HC Deb 26 March 2003 vol 402 cc285-90
Q3. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

After the liberation of Iraq and of the Kurds, Turkomans, Shi'as and Sunnis from Ba'ath fascism, when will the Iraqi people be able to have representative government? Will my right hon. Friend emphasise to President Bush that, as well as the endorsement of the United Nations, we also need a representative interim Government in Iraq as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend, not for the first time, has put his finger on the real issue, which is not whether we get the UN endorsement—although I think that that is important and that there is agreement on it. What we should really be asking is, "What type of Government do we want to see?" He is right to say that the Government must be broadly representative, take account of the diversity of the country, respect human rights, and move Iraq along a path towards democracy. It is interesting that, when we look at the northern part of Iraq—which is protected, as I was saying on Monday, by British and American pilots policing the no-fly zone—we can see how the Iraqi people, given the chance, can opt for, and want, a better future. I have no doubt that a major part of our justification for military conflict is that we are now in the process of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction to ensure that the Iraqi people are given better government for the future.

Q4. Norman Baker (Lewes)

On 29 January, the Prime Minister told the House: After we deal with Iraq … We have to confront North Korea about its weapons programme".—[Official Report, 29 January 2003;Vol. 398, c. 880.] Does that remain his position? What form will that confrontation take, and is military action an option?

The Prime Minister

No, we are not contemplating military action against North Korea, but that remains my position. I would simply point out two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, it is important that we deal with the nuclear weapons programme of North Korea, because that is a threat to the outside world. There is no doubt about that, and it is interesting that some of the strongest statements of support for the coalition military action in Iraq came from Japan and South Korea, which know very well the dangers of living next door to an unstable and repressive regime with weapons of mass destruction.

The second point is this: we are far better able to resolve that issue diplomatically if we have made it quite clear that our determination and resolve in relation to Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction are absolute.

Q5. Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow)

For people who are not aware of the Prime Minister's personal commitment to securing justice for Palestinians—that includes Muslims in my constituency, in Britain and around the world—will he confirm that, following action in Iraq, the Government's foreign policy priority will be securing a viable Palestinian state and justice for Palestinians?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that that will be a central priority of British foreign policy. I believe that we have contributed to it through the conference that we held on Palestinian political reform. I know that there is a great deal of cynicism and scepticism in the Muslim and Arab world about whether statements made recently on the publication of the road map and the desire to take the process forward are simply statements made in the context of military action in Iraq that will then be forgotten. I can give my hon. Friend my assurance that they will not be forgotten. They will be taken forward, and they will be done.

From all my conversations with the American President, I say that he believes, like me, that this is a vital issue to resolve, because it is, probably more than anything else, the issue that keeps apart the Arab and Muslim world on the one hand and the western world on the other. I also think that people, whether they take any view on that issue, want to see, as a simple matter of justice, a situation in which Israeli citizens are protected from the appalling ravages of terrorism and Palestinians are able to live in their own viable state and make a decent living for themselves.

Q6. Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)

One problem of 24-hour news coverage of the war is the anxiety caused to many families of troops when they hear reports of deaths and injuries among our forces long before they receive information, even on which units are involved. Will the Prime Minister ensure that communication between the Ministry of Defence and families is improved so that reassurance and information can be delivered to all families Quickly?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is right in identifying the nature of the problem. This is a war that is being reported in the most extraordinary and open way, 24 hours a day. That is the difficulty, but I can assure him that the first priority of the Ministry of Defence is to get in touch with the next of kin of those who are casualties in this conflict. We will try to do our level best to improve the system of communication, but it is difficult for the reason that he gives.

Q7. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)

When the Prime Minister flies to the United States of America later today, will he tell President Bush that his Administration's neglect of his old European allies, their scorn for multinational diplomacy and their cavalier disregard for the UN's role in global politics are not the best foundations for the transatlantic bridge that our Government are trying to build to secure an enduring peace in a post-Saddam Hussein middle east?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I will be saying quite that, no. However, I will say to my hon. Friend that the United States went through the UN, which is why we got resolution 1441. Without going back over all the arguments that are wearisome and familiar to people, the fact is that we agreed that if Saddam did not take his last chance, action would follow. He did not take his last chance, and people did not agree to action. So there is a difficulty there; but I have no doubt that it is important for us to ensure that Europe and America come back together at the end of the conflict.

