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25 Nov 2002 : Column 43—continued

The Prime Minister: I think that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with both those points in the main debate. In the end, it is anticipated that there will be another discussion in the Security Council. All that we have said is that we hope very much that that discussion will be successful. The resolution is certainly predicated on the basis that if there is a breach, there is agreement to act. I believe that that is a sensible position. As for consulting the House, we have done so throughout and always have done on these occasions. In respect of Kosovo and Afghanistan, we did our level best to do that. In the course of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal to anyone's reasonable satisfaction with the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): To what effect will the discussion in the Security Council be? Will the Security Council have the final judgment on the weapons inspectors' report?

The Prime Minister: It will be for the weapons inspectors to say whether there is a breach and there will then be discussion about the seriousness of that breach. We have undertaken to take the matter back to the Security Council. All that we have been saying throughout is that the implication is that if there is a significant breach, there must be action. I think that there is international consensus that it is not sensible to tie ourselves down now to every single set of circumstances, that we want to keep some freedom of manoeuvre and that we should keep maximum pressure on Saddam. He has to know that unless he gets rid of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through the weapons inspectors, it will be done by force. There was remarkable unanimity; even countries that were more

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hesitant about agreeing to the UN resolution accept that the world must act if there is a breach, inspectors are defied and Saddam does not co-operate properly.

President Bush made a principled and difficult decision to go through the United Nations. He was right to do that. We supported him strongly and we are now obliged to ensure that the UN route works. I believe that we can do it in a way that avoids conflict, if at all possible. In any event, Saddam must know that he will be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the accession of Romania to NATO will be a huge boost to peace and prosperity from a nation that suffered under Ceausescu's terror regime?

The Prime Minister: Well, it is remarkable to remember Romania under Ceausescu 15 or 20 years ago, the changes that it has made and its huge struggle to achieve improvements. If people want an antidote to cynicism about politics, they should listen to speeches from those in former communist countries about what membership of NATO and of the European Union mean to them. They know all about freedom because, until recently, they had none.

Ross Cranston (Dudley, North): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his role in such a successful summit. What assessment has he made of the changes necessary in Ukraine so that it can be permanently at the table?

The Prime Minister: A strong message was given to Ukraine at the summit. It is important, if it wants to take its place properly in partnership with other countries, that some specific rules and liberties are maintained and respected. I hope that it received that message as strongly as it was intended.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): When the Prime Minister met the new leadership of Turkey, did he discuss the statement of former European leaders such as Valery Giscard d'Estaing that there was no place for a Muslim country in the EU? Did my right hon. Friend say that Turkey is an effective partner in NATO, that it could perform that function in the EU, and that the United Kingdom will have no truck with such racism?

The Prime Minister: We have made a strong statement in support of Turkey's membership of the European Union. On the basis of discussions that I held with Mr. Erdogan and the President of Turkey, I hope that it will be possible to make a commitment to that country at the European Council in Copenhagen. I hope that we will set a firm date for negotiations, that they will form part of a package to lay to rest some of the outstanding difficulties on European defence and that we shall at least find a proper way forward on Cyprus. The dispute holds us back. It is right to extend the hand of friendship and partnership to Turkey; I hope that it will be reciprocated.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my right hon. Friend realise that the NATO Parliamentary Assembly that preceded the summit included the welcome presence of the member of that body who had just become Prime Minister of Turkey? In his speech to the

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Assembly, Abdullah Gul made it clear that Turkey is a Muslim country but a secular state, and that there is a historic opportunity to resolve the Cyprus issue once and for all.

The Prime Minister: I agree with those sentiments. The Prime Minister was right, and Turkey's eventual accession to the European Union would offer tremendous possibilities and opportunities for our future. I therefore hope that the new spirit of progress and engagement works out.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): Given our recent difficulties in achieving agreement, let alone unanimity, among NATO allies on, for example, the Gulf war, exercises in Kosovo, and the coalition against terrorism, how convinced is the Prime Minister that the rapid reaction force will live up to its name?

The Prime Minister: We have an agreement in principle to establish it, and I hope that it can come about. On the whole, the agreements that we have reached in NATO—for example, over Kosovo and the war against terrorism—have been pretty impressive. Given that there are many different countries with different interests round the table, it is perhaps more impressive than the hon. Gentleman's question implies. Of course, agreeing to the rapid reaction force in principle is not the same as implementing it; we have to make sure that it is followed through.

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Point of Order

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will see on today's Order Paper that under our new arrangements for the delivery of ministerial statements to the House, there are five statements down to be made today, and that one of them is to be made by the Minister for the Armed Forces on the defence training review rationalisation programme. I was made aware on Thursday night that that statement was to be made, when a journalist from The Times newspaper telephoned me at 7.30 pm, and I eventually obtained a copy of it on Friday. Do you not agree, Mr. Speaker, that this is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with the House, especially when the matter involves a great many right hon. and hon. Members? We know that the Ministry of Defence was thrown into complete confusion last week by the honesty of the Chief of the Defence Staff when he blew the whistle on the Government's short-changing of our armed forces. Nevertheless, will you give advice to Ministers that they have a duty to the House to ensure that statements are delivered at the time that they are supposed to be made to the House under the new arrangements designed to help Ministers?

Mr. Speaker: Ministers have a clear duty, and I will look into the hon. Gentleman's complaint. I take it very seriously, and I will report back to him on this matter.


Local Government

Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Milburn, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Paul Boateng, Secretary Peter Hain, Mr. Nick Raynsford and Mr. Christopher Leslie, presented a Bill to make provision about finance, and other provision, in connection with local and certain other authorities; to provide for changing the dates of local elections in 2004; to amend the Audit Commission Act 1998; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 9].

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Orders of the Day

UN Security Council Resolution 1441

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Liberal Democratic party.

4.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move,

Before I come to the case for the motion, may I say how sorry I am—and I think that I speak for the whole House—that the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, is unable to be with us today. He attracts great respect in the House because of his contribution to its work. I have been able to talk to him, and I know that the prognosis is good. I would like, through you Mr. Speaker, to wish him a very speedy recovery.

On 7 November, I made a statement to the House about the negotiations on the new United Nations Security Council resolution. I did so not because the negotiations had been concluded, but because that was the last day before the prorogation of Parliament. I said then that I hoped that a large majority of the Security Council would vote in favour of the resolution. I said that as much in hope as in expectation. On the following day, 8 November, Security Council resolution 1441 was adopted 15:0—unanimously. All five permanent members supported it, as did countries as diverse as Mexico, Cameroon, Ireland and Syria. The resolution represents the considered view of the international community that Iraq must end its decade of defiance of the United Nations.

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