HC Deb 30 June 2004 vol 423 cc285-302 12.30 pm
The Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the NATO summit in Istanbul, and briefly report on the special European Council in Brussels last night.

First, I thank the new NATO Secretary-General, Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, for his chairmanship of the NATO Summit, and President Sezer and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey for hosting it. I am placing copies of the summit declaration in the Library of the House. We were joined in Istanbul by NATO's seven new members from central Europe. They bring a renewed perspective to the alliance, and their recent history of repression makes their attachment to security, freedom and democracy that much keener. We were also joined by NATO's partners: Russia, Ukraine and others from across stern Europe and central Asia. We endorsed capabilities targets to ensure that we make the best use of NATO forces. We supported the further reform of NATO's structures to adapt the alliance to the new threats that we face. We agreed to end the NATO mission in Bosnia, SFOR, at the end of the year and committed to a successful handover to a European Union force.

The two main issues on the NATO agenda, however, were Iraq and Afghanistan. The summit opened just as the new Iraqi Interim Government assumed full authority and sovereignty in Iraq. Politically, Iraq now has a broad-based and representative Government; a timetable and a process for its first democratic elections; a new constitution guaranteeing basic freedoms and the rule of law; a devolved system of government—almost all towns now have municipal councils and those that have been elected are largely secular; and guaranteed protection of minority rights. That is in place of a dictatorship that brutalised the people and ransacked the country. Economically, Iraq now has an open economy with an independent central bank, a real budgetary process, and a new and stable currency. A start has been made to rebuild Iraq's hugely damaged and underinvested infrastructure—a process that will now continue under the guidance of the new Iraqi Government. That is in place of an economy where a country rich in resources had, under Saddam, 60 per cent. of its population dependent on food vouchers.

Britain can be proud as a country of the part that we, and in particular our magnificent armed forces, played in bringing that about. We express our deep condolences to the family of Fusilier Gordon Gentle and to all those who have lost their lives in that struggle. We should pay tribute, too, to the many British public servants, policemen and women and volunteers, so ably led by David Richmond, the UK special representative, who played a crucial role in helping the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives under difficult and stressful conditions. Her Majesty The Queen has graciously agreed that their extraordinary contribution should be recognised with the award of a special civilian medal.

One overwhelming central challenge, however, remains in Iraq: security. Former Saddam supporters, and increasingly terrorists from outside Iraq linked to al-Qaeda, see progress in Iraq and its potential, and hate all that it represents. They are therefore killing as many innocent people as they can, trying to destroy oil and power supplies and create chaos, so that the path to stability and democracy for Iraq is blocked. At the NATO summit, the Iraqi Government requested NATO's help with the training of the new Iraqi security forces, and NATO agreed it. The crucial task is now to put in place the training, leadership and equipment to give Iraqi police, civil defence and armed forces the capability to take on the terrorists and beat them. The determination of the new Iraqi Government is inspirational, but the challenge, especially around Baghdad, is formidable. None the less, I hope that by the end of July, the Iraqi Government and the multinational force will agree and publish plans to ensure that over time that capability exists. There is simply nothing more important to the stability of Iraq or that of the wider region. Britain, the United States and the rest of the former coalition remain dedicated to helping the Iraqi people in that task.

In addition, NATO as a whole has agreed urgently to consider further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to Prime Minister Allawi's request.

In respect of Afghanistan, President Karzai gave a typically forceful presentation, both on the progress made in that country over the past two years and on the huge challenges that remain to be overcome. President Karzai explained that more than 5 million Afghans have now registered to vote in the September elections, 3.5 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan, and 3 million girls are in school. Living standards are rising and the economy is growing by 20 per cent. a year. But again, terrorists with the same intent as in Iraq stand in the way.

NATO agreed, therefore, to expand the role of the international security assistance force outside Kabul, with provincial reconstruction teams to help build Afghan force capability. Some of those teams are already set up in the north. The UK is providing two. The next stage will be to establish similar teams in the rest of the country too. In addition, we agreed a package of support for the upcoming elections in Afghanistan, including a role for the NATO response force. Finally on Afghanistan, we now have an agreed process of stability in the command of the international security assistance force for the years ahead. We have offered to provide the UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, one of NATO's high-readiness headquarters, to lead ISAF in 2006.

The role that NATO is playing in Afghanistan and the new role it is taking on in Iraq reflect the new security challenges that we face. Our adversary is no longer the Soviet Union, but terrorism and unstable states that deal in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the possibility of the two coming together. Both Iraq and Afghanistan face the same struggle for democracy and freedom. Both were used as terrorist bases, and both were horrific examples of repression organised and promoted by their Governments while their people were deprived of even the most basic dignity and human rights. Both now have the hope of a new dawn, but are confronted by the remnants of the past they seek to escape.