Let me add that the whole of Europe is not in the same position. Many European countries—indeed, if we were talking at this time next year, they would constitute a majority of EU members—support the coalition action.

It is important that we try to heal the differences, but I think that that must be on the basis of some fairly honest and straightforward talking between us.

Q8. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the contingency reserve is adequate to cover the costs of military operations in and around Iraq?

The Prime Minister

We will meet all the costs that are necessary, yes.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy)

Will my right hon. Friend join me and all other Members in sending sympathies and deepest condolences to Gordon Evans and Theresa Evans, the parents of Llywelyn Karl Evans, who sadly lost his life in the helicopter accident last week? Will he assure us that that family, and indeed other families, will receive professional advice, counselling and support for as long as is necessary?

The Prime Minister

Again, let me express my condolences and those of the whole House, and indeed the country, to the family of my hon. Friend's constituent who lost his life in that tragic helicopter accident. I assure my hon. Friend that we will ensure that the counselling and advice that are necessary will be there for that family, as they will be for the families of others who have lost their lives in the conflict.

Q9. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

The protection of the British public from terrorism is as important as the successful prosecution of the war in Iraq. Is it not unacceptable that the Government have still not issued detailed guidance to schools on protecting children in the event of a terrorist attack? This morning the Government's Teachernet website promises that such guidance will be issued soon. When will it be available?

The Prime Minister

I cannot answer that question directly, but I will certainly find out when the guidance will be issued and write to the hon. Gentleman. I would point out, however. that we are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the most detailed preparations to try to protect the country against a terrorist attack. I think that the security services are doing a remarkable job—an extremely good job. That, frankly, is the best way in which we can protect ourselves, but as I have said, I shall have to get back to the hon. Gentleman with the exact time when the guidance will be issued.

Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

The Prime Minister will soon meet President Bush. Will he tell the President that the whole House deplores the degrading and demeaning treatment of US prisoners, servicemen and servicewomen? Will he also tell him that we expect the terms of the Geneva convention to extend to every prisoner, irrespective of nationality or location?

The Prime Minister

We will obviously ensure that any Iraqi prisoners are treated by us in accordance with the Geneva convention. If my hon. Friend is referring to Guantanamo bay—if that is the purpose of his question—I must tell him that those people are not the combat troops of a Government. As I have said before, however, it is important for them to be treated with dignity and for their human rights to be respected.

We have visited the British nationals in Guantanamo bay many times, and have investigated each allegation of abuse of their human rights, but let me say this to my hon. Friend. There is still information that is checked with people in Guantanamo bay that is of vital significance to protecting people in Europe. I am afraid that that is simply the reality of the situation, although, as I have said before, it cannot continue indefinitely: I agree that, at some point, it will have to come to an end.

As for what my hon. Friend said about the Iraqi treatment of American prisoners of war, I will certainly convey that message.

Q10. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

This is not a question about Iraq.

Does The Prime Minister believe that local justice should be delivered locally by local magistrates? If so, can he explain the decision of the Greater London Magistrates Court Authority to shut Sutton magistrates court, particularly at a time when the local police station has been massively expanded?

The Prime Minister

I regret to say that the honest answer is that I cannot explain that, since I am not fully aware of the circumstances. I can certainly look into what those circumstances are, but I assume that the decision has been taken by the magistrates authority. There it is; it is a local decision, but obviously it is one with which some will disagree strongly. Anyway, I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman about it.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage)

Can my right hon. Friend add the issue of adequate United Nations resources to the ever-lengthening list of things that he has to discuss with President Bush this afternoon? I am concerned that the United Nations, which has insufficient cash to do the job that it needs to do at the moment, will not have enough to do the work of reconstructing post-conflict Iraq.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that point, and there are two issues. In relation to the oil-for-food programme, of course, there is money in that account, which is why it is important that we get the UN resolution. Of course, the potential oil wealth of Iraq is going to be essential for future investment in the country. On the second point that my hon. Friend makes, the UN will launch an appeal soon, and that is an appeal to which I am sure we and many others will contribute.

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