeed, had refused to do so.
As the candidates for the Labour deputy leadership have travelled the country, they have come under a great deal of pressure from Labour party activists, leading them all to say, in various ways, either that there will be an inquiry or that there should be one. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) said:
“I do see the case for an inquiry as part of an overall reconciliation with the British people and actually we have an opportunity over the next three months with the new leadership to turn the page on this.”
I therefore hope that, even though the Government have tabled more or less the same amendment to our motion as they did in October, the Foreign Secretary will recognise in her speech the gathering consensus in British politics and that she will decide to become part of it. Last time, she did not commit the Government to a major inquiry. If she does not do so this time, she will be at variance with many of her Cabinet colleagues.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept it from me, as someone who voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that I would welcome an inquiry? However, I do not support a seedy, narrowly focused inquiry with partisan intent, designed to embarrass the Government, but an inquiry that examines the history of our involvement in Iraq over many decades, and will reveal the duplicity of the west in funding and arming Saddam Hussein and preparing over many years his weapons of mass destruction, which were safely disposed of before we went to war.
I can partly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not propose any narrow or party-based inquiry, but a wide-ranging, Privy Council inquiry, which would not be conducted on party lines. It might stretch an inquiry too far to go back several decades. That might consume so much attention that much of its work would be obstructed. However, that is all to be debated.
I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that timing is crucial and that we should face up to that. Does he also agree that it would be irresponsible to pull key people out of a continuing campaign to give evidence to an inquiry in London, impossible to publish a meaningful report without going into such matters as logistics, intelligence, infiltration and the strengths and weaknesses of our position, and clearly impossible to publish such information while the campaign proceeds? Does he therefore further agree that the only sensible course, if an inquiry is to be conducted, is to hold it after the last troops have been pulled out of Iraq?
No, I do not agree, for reasons that I shall give later. Indeed, there are many historical precedents for taking an entirely different view from my hon. Friend, and I do.
Two of my constituents, Sergeant Roberts and Flight Lieutenant Stead, died in Iraq. Sergeant Roberts did not have the proper body armour and Flight Lieutenant Stead’s Hercules did not have the explosive-suppressant foam device that it should have had. Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that the equipment supplied to our armed forces in Iraq will be a prime focus of such an inquiry?
Yes. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. There is no reason for such an inquiry not to consider such matters. Indeed, they should be taken into account.
Other members of the Government have added to the case for an inquiry—perhaps inadvertently. The Minister for Europe, who was Defence Secretary a few years ago, said in The Guardian on 2 May:
“We didn’t plan for the right sort of aftermath”.
On such matters as the disbandment of the Iraqi army, he revealed that the Government had “argued against” the United States, giving advice that Donald Rumsfeld or others ignored. In expounding his views on such matters, the Minister for Europe recognised that Parliament and people in general will want to know the answers to such questions if ministerial accountability is to mean anything at all.
However, such accountability cannot be supplied by random interviews in The Guardian—it needs some kind of formal and powerful process. It has to be remembered that we are dealing with one of the most controversial and difficult issues of our times, and that those of us who fully supported the invasion have had to recognise that success in Iraq has proved progressively more elusive and the consequences of failure steadily more serious.
What is more, we have all had to recognise that some of the mistakes made in the aftermath of the invasion, particularly in relation to the Iraqi army and the de-Ba’athification process, have had such far-reaching implications that any idea that the decision-making process that led to them can be free of exhaustive examination should now be set aside. This motion therefore seeks to establish the principle that such an inquiry should happen and in a way that allows its membership to draw on very senior diplomatic, military or political experience, to hold some of its sessions in confidence if it needs to and to summon all the papers and persons it deems necessary.
I believe that there should be an inquiry. It seems to me inevitable that, in the fulness of time, there will be an inquiry, but one of the key points is who should sit on it. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it should be Privy Councillors. Although I have great respect for Privy Councillors, I have even more respect for Parliament. I believe that we should hold a parliamentary inquiry. The main reason for allowing it to be done by Privy Councillors is so that evidence can be taken at this difficult time on Privy Council terms. Surely, however, we need an inquiry that is fully in the open, which can happen only once our troops have returned.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I disagree with it, as I would prefer a Privy Council inquiry. He should remember that membership of Parliament and the Privy Council overlaps but that having a Privy Council inquiry avoids having one conducted along party lines. If their expertise is required, people can be drawn into a Privy Council inquiry simply by being made Privy Councillors.