Let us be quite plain about what is at stake. If we succeed, the Iraqi and Afghan people prosper, their states become valued partners in the international community, and the propaganda of the terrorists—that our purpose is to wage war on or dominate Muslims—is exposed for the evil nonsense it is. Should we fail, those countries would sink back into degradation, threaten their neighbours and the world, and become again a haven for terrorism. The terrorism that we face is not confined now to any one continent, let alone any one country. From Saudi Arabia to the cities of Europe, it is there, active and planning. Since 11 September 2001 in New York we have known its potency. So what now happens in Iraq and Afghanistan affects us here as it does every nation, supportive or not of the actions we have taken.

NATO's focus on these issues shows at least a start to understanding this threat and its implications. But I worry, frankly, that our response is still not sufficient to the scale of the challenge that we face. I repeat what I said at the NATO plenary session: this threat cannot be defeated by security means alone. It also needs us to focus on the causes of it. Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remains a vital strategic necessity, as does the recognition that our ultimate security lies in the spread of our values—freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The more we can assist in the development of these values in the wider middle east, in partnership with reform-minded Governments and people, the better will be our long-term prospects of defeating the threat.

But the battle is here and now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even for those who passionately disagreed with our decision to go to war, the issues are now clear, the side we should be on without doubt, and the cause manifestly one worth winning. Succeeding in it would be a fitting way to reinvigorate the transatlantic Alliance and heal its divisions.

Finally, on the way back from Istanbul I attended a special European Council. It agreed the Portuguese Prime Minister, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, as the new Commission President. He is an excellent choice, committed to economic reform, committed to the transatlantic alliance, and committed to a European Union of nation states. It was a good finale to a brilliant Irish presidency of Europe.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)

I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the decision on the new Commission President.

The whole House will, I am sure, wish to join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the bravery of our armed forces in Iraq, and that of our public servants in that country. The House will also be as one in condemning the killing this week of Fusilier Gordon Gentle. He is the 60th British soldier to have lost his life since the start of the war in Iraq. We send our sincere condolences to his family.

May I also join the Prime Minister in welcoming wholeheartedly the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq? We wish the Interim Government well in the challenges that lie ahead. Their first few weeks are clearly vitally important. Could the Prime Minister therefore answer some specific questions on the implications of the handover?

First and foremost, can the Prime Minister update the House on the immediate security situation? Are there now clear rules of engagement for the multinational forces, clear lines of command, and agreement on the precise nature of political control to be exercised by the Interim Government, including control over sensitive operations? Does he envisage any increase in British troop deployment, and is there now any potential for further troop deployment from non-NATO members, including Arab states?

What are the implications of the handover for the ability of the security services in Iraq to purchase arms with which to defend themselves and carry out their responsibilities? What progress has been made so far in training the security services in Iraq? We welcome NATO's decision to offer assistance to the Government of Iraq with the training of its security forces. Can the Prime Minister inform the House of the likely numbers involved, including the UK contribution? Will all the training take place in Iraq? Can he confirm that France has insisted that there should be no NATO flags or insignia on the uniforms of soldiers sent to help Iraq? What is the basis for such an objection, when all countries are now united behind United Nations resolution 1546, when NATO pledged its full support for the effective implementation of that resolution, and when it was the Iraqi Government themselves who requested the NATO training support?

What are the prospects for an acceleration in reconstruction work in Iraq, with electricity supply, for example, still falling well short of target, and for better employment prospects for the citizens of Iraq? Following the announcement from the Iraqi authorities that Saddam Hussein has now been transferred to the legal custody of Iraq, what is the position of the other prisoners being held in Iraq?

We welcome the ongoing NATO commitment to enlargement. The Prime Minister said this week that it makes sense to build up European military capabilities equally available to NATO and to the European Union". Does that represent his view of the future balance between the military responsibilities of NATO and the EU?

The Prime Minister also referred to the additional troops to be provided to Afghanistan. What, once again, is the UK contribution to be? Can the Prime Minister tell us more about the nature and size of our proposed contribution to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, to which he has referred? What are the prospects of finding enough troops to extend peacekeeping in the longer term, including outside Kabul? The Prime Minister wrote on Monday that the challenge for NATO was to come up with the military resources. Does he think that it has met that challenge?

The NATO Secretary-General recently said, with reference to Afghanistan, that it was "simply intolerable" that he was forced to get out his begging bowl as a standard operating procedure. NATO's members, he said, announced political decisions to undertake missions, but then, he said, we suddenly find out that nations are not prepared to make available the necessary capabilities". What lessons can be learned from this? Is not the presence in Afghanistan precisely the kind of operation in which a post-cold war NATO should have come into its own?

