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Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): May I return to my right hon. Friend's point about Ronnie Biggs, and about not discovering all the evidence after the event? Does he agree that there is continuing public concern about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is it not the case that just a few weeks ago the UN weapons inspectors were working with some success there, but we were then told that there must be a war because they could not find the weapons, and were subsequently told that only American inspectors could find the weapons because they were concealed so well—and then learnt that the American inspectors were being withdrawn? This week we have been told that the weapons are so

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small and so well concealed that we may never find them anyway. Do we not need a full parliamentary debate, so that we can consider all the evidence?

Dr. Reid: Actually, the evidence is starting to emerge. Coalition forces have discovered two vehicles which appear to be mobile biological weapons facilities. Testing and analysis of the vehicles is continuing. I have no doubt that if they prove to be what they appear to be, someone will say "But there are no bacterial media in them at present".

For seven years the inspectors were finding thousands of litres and tonnes of evidence, but the fact that we have not found further evidence does not mean that the intervention to reduce the threat from Saddam Hussein was either illegal or improper. That is why I drew a comparison with a bank robber whose stolen money has not been found. As I have said, I am convinced, as I was when we went into Iraq, that there was a threat from weapons of mass destruction—

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Rubbish!

Dr. Reid: That is not a very constructive contribution. Moreover, it represents my hon. Friend's view against that of the united world community. The entire United Nations accepted that there was a threat from weapons of mass destruction. The only argument was about how we should deal with the threat; it was not about whether a threat existed. That is as true today as it was six months ago, and 12 years ago.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on local government which the Prime Minister might be able to attend? On two occasions I have raised the issue of local government funding and Derbyshire Dales. Yesterday I asked


The Prime Minister replied that there had been


He went on


The fact is that district councils have no responsibility whatever for education. Should the Prime Minister not understand the functions of local government before giving us answers? That answer was inaccurate.

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Dr. Reid: Let us discuss the financing rather than the function of local government. Let me put two simple facts to the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid I do not know the details relating to the council that he mentioned, but I do know two things. First, since this Government came to power there has been a 7 per cent. real-terms increase in local authority funding, whereas there was a 25 per cent. cut during the final four years of the last Government. Secondly, for the first time in the country's history, every council in England has received an increase above the rate of inflation.

Anne Picking (East Lothian): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the restrictions placed on postal services in the House recently? Some of us who work late into the night would like to have that service. Could my right hon. Friend use his good offices to improve matters?

Dr. Reid: Members on both sides of the House have mentioned the revised collection times. Having discussed the matter with Royal Mail and Postcomm, I can confirm that there has been a positive response, at least initially. Royal Mail will now discuss future arrangements for later collections with the authorities, and I will ensure that all Members are informed of the outcome. I cannot promise a substantial change, but I can prove that we are on track to secure some form of change, which I know will benefit everyone.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): It was unfortunate in the extreme that during last week's business questions the Leader of the House failed to respond to my request for a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the arrest of Liam Clarke, the Sunday Times journalist, by a large number of armed policemen in the middle of the night. The matter is not sub judice, and it does not involve the wider issues that the Leader of the House was trying to avoid.

This will not go away. This is not Iraq under Saddam Hussein; it is a civilised democracy, and we want a proper answer.

Dr. Reid: I will not respond to the last comment. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was not drawing any comparison between the way in which we conduct business and the way in which Saddam Hussein conducted business. [Interruption.] I think that the currency of debate is slightly demeaned if we draw such comparisons.

The right hon. Gentleman says that the case is not sub judice, but it does impinge on intelligence matters. I know that this will be disappointing and frustrating for the right hon. Gentleman, but I must repeat what I said last week: a comment has been made by the Prime Minister, and I do not want to add to it.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problems involving reminders to people to top up their national insurance contributions began before this Government were elected? I seem to remember that I received reminders in 1995 and 1996, but not in 1997. We were not elected until the summer

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of 1997, and I think that some of the responsibility for the choice and installation of computers must lie with the Conservative party.

Dr. Reid: I am not going to question my hon. Friend's memory. If it is accurate, I am sure that, as on all these occasions, the Conservative party will be only too willing to bear its share of the responsibility.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): What will the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure that there is no repeat of the nonsense that occurred throughout the Committee stage of the Finance Bill? Owing to what appeared to be an extremely unseemly and childish squabble between the two Front Benches, we found ourselves discussing inconsequential clauses and amendments, and we did not reach the Scottish National party's reasoned and considered amendment on the oil industry. Does the right hon. Gentleman not believe that when the public see the House indulging in such behaviour they rightly hold it in contempt?

Dr. Reid: I think that many important issues were discussed during the Finance Bill debates, as they always are. I think that people in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom want the Finance Bill, which affects their incomes, their outgoings and their quality of life, to be discussed as fully as possible. I very much regret that we did not manage to reach an amendment that was of particular interest to the SNP, but I do not think it right to diminish everything else that was discussed because of that.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): In the light of this week's decision by the European Court of Justice to effectively strike down this Parliament's right to decide whether the Government should have golden shares in publicly owned companies such as Royal Mail, may we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry? Many people will fear that the new forms of public ownership created by the Government may suffer the same fate.

Dr. Reid: I will draw that matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—I assume that she is the appropriate Secretary of State—not least because I am not entirely au fait with all the facts of the subject that my hon. Friend raises.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Does the Leader of the House accept that simply because there is not yet any clear and irrefutable evidence that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers are squabbling like ferrets in a sack about the single European currency, that does not mean that it is not happening? Does he therefore accept that it is time for the House of Commons to have a full debate on this issue, so that we can find out the truth?

Dr. Reid: That is very topical, if I might say so. We have stated publicly all along the criteria on which such judgments will be made, and that the decision will be a collective one. This weekend, 18 technical documents on the Treasury's assessment will be sent to every Cabinet Minister. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor will have bilateral meetings with Cabinet members next

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week to discuss those documents, and an initial discussion will take place at next week's Cabinet. We will of course continue to discuss them profoundly, and on 26 May we will circulate the assessment arising from the initial documents, which will be read by every member of the Cabinet during the Whitsun break. There will be further bilateral meetings between Cabinet members and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to look at the assessment, and there will be a special Cabinet on 5 or 6 June for a final discussion. An announcement will be made on 9 June, and I can confirm that a statement will be made in this House on that day. That is a fairly full, profound and collective approach to these matters.


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