Is the right hon. Gentleman disappointed that, a minute prior to this debate, the Prime Minister walked out of the Chamber, especially in view of an answer that he gave on 25 October last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) when he said that he would be
“happy to debate Iraq at any time.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 1515.]?
The Prime Minister then failed to turn up to a debate on Iraq exactly six days later. Today, he has missed it by one minute.
Actually, he has missed a number of debates on Iraq by one minute, because it is his habit to leave the House as soon as any such debates begin. That is an unfortunate aspect of the Prime Minister’s treatment of these matters.
Is one of my right hon. Friend’s arguments for having a Privy Council inquiry the fact that much of the material is very sensitive and intelligence based, investigating why we went to war and how we handled the intelligence? What would be my right hon. Friend’s advice to such an inquiry on the publication of its findings, given the sensitivity of the intelligence work?
That is one of the arguments for having a Privy Council inquiry. It would have to make its own judgment, as would any inquiry at any stage, about how much of the information could be published. All the conclusions would certainly have to be published.
Last October, the right hon. Gentleman said that the inquiry should take place by the end of this parliamentary Session—by October this year. This morning, he said that it should take place before the end of this calendar year; but this afternoon he is not putting a date on it at all. Why is he running away from it so quickly?
I am putting a date on it. I have not been able to do so yet because I have taken so many interventions. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed, he will not be disappointed, as I am coming to that very issue.
I was explaining to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) the advantages of this approach. A formal public inquiry would be likely to be a much lengthier process. A Committee of this House, which I believe was proposed by the nationalist parties, would find it harder to benefit from external expertise. A Privy Council inquiry on the model of the Franks commission therefore rapidly recommends itself for this particular subject and it must be highly likely to be what will happen in the end. The Government should be able to accept that today. If the Leader of the House and the Defence Secretary were not referring to this kind of committee of Privy Councillors when they referred to there being an inquiry in the future, the Foreign Secretary needs to tell the House today what sort of inquiry they were they talking about.
Given, however, that the Government’s response does not look as if it is going to be as constructive or even as consistent as that, the amendment that the Government have tabled to our motion today merits examination. It argues
“that there have already been four separate independent committees of inquiry into military action in Iraq”,
and it declines
“to make a proposal for a further inquiry which would divert attention”
“improving the condition of Iraq”
at the moment.
The weaknesses of those arguments are readily apparent. First, the argument that the existence of inquiries presents a diversion from vital tasks and that four of them have taken place already cannot both be true at the same time—unless the Government believe that the hearings of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee or the processes of the Butler report seriously hampered the work going on in Iraq. Secondly, these arguments do not prevent the Government from accepting the case for a suitably powerful inquiry in principle. Thirdly, the idea that the ground has been covered even remotely adequately by what they call the
“four separate independent committees of inquiry”
is nothing short of ludicrous.
One of those inquiries was the Hutton inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly; another was the Butler report, which focused only on intelligence on weapons of mass destruction; one of the others was the Foreign Affairs Committee report, published four years ago, on the decision to go to war in Iraq. Afterwards, the Committee published its views on the co-operation that it had received from the Government. In March 2004, it reported:
“We were hopeful that we would receive full cooperation from the government.”
However, it went on to state:
“Our Chairman wrote to the Prime Minister (requesting his attendance and that of Mr. Alastair Campbell); the Cabinet Office Intelligence Co-ordinator; the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee; the Chief of Defence Intelligence; the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service; and the Director of GCHQ. None of them replied.”
“We are confident that our inquiry would have been enhanced if our requests had been met. We agree with Alastair Campbell that ‘It would have been very odd to have done this inquiry’ without questioning him, and we regret that other witnesses, some of whom we suspect felt the same way as Mr. Campbell, were prevented from appearing.”