We welcome the measures announced to enhance the fight against terrorism and on non-proliferation, and also the ongoing review of NATO's capabilities, but does the Prime Minister agree that a step change is necessary in the thinking of NATO members themselves? In particular, the communiqué itself calls for greater willingness and preparedness of nations to provide the resources and capabilities required. What progress does the Prime Minister envisage being made in that area?

Does not the Istanbul summit point not only to the progress NATO has already made in adapting to changed circumstances, but to the huge amount that there is still to do? Does the Prime Minister agree that the future development of NATO as a whole is at a crossroads? Will he do his part in ensuing that having helped to win the cold war, NATO is better equipped to help achieve a lasting peace?

The Prime Minister

I agree entirely with the last part of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and I am pleased that we are in agreement on that. The truth is that NATO is changing to reflect the new security threat, but as I implied in my statement, I worry that the nature of that threat and the need to gear up to it are not yet sufficiently understood.

I would answer the question on Afghanistan and our response in this way. If NATO is asked for and sends the NATO response force, that would be a significant step change in its attitude to Afghanistan, but I make no secret of the fact that I would have preferred to have a larger number of troops there from the very beginning. That would have been a better thing and we should have done it, and I agree with the remarks of the NATO Secretary-General. Since that time, we have had the Berlin conference that has donated, or put aside, $8 billion-worth of aid for Afghanistan, and we have had the NATO summit, but we want to be under no illusions at all.

The fact is that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the problem is not complicated to describe, but simple: it is security. Everything else in those two countries would move ahead at speed if the security situation were better. That is precisely what NATO should be able to do. There is still, at least in certain quarters, not the right sense of urgency—willingness would perhaps be putting it the wrong way—in meeting the challenge that we face.

Listening to President Karzai and the new leaders in Iraq is truly inspirational. In such countries they are dealing with problems that we cannot even contemplate, and they are doing so under threat to their personal safety every day, but in the knowledge that the vast majority of their people are on side with them. We should step up to the mark and help them. The summit marks a move forward, but there is more still to do.

Let me deal with some of the other issues that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. In respect of Iraq, the rules of engagement remain pretty much the same for the multinational force, as does the chain of command. The thing that has changed is that, in respect of whether to do a particular operation, the political control is with the Iraqi Government. We are there in a supporting role, but there is no question of coalition or British troops or the multinational force being subject to an order to do things that we do not think are right or necessary. The British troops in the south of the country have already undergone something of a change of posture. Already in the south, there are significant numbers of trained Iraqi police and civil defence people who can take on some of these tasks. Some of the councils have already elected local leaders and they are taking charge of political control. Around Baghdad the situation is more difficult, but in time I hope that we can resolve it.

In respect of the supply of arms and their control and purchase, there is a part of the agreement with the new Iraqi Government that deals with that. Basically, they are obviously subject to restrictions in respect of weapons of mass destruction, but in respect of arms supply they are subject to the same rules as other countries. In the short term at least, we will be supplying; the coalition will have to supply the right equipment.

I suspect that the training will be done mainly in Iraq. It is possible for some to be done outside, but I think that the reality is that we would want it done in Iraq. I had not heard the comments about the flags and emblems, but I am sure that the NATO soldiers will be there as NATO soldiers.

On electricity supply and oil, the only problem is the terrorism. That is why the new Iraqi Prime Minister wants to train specialist units of either armed forces or civil defence people who can guard the electricity supply better. In the long term, of course, we are now letting the contracts to build major new power supply and equipment in the whole of Iraq. Those contracts will obviously make a huge difference to the people in Iraq.

Finally, on NATO in the European Union, as we make clear in the European defence document, NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, but as I think we are proving in Bosnia, there can be a role for European defence. I would only point out that it was unanimously agreed at the summit that the relationship between NATO and the EU is important. Specifically, it endorsed the concept of European Union defence as we set it out.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD)

May I join the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in expressing our sympathies to the family of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, who so tragically lost his life this week in Iraq? Whatever views people in the House and across the country legitimately hold, everybody wishes the handover of power from the occupying forces to the interim Administration every chance of success. The handover is in everybody's interests—not least, of course, those of the Iraqi people themselves.

I want to ask the Prime Minister some specific questions arising from both summits and, indeed, the exchanges that have just taken place. I welcome NATO's agreement to help train Iraqi security forces, but I want to press the Prime Minister further. Given the recent statements from the previous Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson, and the new Secretary-General of NATO about the strain imposed on NATO by its operations in Afghanistan, is the Prime Minister satisfied that NATO can prioritise the training of the Iraqi security forces while maintaining, and if necessary extending, its commitment in Afghanistan? What was the view on that question at the summit?

