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13 Mar 2003 : Column 437—continued

Mr. Cook: I must congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the magnificence of his obsession. I would only say that our efforts to secure unity within the Security Council are unlikely to be enhanced by introducing the euro to the debate.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Will the Leader of the House give us some indication of when we will be able to consider and vote on the Report stage of the Hunting Bill? May I respectfully suggest that, should we be dragged into a war in Iraq, it would hardly be appropriate for the House to be turning its attention to such matters?

Mr. Cook: I am not in a position at the moment to offer a date on which the House might consider the Report stage of the Hunting Bill, although I am aware that it has concluded its proceedings in Committee. I note what my hon. Friend says. As someone who served on the Committee and who has certainly taken a close interest in the matter, his words must carry weight.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): As there has been much damaging press speculation on the nature of the Attorney-General's advice to the Prime Minister, and as it is clear from "Erskine May" that the Prime Minister may, at his discretion, reveal the legal advice that he has received, is it not very important indeed that the Prime Minister should let us see this legal advice, ahead of the debate next week? It is to be hoped that that would set our minds at rest and add to his case.

Mr. Cook: For better or worse, we are probably all very grateful that the Government are not responsible for the speculation in the press. The existence of that speculation does not necessarily mean that it is well founded. Plainly, this matter is a factor in the debate, and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friends will consider how best they can respond to it in any future debate. However, I repeat, and it is important that the House and the country fully understand this, that there is no question of any Government—certainly not this one—proceeding to military action in circumstances in which they believe that they do not have international authority for it.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): I want to return to the issue of advice from the Attorney-General. If we invade another country without international law on our side, it is indeed a matter of the utmost gravity, as the shadow Leader of the House said. Will my right hon. Friend impress on the Government that there are precedents for making such advice public? In these circumstances—these exceptional circumstances—it is absolutely vital that we get that advice.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right to say that these are very grave circumstances, and in this grave situation we have to conduct ourselves in such a way as to ensure that we build the broadest possible consensus for any action that may be necessary. She is correct in saying that there are precedents for such

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legal advice becoming known; the Maastricht debate was the previous such precedent. Such occasions are rare and infrequent, as the distance from that precedent confirms, and the Government would have to weigh very carefully whether it would be appropriate to do this. I would say to the House—this is consistent with what I have already said repeatedly—that we would only act within the context of international law. I do not myself imagine that, were such advice to be made public, it would have any dramatic or sensational impact.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): May I urge the Leader of the House to reconsider his last answer and to bear in mind the fact that, as someone who supports what the Government and the Prime Minister are trying to do in this matter, he should bring into the public domain the advice that has been given by the Attorney-General? May I also urge him to disregard the wholly fallacious and inaccurate point made by the Liberal spokesman? The Leader of the House will be aware that my hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General has consistently asked for this advice to be brought into the public domain.

Mr. Cook: I already have sufficient difficulty with the conflict between us and Saddam Hussein without intruding into the conflict between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party. I hear the points that have been made about the wish to be fully apprised of what the advice would be. I say again that I am not aware of the Government having any reason to hide or conceal that advice in the sense of having something that they want to suppress. We have repeatedly said that we will act only in a way that is consistent with international law. I do not believe that the Government would act in any other way.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): My right hon. Friend will be aware that 14 B-52s are currently parked at RAF Fairford. That is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), but it has a major impact on all local Members. Will my right hon. Friend liaise with the Secretary of State for Defence on the arrangement with the United States air force under which those B-52s will be used? Will he also talk to the Home Secretary about whether it is right to use the Terrorism Act 2000 to try to prevent those who protest under our democratic rights in this country? Will he question whether that is the appropriate legislation to use?

Mr. Cook: I am not aware that the local police force or any other body has invoked that Act. If my hon. Friend wants to take up that complaint with the Home Office, I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will willingly follow up the issue for him.

On the wider question of the role that may be given to the B-52s, my hon. Friend will be well aware of the long-standing agreement between us and the United States by which any action from British bases is fully cleared with the British Government. I am sure that that close co-operation will continue in the context of the B-52s and anything else.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): The Leader of the House will be aware that there is widespread concern in

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the Muslim community in Britain about the consistent application of United Nations resolutions, especially on Kashmir. Resolutions addressing the need of the Kashmiri people to determine their own future have been outstanding for roughly 50 years. I know that he appreciates the importance of these matters. Will we be able to discuss those issues in an early debate?

Mr. Cook: I cannot point the hon. Gentleman in the direction of a forthcoming debate on Kashmir in the House, but I am fully aware of the considerable interest in the issue among the many ethnic communities in Britain that have strong community ties with Kashmir and the two countries of the Indian subcontinent. It is a difficult issue, as I know well from previous experience, and I would not recommend any Member to tread lightly into that contested territory. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that those of us who wish the peoples of Pakistan and India well should do all that we can to enable them to find a way to resolve this long-standing sore.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): I fully support the policy on Iraq, as I did the liberation of Kuwait 12 years ago. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when we have a debate, it will be an opportunity for some us to point out to President Bush that it would certainly help the allied cause if the US Defence Secretary were found a different job as far away as possible from the international scene? That would please many of us, and probably irritate France and Baghdad.

Mr. Cook: I hear what my hon. Friend says. I shall content myself with saying that I am pleased for him that he has got his comments on the record. He will appreciate that no member of the Government has ministerial responsibility for reshuffles in Washington.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): There is an obvious risk that the debate on Iraq will take place after hostilities have commenced. In those circumstances, I hope that the debate would be on a substantive motion. If hostilities have commenced, many of us would wish to table an amendment to the effect that we pledge our total support for the British forces engaged, but none the less do not think that the case for war has been made. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we can do that only if we have a substantive motion to amend—hence the importance of debating Iraq on a substantive motion?

Mr. Cook: I fully understand the genuine concerns of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which he has expressed in measured tones on a number of occasions. I, for one, would not for one moment suggest that people who express those legitimate doubts are lacking in support for British troops. That would be an unfair issue to bring into the argument. On timing, I attach great importance to our having such a debate before hostilities commence, but whether it is before or afterwards, I would prefer a debate to proceed on a substantive motion.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): Given the major disagreement between the British and Dutch

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management of Corus over the sale of its aluminium works and the precarious position in which that leaves British steel production, will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early debate or statement on the urgent need to protect steel production in the United Kingdom?

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