That is the true story of the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry, yet it is held up by the Government in their amendment as an example of an independent inquiry. It is unacceptable for the Government to refuse to co-operate fully with the inquiries that take place, and then to cite their work as an illustration of why further inquiries are unnecessary.
The fact is that each of the inquiries that has taken place so far has provided a snapshot of one particular aspect of events in Iraq, but that their findings were sometimes arrived at without the full co-operation of the Government and are in general now out of date. There has been no investigation so far into the overall conduct of the war, the planning for the aftermath, or the implementation of such plans as may have existed for the rebuilding of the Iraqi state and society after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The argument that not even a proposal for an inquiry can be made because to do so would “divert attention” from the work going on in Iraq is merely the age-old argument of Ministers on the defensive. It amounts to saying that they are too busy to learn any lessons from what happened before, and it is an utterly bogus argument. Even if it were true, they would still be able to accept the principle of an inquiry, as called for in the motion before the House, but it is not true that our troops would be demoralised or that our enemies would take heart if we took the trouble to find out what has gone wrong. In a democratic society, the examination of successes and failures is a sign of strength, not of weakness. I have some experience of listening to soldiers serving in Iraq or who have recently returned from there, and they do an heroic job. They of all people are particularly anxious that the political decisions made in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion receive searching examination.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who intervened on me earlier, that in circumstances of war, indeed even of total war, our predecessors in this House have conducted the most vigorous debates about wartime debacles, whether in Norway in 1940 or in the Dardanelles in 1915. Indeed, in the latter case, they set up a major commission of inquiry while the first world war continued. They were even encouraged to do so by the Minister principally responsible, a certain Winston Churchill, who clearly had a stronger sense of the need for accountability and learning lessons than we sometimes see today.
The historical precedents that my right hon. Friend has just cited reinforce my position, rather than his. There was indeed an inquiry in 1915 into the Dardanelles, but only after the last British troops and sailors had left Suva bay. In 1940, we did indeed have a memorable debate in the House on Norway, but only after the last British troops and sailors had left Narvik. I am suggesting that we should hold an inquiry into Iraq only after our last troops have left the country.
I am suggesting that when a war has been going on for this length of time, it is entirely valid to conduct such an inquiry. If it was good enough for Winston Churchill, it should be good enough for my hon. Friend.
It remains our view on these Benches that such an inquiry should begin at an early date. For one thing, some of the events to be examined took place as long ago as 2002, and we will soon find that memories will have faded, letters will have been shredded and e-mails will have become untraceable.
Let me carry on for a little while. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman later.
Secondly, we have to be absolutely clear about some of the errors that have been made so that they are not repeated, for instance in Afghanistan. Thirdly, everyone—supporters of the war as well as its opponents—must now recognise that the events of the last four years have damaged public trust and confidence in the political handling of such matters more than any events in our lifetime. A major inquiry and the debates that will necessarily flow from its findings are an essential precursor to rebuilding trust and confidence in the capacity of this or any Government to deal with situations in the middle east. Such rebuilding of public trust is a vital task, and should not be long delayed.
In debates in the House of Lords, there has been a good deal of consensus, very much in line with what I propose. Former Foreign Secretaries such as my noble Friend Lord Hurd of Westwell and the noble Lord Owen have put the case for an inquiry to consider the workings of the machinery of government. Lord Owen said:
“There is now an overriding case to establish an inquiry…very similar to the Dardanelles Commission.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 June 2006; Vol. 683, c. 1350.]
There is no doubt in my mind that the co-ordination of Government Departments in the aftermath of the invasion is a legitimate subject for examination. Last December, at the court martial of soldiers from the Queens Lancashire Regiment, the Army officer who led British forces in Basra following the invasion, Brigadier Moore, said that in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion his 4,000 men were,
“Not supported by any of the other government departments, other than their own.”
“The Foreign Office was there but largely inactive. No one from the Department of Trade and Industry was there. So the Brigade had to try and regenerate the economy, establish a judiciary, as well as security and stability. We were the only show in town. There was a lack of support across the rest of Whitehall.”