Where does that decision leave the outstanding consideration for the British Government, namely the possible deployment of 3,000 additional British troops to Iraq? In earlier exchanges on that issue, a number of Liberal Democrat Members made it clear that we do not want to see a significant additional British troop presence outside our existing territorial area of operation and responsibility. When can we expect the Government to announce a decision on a possible significant deployment?

As a result of the handover taking place in Iraq this week, do the Government envisage making public any phased withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, and what is the current status of such considerations? A few moments ago, the Prime Minister referred to the essential political control of the new Administration. If, as a result of the continuing horrible levels of violence, the new Administration decided, for example, that they want to impose martial law, what position would the British Government take on the policing and administration of martial law in Iraq by our forces? Was the Prime Minister's reply to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Denzil Davies) at Prime Minister's questions a tacit acceptance that, given the status of the new Iraqi Government, weapons of mass destruction no longer exist within Iraq?

Was Sudan discussed, either formally or on the margins, at either the European summit or the NATO summit? The Prime Minister did not refer to Sudan in his statement, and it may be that the issue did not arise. What action are the Government taking to get the Government of Sudan to accept responsibility for the horrendous violence occurring within Sudan's borders? Will they move to give urgent aid to the authorities in neighbouring Chad to help deal with the growing refugee crisis as a result of events in Sudan? What more can the UK do to help ensure that the terrible situation in Sudan does not spill over into Chad? Was the matter discussed as a result of the European Union position on placing monitors in that country?

Finally, we wish the new President of the European Commission well and congratulate him on his appointment. We hope that his period in office will be successful both for him personally and for Europe as a whole. Given that that appointment has been agreed, a subsequent consideration is the appointment of the new Commissioners. The Prime Minister would perform a valuable service and, perhaps, put one or two Labour Members out of their misery if he told us when he expects formally to submit the name of the new British Commissioner and who it will be.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must wait a little longer in suspense for the answer to his last question. I thank him for his immensely constructive contribution—I do not know whether there is any significance in that. [Laughter.]

On training, NATO has the resources, but they will be stretched. The vital long-term point concerns capability: leaving aside the United States, NATO contains hundreds of thousands of soldiers, but how many of them are operational, and how many of them can actually fight? The Secretary-General of NATO reminded us that—George Robertson often used to say this—we must obtain capability. If, apart from the modest role that we have assigned to it, European defence has one benefit, it is that it allows us to try to get other European countries to focus on defence capability, which sometimes does not match the number of troops on paper.

I cannot say whether we will need more troops in Iraq, but the matter is kept under constant review, and no decision has been taken.

Mr. Kennedy


The Prime Minister

Well, because the matter is under review I cannot say when I might decide or not decide. All I can say is that no decision to send additional troops has been taken.

As for the phased withdrawal of existing troops, when the Iraqi Government and the multinational force publish the plans—I hope that that will occur towards the end of July—we will be able to see a clear plan for the build-up of Iraqi police, civil defence, specialised units and armed forces, and it may be easier at that point to give people a clearer idea of how the need for British troops will diminish We will stay in Iraq for as long as it takes to get the job done. Obviously, the whole purpose of the process is to build up the Iraqi security capability so that we can reduce the necessity for the multinational force.

As I said a moment ago, our forces remain under our command, and martial law in Iraq is the latest hare to be set away in that particular debate. The Iraqi Government obviously want to take tough security measures. The terrorists have killed coalition troops, but the principal victims of terrorism in Iraq are innocent Iraqi civilians. Some reports in the newspapers about the thousands of Iraqis who have died since the conflict began, or even since the conflict ended, seem to suggest that that was a result of the coalition's actions. Of course, some situations in which civilians were killed involved coalition forces, but terrorists, whom coalition forces are trying to stop, are responsible for the vast bulk of the killings in Iraq.

I do not believe that the Iraqi Government want to introduce martial law, but they want to take tough security measures. It is perfectly obvious that one reason for the full transfer of sovereignty is to give responsibility to the Iraqis. One can talk about Iraqi public opinion, because now people can express their views, and, as far as I can make out, the Iraqi people's concern about the multinational force is not that its measures were too tough, but that they were not tough enough.

I spoke to the Secretary-General of the United Nations about Sudan yesterday, and we are doing everything that we can. Colin Powell is currently in Sudan, and we continue to urge the Government of Sudan to co-operate in every possible way. I must get back to the right hon. Gentleman on the help that we are providing for refugees who enter Chad, but we are providing significant support for the Government and the people of the region.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) (Lab)

The current Secretary-General and his predecessor both called Afghanistan a test case for NATO now that the out-of-area debate is over. When the Foreign Affairs Committee was in Afghanistan last month, it was made clear to us that NATO was failing that test. Apart from the praise for the British contribution to the provincial reconstruction team in Mazar-e-sharif, it was clear that several NATO countries were not delivering on their promises and that even if they did supply troops, they were so surrounded with cautions and reservations that they were unable to do their job effectively.

