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13 Mar 2003 : Column 434—continued

Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Leader of the House will be aware that members of the International Development Committee, after hearing all the evidence, unanimously concluded that there is not a viable humanitarian plan for Iraq. The House has heard numerous statements from the Secretary of State for Defence in which he has kept us posted on preparations for the military campaign in Iraq. We have yet to hear a single statement to the House from the Secretary of State for International Development on the humanitarian plan for Iraq. I am sure the Leader of the House would feel that it must be in everyone's interest—not least the Government's—for there to be a clear statement from the Secretary of State for International Development on the humanitarian plan for Iraq. Otherwise, the impression will be given that the humanitarian plan will be very much an afterthought to the military campaign, which I am sure is not the impression the Government wish to give.

Mr. Cook: And I am sure it is not the impression that the hon. Gentleman would wish to convey either. He knows perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has worked very hard to ensure that we develop humanitarian plans and she has, indeed, produced a statement. In fairness to her, I should say that she made a speech to the House on the matter only recently.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Is it not the case that because Iraq contains the second largest oil reserves in the world, any debate on the conflict in Iraq is inseparable from a debate on the diversity, security and sustainability of our energy supplies? Does my right hon. Friend recall saying last year, in answer to my request for a debate on the Energy Green Paper, that the best time for such a debate would be after the publication of the White Paper? Given that we have had the White Paper and we are in the midst of a conflict with Iraq, will he find time for a debate on the future of our energy policy and, particularly, the balance of fossil fuels, nuclear, renewables and energy efficiency, as that goes toward meeting our Kyoto targets?

Mr. Cook: I am not necessarily persuaded that the best approach to having a strategic, long-term debate on the balance between renewables and fossil fuels would be in the context of the potential crisis in Iraq. Having said that, I acknowledge that I am aware of the deep interest in the House on energy policy. I recall giving such a commitment to my hon. Friend and I assure him that despite the difficult problem of balancing business—it continues to increase and there is pressure on our available timetable—we shall look for an opportunity to discharge that commitment.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Leader of the House said that as a member of the Cabinet, he was not aware of any shift of the Government's position on the second resolution. But if we extract the anti-French bile, that seems to be what the Foreign Secretary was saying this morning. Indeed, it seems to be what the

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Prime Minister divulged to the Leader of the Opposition—remarkably enough—this morning. For the avoidance of any doubt and with the benefit of the Cabinet discussion, will the Leader of the House tell us whether the parameters for military action set out by the Prime Minister on 6 February—as he described it, the only circumstances in which force would be committed—still pertain?

Mr. Cook: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that the position is, as has repeatedly been said in the House over the last few days, that we are working extremely hard to try to secure agreement within the Security Council? We are looking for a second resolution. No decision has been taken beyond that, for the very simple reason that we are entirely focused on securing agreement to a second resolution and will continue to be so. I think that that is the best outcome for Britain, for the House and, indeed, for the international community.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The Leader of the House has been very fair and consistent over recent weeks in promising that, where possible, there would be a debate and a vote before military action. With the uncertainty in the United Nations, however, we now face a situation in which there may not be a Security Council resolution, the Americans might move very rapidly to military action and events might overtake the ability of the House of Commons to have such a debate. I hope that the Leader of the House agrees that it is vitally important that there should be an opportunity for the House to vote, to give comfort to the Government or otherwise. How will he respond if it becomes apparent that no resolution will go through the Security Council by the end of tomorrow and that military action is imminent? The House would then have the capacity to sit on Saturday. How would the House be recalled in that eventuality?

Mr. Cook: I have already said that we will arrange for the House to debate and vote on Iraq as soon as possible when we know the outcome of the proceedings in New York. Should that require the House to be recalled over the weekend, that is not ruled out. I do not wish people to assume from that that it will necessarily happen, but it is an option that is not ruled out and we shall have to watch matters carefully on a day-to-day basis, depending on the progress of the talks in New York. On the general issue of principle that my hon. Friend raises, may I remind the House that, at the start of the present crisis, I said that it was inconceivable that any Government could commit their troops to action without the support of Parliament? That remains my position and the position of the Government. Of course, any Government must reserve the right to act immediately if the safety of troops is at risk, and I do not think that any hon. Member would object to that reasonable qualification. Subject to that one obvious reservation, however, I attach the highest importance to the House having the opportunity to debate and vote on the matter before conflict.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Notwithstanding assurances given to the House by Defence Ministers,

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Members of Parliament with constituents in the Gulf continue to receive letters from worried relatives about the level of supplies. All hon. Members understand that in any major mobilisation there are likely to be local difficulties. However, given the number of complaints that are now coming forward concerning the lack of goggles and desert boots, will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House and make a clear statement about how these issues are being addressed?

Mr. Cook: In fairness to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, I do not think that any single member of the Cabinet has made more statements to the House than he has over recent months. I am sure that he and his colleagues at the Ministry of Defence will continue to respond to these concerns at every opportunity. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have ordered a very large quantity of desert boots, which are currently being provided. I was pleased to note that, when the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Defence spokesman visited the troops, they found them in good morale and, indeed, reported afterwards that food was in good supply.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Since the last motion on Iraq on 26 February endorsed the United Nations process and not military action, as was explicitly stated by the Foreign Secretary at the start of the debate, is it not vital—particularly if there is no further United Nations resolution—that the Government should seek the endorsement of the House before committing British forces to the terrible and possibly illegal precedent of pre-emptive war?

Mr. Cook: I agree with my hon. Friend that the vote last time was not a vote on a commitment to military action, and that the Foreign Secretary said that specifically at the start of the debate. I said it myself in the business statement that preceded the debate on the Monday of that week. My hon. Friend is, therefore, within his rights to say that it is important that the House should meet and vote specifically on that question. In fairness, I would remind him that I have only just said that I attach the highest importance to the House having the opportunity to do that before conflict, subject to the obvious reservation—to which I do not think anyone objects—that we must always safeguard the safety of our troops. With that one reservation, however, we will do all that we can to ensure that that debate takes place before any action. As the Foreign Secretary has said, it is as important to the Government as it is to the House that that debate should take place in good time.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Referring to the UN Security Council resolution again, may I ask whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come down to the House in the eventuality of a French veto of a second resolution or the frustration of such a resolution by France, Germany or any other EU country on the Security Council, and say that the United Kingdom is abandoning the studies into the adoption of the euro that the Treasury is undertaking? If there is

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such a divergence of fundamental political views, what is the point of wasting taxpayers' money on such a stupid enterprise?

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