We should, of course, recognise the successes in Iraq over the past few years: Saddam Hussein has been removed, democratic elections have been held, and parts of the country are relatively stable. Overall, however, Iraq today is not the Iraq that we hoped for in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam. I have mentioned the need to look into the major decisions, generally made in Washington, but undoubtedly with some kind of British input, either for or against—the de-Ba’athification and disbandment of the army. Those were of huge importance, and much needs to be learned from them about how to influence decisions when conducting operations alongside a superpower.
Then there were the immense problems in delivering improvements to the infrastructure of Iraq. The United States has conducted a wide range of searching inquiries, and notably has not been afraid to do so in spite of its massive engagement in fighting in Iraq. The American Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has produced 60 audit reports and given testimony to Congress on at least 18 occasions, but there is no equivalent examination of the more than £350 million of British taxpayers’ money disbursed by the Department for International Development since 2003. The inquiry begun by the International Development Committee in 2004 was discontinued after the last election, yet the need to learn lessons from the difficulties faced is urgent and serious.
For all those reasons, none of us in the House should turn our face against a major inquiry into what has happened. This Government and future Governments need to learn the lessons, and the country needs to be assured that they will have done so. No adequate reason remains for the Government to refuse to establish such an inquiry to begin its work in the near future, but there is even less reason for them to disagree with the motion before the House today calling for such an inquiry in principle. Their response could be a constructive one, as on war powers, accepting that principle and opening the way for cross-party discussion to bring it about. Instead, if the Government’s amendment is anything to go by, the Foreign Secretary looks set to maintain the Government’s refusal to make any proposal for an inquiry. That position is inconsistent with the many comments already made by Ministers, incompatible with learning vital lessons as fully and as rapidly as possible, and inadequate to the scale of the immensely difficult issues that we now face.
I beg to move, To leave out from “House” to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
“notes the Resolution of 31st October 2006; recognises that there have already been four separate independent committees of inquiry into military action in Iraq; further recognises the importance of learning all possible lessons from military action in Iraq and its aftermath; and therefore declines at this time, whilst the whole effort of the Government and the armed forces is directed towards improving the condition of Iraq, to make a proposal for a further inquiry which would divert attention from this vital task.”
The motion before the House today calls for a new inquiry
“to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq…in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath.”
It also proposes that the House decide now that such an inquiry should be conducted in the same way as the Franks inquiry into the Falklands war. Those with particularly long memories will recall that only about six months ago we had a debate here on a very similar motion. They may also recall that during that debate I made plain the Government’s view that there would come a time when these issues would be explored in the round so that we could learn whatever lessons could be learnt from them. However, I also made clear our view that while our troops remained actively engaged and facing real danger in Iraq, it would be wrong to launch such an inquiry. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) that there is no precedent.
Since then both Houses of Parliament have enjoyed substantive debates on Iraq, including debates in the House on 12 December and 24 January. On 11 January my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I gave evidence to a lengthy joint session of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees, and on 21 February the Prime Minister delivered a detailed statement to the House on the Government’s policy on Iraq.
The Foreign Secretary says that she is unhappy with the idea of an inquiry while British troops remain in Iraq. She will be aware that it is widely assumed that even if the vast majority of British troops are withdrawn over the next 12 months, it is highly likely that a significant number will remain to carry out training functions or for other purposes, possibly for several years. Is she implying that no inquiry could be considered by the Government until the last British soldier had left Iraq?
I am not implying anything. I am simply saying very clearly and straightforwardly, as I did when this matter was last raised, that I do not think that now, when our troops are very much engaged, is the time to make the decision that has been proposed to the House.
Since we debated the issue here in October, the Government’s position on an inquiry has been restated a number of times by, for instance, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Leader of the House, and indeed by the Prime Minister. Nothing has happened since last October to change our position. More than 5,000 British troops do remain in Iraq, where they continue to be engaged in extremely difficult and dangerous work in trying to build a better future for the Iraqi people. Only last week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari paid tribute to them and stressed the importance of what they were doing for his country. I too pay tribute to their courage and professionalism.