My right hon. Friend says that 5 million of the electorate have been registered, but that is still less than half the total, and only in the easy areas. Can he truly say that he is satisfied that the other NATO members have recognised the seriousness of the situation—that it is indeed a test case—and that this time they will deliver all that is necessary?

The Prime Minister

The honest answer to my right hon. Friend is that I hope that they do. It is very clear how NATO should develop over the coming years. We made a good start at the NATO summit, but I would describe it as a start and, as yet, no more than that. We need the capability and commitment. As regards Afghanistan, as President Karzai pointed out, the people who are being killed are innocent civilians—in particular, women who want to register to vote, because terrorists have an issue with those women. Two female registration officers were assassinated the other day. I hope that if we get the right report back on the NATO response force, we will deploy that force specifically to help with the election process. There may still be many people to register, but 5 million is an extraordinary achievement for Afghanistan.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con)

At the NATO summit, did the Prime Minister boast, as he has today, of the part that he has played in handing over to a disarmed transitional Iraqi Government a country that he helped to plunge into blood soaked chaos—it is in that state now, and getting much worse than it was under Saddam Hussein—all of which was done in the search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction?

The Prime Minister

First, on WMD, let me remind the hon. Gentleman that Saddam used those against his own citizens. We have already found the remains of about 300,000 people in mass graves in Iraq. One million people died or suffered serious injury as a result of the Iran-Iraq war.

Whatever problems Iraqi people may have with the coalition forces, it is extraordinary to suggest that they would prefer Saddam. The hon. Gentleman says that life was better under Saddam, but that is not their view. Their view is that they have the prospect of making their own lives of better, of having democracy and the rule of law, and of having proper civil rights and civil liberties—but that the terrorists stand in their way. Even people who totally disagreed with the decision to begin the conflict can surely see that there is only one side to be on now—that of the Iraqis, the international community, and the American and British soldiers who are making the place better.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)

Taking into account what my right hon. Friend said about the vital necessity of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue; taking into account, too, the right of the Palestinian people to democracy and freedom; noting yesterday's ruling by the Israeli courts on the huge damage that is being inflicted on the Palestinians by the present line of the Israeli wall; in the expectation of the ruling by the international court next week on the legality of Israeli wall; and taking into account the continued deaths on both sides, including the deaths of Palestinian and Israeli children, will my right hon. Friend now make his top international priority the pursuit of progress on the road map?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of that topic; a very large part of my bilateral meeting with President Bush the other day was devoted to it. That is why the Quartet—the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union—is publishing plans for Palestinian security and economic and political reform. In my view, it is essential that when the disengagement plan goes ahead, we are in a position that at least in Gaza and parts of the west bank, the Palestinians have the beginnings of what can be the nucleus of a viable and democratic state.

That is not to say, in any shape or form, that that will be the end of it. There have to be final status negotiations that allow us—based, as we have said before, on the 1967 boundaries—to create a viable Palestinian state. The primary objective that I am working for is to ensure, first, that the disengagement goes ahead, and then that the international community is ready to step into the vacuum that will come about in respect of Gaza and the west bank. I assure my right hon. Friend that I will continue to make this a huge priority for the Government and for our work in the international community.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Mailing) (Con)

Is the Prime Minister aware that the failure of significant numbers of NATO members to deliver on their force commitments to Afghanistan not only threatens the credibility of NATO out of area, but seriously threatens the future of stability and democracy in Afghanistan itself? Will the Prime Minister do his utmost, with his Defence and Foreign Secretaries, to persuade the backsliding NATO members to deliver on their force commitments? Several of us who have recently been in Afghanistan believe that unless the security situation is significantly improved—that means boots on the ground—it will be too late.

The Prime Minister

I agree, and it is for precisely that reason that we insisted that Afghanistan should form the major part of the discussions that we had at the NATO summit. The strategic importance of succeeding there is absolutely obvious. We have taken important decisions, particularly on the deployment of the response force. I hope that we will manage to get that force to support the elections, because that will make a difference. The next few months will be a real test of NATO's commitment.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab)

Arising from what my right hon. Friend said about the rule of law earlier today and in his statement, did he take the opportunity over the weekend to tell President Bush directly that what is being proposed for the British detainees in Guantanamo Bay is simply unacceptable, and that the patience of both Houses of the British Parliament is wearing rather thin? Does President Bush understand the feelings expressed on this issue by those of us who certainly have no time for terrorism, and never will have?

The Prime Minister

It is precisely for that reason that we have been in discussion with the United States over a period of months, and that is why five of the detainees are back. We continue to discuss the fate of the remaining four, although it is important that if we do have them back here we are able to guarantee the security of our own people.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage) (Con)

The Prime Minister deserves congratulations on reaching this milestone in Iraq, but I want to ask him about France. Over the past month, the French have blocked the appointment of an excellent British Commissioner to the presidency of the Commission on grounds that imply that we would be permanently excluded from appointments to that position. They have impeded the NATO deployment for training purposes in Iraq, and they are preventing the adequate deployment of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Like the Prime Minister, I count myself as a Francophile, but does he share my concern about what those events may tell us about France's reliability as an international partner?

The Prime Minister

Earlier today I resisted the temptation to speak for American policy, and I think that I am even less qualified to speak for French policy in this regard. All I can say is that we will continue to work with France and with other countries. We secured agreement in Istanbul, eventually, and we will continue to work with France and other countries to ensure that we fulfil our obligations to people. There will be disagreements from time to time, I am afraid, but we just have to try to overcome them.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

Was the use of Diego Garcia discussed at either summit that the Prime Minister attended? Why, on 10 June, was an Order in Council issued that prevents the Chagossian people from returning not only to Diego Garcia but to the outer islands from which they were so scandalously taken in the early 1970s? They won their legal right of return in a court order in Britain in 2000 against which the Foreign Office did not appeal.

The Prime Minister

The reasons are those set out in a statement on 10 June. Diego Garcia was not discussed at either summit that I attended. However, I point out that it is an important base for this country's security. Of course, it is important to take account of the rights of the people there, but I hope that my hon. Friend understands that Diego Garcia has played a vital part in the security of this country over the years.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)

Does the Prime Minister support the BBC World Service proposal to establish an Arabic satellite TV channel that could present an alternative view to that of al-Jazeera? Does he believe that that would help to defuse tension in the region?

The Prime Minister

There is some merit in the proposal, but a cost comes with it. We must therefore ensure that it can be done within budget. It is interesting that the new Iraqi Prime Minister, President and Government are now given a somewhat fairer wind than hitherto even in parts of the Arab media. Having an Iraqi face explaining what is happening there and the need for our action makes a tremendous difference. I have had some discussions about the BBC World Service's proposal and there may be something in it, but the budgetary issues must be resolved.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab)

The coalition and the Iraqis should be congratulated on capturing most of the most-wanted members of the former regime. The trials will start and charges will be made against them. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who have lingering doubts about the morality of toppling the regime, such as the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) and the bishops who have written to my right hon. Friend, remained silent over the past 25 years when Saddam Hussein executed, tortured and ethnically cleansed his own people? Does he also agree that, if we are considering morality, they should feel the same moral outrage as anybody who stood at the side of a mass grave containing hundreds of thousands of people?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and thank her again for her immensely courageous and important work.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

Returning to the comments of the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), I underline that those of us who went to Afghanistan and saw President Karzai, many of his Ministers and the commanders of the international security assistance force, left with a clear impression that unless NATO acted quickly we would have a disaster on our hands. Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there is little time, given the approaching elections? Clearly, he is not satisfied by the backsliding of some of his NATO colleagues. What more will he, the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary do in the next few days to ensure that there are more troops in Afghanistan? They are desperately needed.

The Prime Minister

We will continue to put pressure on our NATO partners to ensure that there is no backsliding on the commitments that have been given. The Secretary-General is entirely seized of that view. At the bilateral meeting with President Bush, Afghanistan was as much a topic of the conversation as Iraq. The test will be the deployment of the response force. The Government will want it and there is no reason why it should not go. I accept that the situation is urgent because the elections will take place in September. There has been a tremendous boost to registration—according to President Karzai, about 100,000 people a day are being registered. However, if they cannot vote properly without fear and intimidation, the elections will not count. I therefore agree that the position is urgent.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab)

Let me continue on the theme of Afghanistan. My right hon. Friend is entitled to exempt himself from the following criticism, but one of the worrying features of Kosovo and Afghanistan is that the world moves on quickly and loses interest in completing the job. It is vital, for reasons that my right hon. Friend has already mentioned, that we properly finish the job of reconstruction in Afghanistan, for both that country and the signals that that will convey elsewhere. Will he speculate on American reaction to the failure of NATO allies to play a proper role? The Americans have the opportunity to walk away from NATO.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's point is correct. The NATO alliance depends on strong American commitment and people should recognise how vital that is. The Americans have some 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, where the strategy is to put provincial reconstruction teams in the north and west of the country. Problems with various private militias exist there, but none the less the Afghan force capability can be built up reasonably successfully. We have been doing that at Mazar-e-Sharif. The real problem is therefore in the south, where pockets of the Taliban and al-Qaeda exist. That requires a fighting force, which the Americans are providing.