I know that the House will join me in offering condolences to the family of Corporal Rodney Wilson, who was killed in Basra last week. He was the 150th soldier to lose his life in Iraq since 2003. I also pay tribute to two other servicemen, Lance-Corporal Paul Sandford and Guardsman Neil Downes, both of whom lost their lives in Helmand province in Afghanistan last week. I know that I take the whole House with me in sending our condolences to their families.
Against that background, it should be no surprise to anyone that the Government’s position has not changed. We continue to believe that agreeing to set such an inquiry in motion at this moment would be not only premature but, much worse, self-indulgent. By contrast, the Opposition’s approach to the issue seems at best confused and at worst opportunistic. Sadly, that is not new. In October, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said:
“To begin an inquiry now”
—that is, on that date in October—
He then promptly voted for a motion that implied that such an inquiry should be launched immediately. To be fair, he said that an inquiry should instead commence in
“the next Session of Parliament”.—[Official Report, 31 October 2006; Vol.451, c.183-4.]
He did not point out that, at the time, that was two weeks away. The motion that the right hon. Gentleman has tabled today makes no reference at all to the timing of such an inquiry, but does attempt—although he made only a passing reference to this—to commit the House to a very specific proposal for its forum.
The right hon. Gentleman therefore appears to have accepted the argument that we advanced last October that now is perhaps not the time for his proposal to take effect. For our part, we also remain of the view that this is not the time to send a signal of potential disunity—whether it be to the courageous Government and people of Iraq, or to our own immensely courageous armed forces—or indeed to commit ourselves to an inquiry in the form that the right hon. Gentleman has proposed. I accept, of course, that that was the form of the Falklands inquiry—but in the 25 years since the Falklands war, important things have changed in the way in which Parliament works.
I understand the right hon. Lady’s reasoning, although I may differ with her about the case for an inquiry now. Does she nevertheless agree that at some point we have to get clarity on some of the big issues? For example, there is a huge debate about how many people have been killed in Iraq since 2003. Does she agree that at some point we need to get clarity, and that we are arguing about a timetable rather than about the fundamental case for finding out the truth about those vexing questions?
Judging from the range of different statistical methods that people have used, I am not sure whether, on that matter, any inquiry will ever come to a conclusion of which there will be general acceptance—but of course I share the view that it is important that we remember the civilian casualties that have occurred during the conflict, and that we do everything we can both to minimise them and to encourage the accurate keeping of records, so that understanding is not lost.
I am sure the Foreign Secretary would accept that it is almost certain that when eventually there is an inquiry, all parliamentarians will want to examine force protection, whether involving body armour or the physical environment in which our troops are protected. Does she agree that it will be difficult to do that in an open environment now, without further compromising the security of our troops?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Those who are approaching the debate with an open mind and a proper realisation of the dangers of the course of action being urged on us by the Opposition will certainly take heed of his remarks.
Why is it necessary to continue to block the memoirs of Jeremy Greenstock, our man in Baghdad, when his American counterpart, Paul Bremer, published his memoirs a couple of years ago and the sky did not fall in?
I am not responsible for the decisions of the American Government. They decided to allow Mr. Bremer to publish his memoirs. We have not made such a decision.
As I say, events have changed—
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, and then I must get on.
Why is it not possible to accept the proposal in principle, while leaving it to the Government to choose the date for dealing with all the issues that the Foreign Secretary has raised? To refuse that makes the Government look as if they have something to hide, and I am sure that they would not want that coming across as their true view.
That is complete nonsense. As I say, we are being urged now to commit ourselves not only to the principle but to a form of inquiry. From the words of the shadow Foreign Secretary—I nearly called him the Leader of the Opposition; perhaps I would be percipient in saying that—it is clear that he envisages an inquiry taking place in the quite near future. As I say, it is not sensible to put that proposal before the House at this time.
We now have a framework of Select Committees—whose role and resources, incidentally, have been substantially strengthened under this Government, despite the nonsense talked about our approach to Parliament. They carry out independent inquiries, as they already have into different aspects of our involvement in Iraq.
I argued in October that the situation in Iraq was too delicate for us to turn our attention away from the immediate task of how best we could help the Iraqi people here and now. I make no apology for saying the same today. Indeed I remind the House that only a few days ago the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq urged us to concentrate our minds, will and interests on continuing to work with the people there to give top priority to rebuilding and helping to reform the situation in Iraq.
Have the Government received any representations from past or current military commanders that an inquiry of this kind would be unwise or dangerous?
I am not aware of having received any representations from military commanders either for or against an inquiry. However, I have no doubt whatever that it would be possible to find both former military commanders who took the view expressed by my hon. and learned Friend, and those who took a different view. I say that without implying any discredit to military commanders, as that is a perfectly reasonable state of affairs among human beings.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
No, I must get on.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence would have liked to take part in this debate, but he is today in Baghdad with the Chancellor, focusing precisely on what can be done today and in the critical months ahead to help the people of Iraq.
As all Members know, Iraq still faces a daunting array of political, security and economic challenges of a kind with which any Government in the world—let alone a Government who have been in existence for only a little over a year—would struggle to deal. The Prime Minister set out in detail in his 21 February statement our analysis of the challenges and our strategy for helping the Iraqis to tackle them. I do not intend to repeat that today, but I shall seek briefly to explain why the next few months in Iraq are especially crucial, and why the Government want to maintain a clear focus on the here and now.
With support from the coalition, the Iraqi Government have in recent months launched a major fresh effort to restore security to Baghdad and neighbouring areas of Iraq. In the coming months, critical judgments will need to be made about the success of the effort. The commander of the multinational force, General Petraeus, is due to deliver his assessment of progress in Washington in September.
It is still too early to make definitive judgments on the success of the initiative. The last of the additional US units being brought into Baghdad will arrive only this month. So far, there have been significant falls in the recorded rates of sectarian murders in Baghdad, and more recently there have been impressive reductions in recorded violence in Anbar province, which was hitherto the most violent part of the country. However, there have also been further atrocious suicide bombings in and around Baghdad, and calculated attacks on symbolic targets in the capital, such as bridges and the Parliament building itself, in a deliberate attempt to induce a sense of despair both in the Iraqi people and in those in the international community working to help them.
The initiative will be judged not solely on its immediate impact on the security environment, but on the extent to which Iraq’s political leaders manage to make progress on the fundamental political issues that underlie so much of the violence. It is crucial that Iraq’s leaders reach early agreement on legislation governing the future of the oil and gas sector, and on how to share the huge potential wealth from the sector equitably among all communities in Iraq. That alone could prove a powerful force for national unity and reconciliation.
It is essential that agreement be reached on reforms to the process of de-Ba’athification, which has become the cause of much division. It is important that the Iraqi Parliament pass legislation setting a date for provincial elections, to allow a new and more representative generation of political leaders to emerge across the country. All these steps, along with others, must culminate in an agreement on revisions to the new Iraqi constitution that give all communities in Iraq a firm sense of commitment to the country’s future.
These are all immensely difficult issues; were that not so, they would have been solved long ago. It is imperative for the future of the country that Iraq’s leaders make headway on them over the coming months.
We hope that the inquiry will be wide ranging, and that it will include an examination of how the intelligence was assessed and presented. In the meantime, however, I have a question. The main justification for war was the weapons of mass destruction argument, and that ultimately proved to be wrong. Who does the Foreign Secretary think is to blame for that? Does the blame lie with the intelligence services for their assessment of the intelligence that came in, or with the politicians for their presentation of the evidence?
The hon. Gentleman has just given an extremely good example of why it would not exactly promote the cause of looking to the future and rebuilding Iraq to engage in the kind of dialogue that he wants at this time. He is, of course, right to say that these are issues of importance, but I recall that in the last debate on this subject one of my hon. Friends reported to the House a discussion at which he had been present with Dr. el-Baradei. Dr. el-Baradei confirmed to those present at that meeting that in March 2003, he had himself believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that it was capable of using, and likely to try to use. So the notion that this was somehow all made up by the Government of the United Kingdom bears no examination at all. As I said, this is a good example of how the Conservative party would prefer to dwell on the past, rather than looking to what is happening now in Iraq and working with it.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
No, I must get on.