The American contribution is vital to the security of our world. I have always said that the danger is not that the Americans exert their power, but that they could pull up the drawbridge and tell us to get on with our business. We need the Americans. The most powerful contributions at the NATO summit are by the east European countries, which are now democracies and know well the value of the transatlantic alliance.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con)

Will the Prime Minister share the evidence for the increasing role of foreign terrorists in Iraq? Can he provide a sense of the number of attacks—which involve launching lethal weapons at coalition forces—that come from non-Iraqis?

The Prime Minister

There is no scientific answer to that. The view of the Iraqi Government and leaders is that outside terrorists are increasingly responsible and that, in particular, al-Zarqawi, who is part of the al-Qaeda network, has a big role. Former Saddam elements have access to the weapons that were there in Saddam's time and they join in that action. However, the Iraqi Foreign Minister and Defence Minister, to whom I spoke, said that they believed that they needed to reach out to Sunni elements, and even former Ba'ath people, who could perhaps be brought into some arrangement in the new Iraq and who had all sorts of issues with the coalition that would not apply to an Iraqi Government. Increasingly, they believe that the real problem is outside terrorists using the country as a base for their activities. As I said, I have no scientific basis for that, but that is their strong view and they live there.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

My right hon. Friend has today recognised the continuing violence against women in Afghanistan. Given that only one third of those registered for the election are women, may I endorse the calls for extra NATO troops to be sent as soon as possible, not only for September? Will my right hon. Friend use his best endeavours to ensure that all Departments of the UK Government pay specific attention to the needs of women in both Afghanistan and Iraq in the preparation for democratic elections?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is one of the reasons for ensuring that we continue our support. In Afghanistan and Iraq, women now play a part in the political process. My hon. Friend is right that fewer women than men are registering to vote in Afghanistan, but President Karzai told me that, in some provinces, the numbers of women are significantly up. It is worth reflecting that, a few years ago, women were effectively unable to play any proper part in the political process in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC)

Will the Prime Minister concede that the battle is not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but in Gaza and the west bank? Does he acknowledge the moral authority and right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty? As the Israeli armoured bulldozers and tanks demolish civilian properties, especially in Gaza, what specific steps is he taking now to ensure that the Israeli Government are brought to book on those illegal, collective punishments of a civilian population? Will he give an undertaking to take action so that we can at least try to break the cycle of violence that is currently so destructive in Israel and Palestine?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the Palestinians have the right to a sovereign, independent and viable state, and we are committed to that. I also agree that we must reduce the cycle of violence. However, that depends on both sides—innocent Israeli civilians die in terrorist attacks as well. It is important to recognise that the single biggest obstacle to political progress at the moment is the absence of a proper security infrastructure that allows us to be able to say definitively that the Palestinian Authority are doing what is necessary and what they are able to do to stop the terrorism, so that a political process can begin. It is necessary to have empowered Palestinian Ministers who are able to take those decisions.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)

Might not the new Iraqi Government wish to avoid a rush to rip-off forms of privatisation at knock-down prices, as occurred in Russia following the fall of communism? Will the British Government act to ensure that undue pressure is not brought to bear on Iraq by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US to reach that position?

The Prime Minister

It is important that Iraq should take a step-by-step approach to an open economy. The Iraqi Ministers are well aware of that, and are proceeding with care. It is worth pointing out that Mr. Bremer, when he was head of the coalition authority, specifically made it clear that he thought that there were limits to how fast Iraq could be opened up to the private sector. The point made by my hon. Friend is well in the minds of Iraqi Ministers.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

At Defence questions, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), said that the United Kingdom would not be supporting the aspirations of Macedonia to join NATO. Will the Prime Minister tell us why that is the case, and whether any applications for new membership were discussed at Istanbul?

The Prime Minister

There has been a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the Macedonians. It is important to assess whether people can meet the relevant criteria. There was some discussion of new members at the NATO summit, and I am sure that NATO will continue to expand. I understand the issues that the Macedonians feel strongly about in relation to future membership, but they have to be matched against our criteria.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)

I know that my right hon. Friend will join me in wishing every success and a safe return to my constituents who are currently serving with the Cheshire Regiment in Iraq. On NATO training, is it our intention to play our part in that equation, and will we be offering the resources at Shrivenham and the wonderful royal college of defence studies to that retraining effort? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

I am not quite sure whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was agreeing to the last part of that question.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)


The Prime Minister

I congratulate the Cheshire Regiment on all that it has done in Iraq and, yes, we shall certainly play our full part in ensuring that the Iraqi forces are properly trained.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD)

Could the Prime Minister expand on the future of Iraqi detainees? In the light of his letter to the Intelligence and Security Committee, could he also tell us when British intelligence became aware of the abuse of detainees by Americans? He says in his letter that the concerns of the staff were passed on to the US authorities, but can he tell us when they were passed on, when the intelligence officers became aware of them, at what level the US Government were advised of them, and what response we received in reply?