In the south, we have already been able to hand over responsibility for security to the Iraqi authorities in three of the four provinces in our area of operation. British troops and civilian staff are now engaged in an intensive drive to bring the last of these provinces, Basra, to the point at which security responsibility can be handed over there, too. At this critical juncture, when Iraq’s future clearly hangs in the balance, it would be wrong—plainly and simply wrong—for us to divert our focus from the tasks that need completing now, and again turn our gaze backwards.
Let us have no pretence that this is an innocuous little motion that will have no effect on the atmosphere in, or background against which, these ongoing, highly difficult challenges have to be faced and met. If that were so, the shadow Foreign Secretary would not have troubled to table it. He made it clear last October that he hoped that the inquiry he proposed at that time would begin in this Session of Parliament. We believed then, and we believe now, that to carry a motion such as this would be an unnecessary and damaging diversion of effort, focus and attention.
Will the Foreign Secretary give way?
All our time and energy is badly needed now for addressing the challenges of the present, as the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq reminded us only the other day. It is our responsibility to the people of Iraq that should receive our complete focus and attention in the critical months ahead.
When we discussed this issue in October, some Members pointed out that only a few days beforehand, representatives of the Iraqi Government had urged us to concentrate on the future. It was also pointed out—to pick up the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen)—that the history of Iraq did not begin with the invasion.
As I said in October, I believe that we also have a responsibility to think very carefully about the signals that we send out from this House today—signals that will be closely followed in Iraq and around the world. It is critical that we do not convey to others the impression that this country’s commitment to Iraq is weakening at a critical moment, and that we are about to turn away into a period of self-indulgent introspection. So I hope that all Members of this House will support the amendment that the Government have tabled.
The Foreign Secretary’s statement that nothing has changed in the Government’s position since October will not have been a surprise; none the less, it will be a disappointment to the House. It appears to all intents and purposes that the Government are still trying to avoid an inquiry, while hinting that there will be one. They are simply ducking the question of when.
The Foreign Secretary said that many Ministers and others have made themselves available to the House in debates, during statements and at questions. Those are worthwhile and welcome occasions, but they are surely no substitute for a thoroughgoing inquiry into what led up to the war in Iraq and what has happened since. The motion today simply asks for the principle to be accepted—little more than that. I should have thought that it was not beyond the Government to accept that. The motion has echoes of the nationalist text that we debated at the end of October, and there is nothing wrong with that, since the need for a proper inquiry into the follies and misjudgments that took us into the war in Iraq is even more pressing now than it was then. In the spirit of cross-party unity, which was evident on both sides of the House on that day, the Liberal Democrats will support the motion when it comes to a Division later.
Before I go on to our reasons why, however, let me add the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends to the tributes already properly and generously paid by the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), to our armed forces. Throughout the conflict, as in so many others, the men and women of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force have shown the highest levels of professionalism, dedication and commitment that could ever be expected of them. Their bravery and courage is beyond question and, indeed, many have paid the highest price. Many more have suffered or continue to suffer the consequences of their time in Iraq. We should never lose sight of those sacrifices.
Since we last debated the call for an inquiry in October 2006, we have seen the deadliest month for UK forces since the initial invasion, with 12 servicemen killed in April. In total, 30 more UK personnel have been killed since October 2006, and as the Foreign Secretary sadly marked, 150 servicemen and women have lost their lives in Iraq serving their country. Our thoughts are ever with them and the families and friends who are so tragically affected.
In the wider context, we should not forget the toll on American and other coalition service personnel, with US casualties nearing 3,500 and other coalition casualties nearing 130. That is all indicative of a desperate security situation. In written answers to me, the Secretary of State for Defence has detailed how attacks on UK-led, multinational forces have risen sharply since our last debate. From that date until the end of April, there were more than 1,300 attacks, compared with just over 500 in the previous six months. That is in the context of Operation Sinbad and the greater levels of confrontation that were inevitably involved, but at the very least, it highlights the ferocity of the situation even in southern Iraq. As we have been reminded only too recently, the dangers there extend to kidnapping, with the fate of the five latest hostages captured at the end of May still unknown. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, too.
We may never know how many Iraqis have been kidnapped, and as the Foreign Secretary said, we will never know the true figure for civilian casualties in Iraq. There have been many estimates, and the United Nations has reported that 34,000 were killed last year alone. For millions of people, life and normality have been destroyed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that there are approximately 2 million internally displaced people in Iraq. There are another 2 million Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries, particularly in Syria and Jordan. Many people lack support, and the host countries are struggling to deal with them. According to a written answer that I received from the Secretary of State for International Development,
“DFID has provided £10 million to support emergency relief and other services to displaced and vulnerable Iraqis”—[Official Report, 7 June 2007; Vol. 465, c. 685W.]
this year. However, if I understand the answer correctly, that is in Iraq and throughout the region. In the context of the estimated £5 billion cost of the Iraq war to the United Kingdom, it is a tiny amount.
Our obligations surely extend to the many former translators and interpreters who have had to flee Iraq and, according to Human Rights Watch, have been denied any assistance in reaching the UK or in obtaining asylum in this country. Those people put their lives on the line alongside British personnel, and their lives are still on the line. Of all the people affected, surely we have a particular responsibility to them.
In Iraq, reconstruction has failed to live up to the large amounts of money poured in. To give just two examples, unemployment is commonly as high as 40 per cent. and electricity supplies in most of the country have barely improved on pre-war levels and have actually fallen below those levels in Baghdad.
Of course, there are achievements: democratic elections held in December 2005 and the formation of the national unity Government last year. As we have been reminded, security has been handed over in three of the four Iraqi provinces under British control, but those milestones have been overshadowed by the security situation and the failure of the reconstruction efforts so far. Even those of us who opposed the conflict when the House voted in March 2003—that opposition was unanimous on the Liberal Democrat Benches—did not foresee the scale of the disaster that continues to unfold in Iraq. The aftermath of the conflict is dire and we need to get to grips with why things have come to this and why we got into the mess in the first place.
The first requirement of an inquiry will be to learn the lessons and, where appropriate, apply them to the ongoing conflict. Surely, we will also learn lessons to apply to other current and future conflicts, but at the heart of the process, as the shadow Foreign Secretary set out, must be the need to ensure proper parliamentary oversight of the Executive, which has until now been utterly inadequate, despite the efforts of Members from all parties to do their bit. The oft-quoted Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt, was right when he said that
“history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than…planning”.
More is required of an inquiry than investigation of what happened to planning for the aftermath; we still need to understand the fundamentals, such as the purpose of the intervention. Was it simply to seek compliance with UN resolutions or, as many leaks, commentators and suspicions suggest, to enable regime change? When was the actual decision taken and when was British commitment given to the United States President? What exactly was the UK input to coalition strategy beforehand and what has it been since? What of the intelligence? Issues remain about both its gathering and processing, which allowed the creation of the flawed prospectus. We are no nearer a full understanding of the political oversight of intelligence processing. In that respect, the early draft of the September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, prepared by Mr. John Williams of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is important evidence, which the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and others have been trying to obtain. It should be released so that we can make a proper assessment of what decisions were taken and when. More significantly, we still need to understand the role of the Attorney-General and why he changed his advice over a few fateful days in 2003, knowing as we do now that he was more ambiguous in his initial advice to the Prime Minister on 13 March compared to that presented to Parliament on 17 March. Those are just some of the issues that will need to be considered by an inquiry, but it is important that we are clear about its type and powers.
As a party, we have previously set out the case for a full public inquiry, which would have the widest possible scope, to investigate all relevant aspects of the decision to go to war in Iraq, but we are happy to support the mechanism proposed by the shadow Foreign Secretary on the basis that the membership reflects the range of expertise required and that the powers will be clear.
I am intrigued by the Liberal Democrat position. Had Britain not supported the war it is likely that we would have been invited to help with the peacekeeping efforts under resolution 1483. Can the hon. Gentleman tell the Chamber whether the Liberal Democrats would have supported Britain’s participation in peacekeeping had we not been participating in the initial war-fighting?
That is a strange hypothetical question.
What if there had been no war?