The Prime Minister

I cannot recall off-hand the exact time when those concerns were passed on, or in what form they were passed on. However, I would like to point out that in respect of ourselves and, to be fair, in respect of the Americans, the allegations covered by the Red Cross had already been the subject of investigation and prosecution long before this became a public issue. So far as we are concerned, every complaint has been investigated and, where prosecutions should result, they are resulting. The Red Cross said recently, in relation to those whom we were detaining, that we were making sure that they were treated properly. Everybody from the President of the United States downwards has condemned without equivocation or hesitation the mistreatment of people at Abu Ghraib prison. It is precisely for that reason that people are now being prosecuted.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab)

The day after the Afghan conflict began, my right hon. Friend said from the Dispatch Box that dealing with the Afghan opium poppy trade was one of the key aims of the conflict. I welcome the additional troops that have been pledged, but is it not the case that, unless NATO alters its terms of engagement in Afghanistan specifically to include counter-narcotics activity—however that might be defined—we shall continue to see the increases in the poppy yield that we have seen over the past two years, which will inevitably mean cheaper and more readily available heroin on Britain's streets?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and this is an issue that we have consistently raised. President Karzai's view is that the Afghans have to develop their own capability in regard to this issue. Part of our discussion was about how NATO could assist in that. His view is that the situation is changing, in the sense that people now know the risks for the stability of the country involved in becoming some kind of narco-economy. It is fair to say that there have been some successes in eradication, but for a long time under the Taliban this trade provided a main source of income for them. It would certainly help if this became part of the NATO tasks, but we shall have to continue to have that debate.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con)

The former Iraqi governing council estimated that Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage enriched themselves to the tune of $10 billion as a result of institutional corruption during the oil-for-food programme. That money is now being used to fund the insurgency against our troops and the new Iraqi Government. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with other leaders about this issue during the summit, and what specific steps are his Government taking to support calls for a full, independent inquiry that must, necessarily, be independent of the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

We have raised the issue, and we continue to look at the best way of ensuring that we get a proper account of what took place under the oil-for-food programme. I am not yet in a position to say what the right way forward will be, but this has formed part of the discussions that we have had with the United Nations, too. The issue was not specifically discussed at the NATO summit, but it is part of the discussions that we have with our partners in Iraq and, obviously, with the new Iraqi Government. One thing that will happen under the new Iraqi Government is that there will be a great uncovering of what took place, and it will be very educative to allow people to see just how much corruption there was inside Iraq and to see the links between what happened inside Iraq and outside. I hope and believe that some interesting things will emerge from that.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)

Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that many of us who sincerely opposed the military action now equally sincerely wish success to the new Government it Iraq, and not just because the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the new Iraqi Government spent some of their exile in Cardiff? Is it not the responsibility of us all to put aside whatever stance we took, either in favour of the war or against it, so as to help that Government to succeed? Does that not apply with even greater urgency to our partners in NATO?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I agree with him. An interesting question for people to reflect on is why outside terrorists and al-Qaeda people are trying to get into Iraq and to stop the Iraqis succeeding. It is because they know very well that if the Iraqis succeed, they will fail. Their primary targets now are not the coalition forces—although they will kill members of the coalition forces when they can—but innocent Iraqi people. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend: whatever view people took of the conflict, this is a fight that we can all support. That is why NATO should realise that, whatever divisions there were among the NATO membership about the wisdom of the conflict, there should be none about the wisdom of supporting the new Iraqi Government.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

Following the Prime Minister's rather brief five-line summary of the European Council, could he explain the statements by the French and German Governments that, in return for Mr. Barroso, they would be allocated the key economic portfolios, from which they would try to reverse liberal competition policy, introduce a more protectionist industrial policy and reverse the Lisbon process?

The Prime Minister

I gave only a brief summary of the European Council because, thankfully, it was a brief summit.

The new Commission President will allocate posts. We supported a proposal for a Commission Vice-President who particularly looks after economic policy. I think that Mr. Verheugen, should the Commission President wish to appoint him, would be a very good choice; he has shown himself to be an immensely capable Commissioner. In respect of anything else, there will be the normal discussion and debate with the Commission President, but I would not, were I the hon. Gentleman, believe everything that I read in the papers.