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2.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Andrew Mackinlay: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I know that my hon. Friend seeks to set records, but it is a record to be intervened on while moving an amendment. I give way.

Andrew Mackinlay: My right hon. Friend read out the amendment—unfortunately, I shall have to support it tonight, because I am subject to the Whips—which states that the Intelligence and Security Committee was set up by Parliament. It is not a matter of semantics to say that that Committee was not set up by Parliament. It is appointed by the Prime Minister and is answerable to him. It is not a creature of Parliament. The Foreign Affairs Committee is the only appropriate body, because it was set up by Parliament. The ISC might have been set up under statute, but the Committee is constituted by the Prime Minister, and is fatally flawed for that reason.

Mr. Straw: I shall deal with that issue immediately. The Committee was indeed established by Parliament and, for the avoidance of any doubt, I have in front of me a report of the Second Reading of the Bill that established it, from 22 February 1994. The Intelligence Services Act 1994, which contained provision for the establishment of the Committee, was approved, without Division, by all parties in the House. Although my hon. Friend would have been right to say that some of us, including myself, had some reservations at the time about whether that was the best mechanism for holding the intelligence and security agencies properly to account—there was an argument about whether a Special Select Committee was appropriate—nobody who has served on the Committee, or has had to give evidence to it, as I have regularly in each of the past six years, has anything but the highest regard for its independence, professionalism and integrity. Report after report from the Committee testifies to the fact that it is well capable of forensic examination of the issues and independence of judgment.

As for the appointment of the Committee by the Prime Minister, I shall lift the veil on a debate that has been going on for some time. One of the arguments—I

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am sorry, I shall rephrase that, because we do not have arguments in the Government: one of the differences of emphasis that I have had with some of my colleagues is that I think that it would be better to bite the bullet and establish a Select Committee. We could make similar arrangements for the security clearance of its members and the special security of all the evidence.

Andrew Mackinlay: You were not cleared as president of the National Union of Students.

Mr. Straw: With great respect, I was cleared, but I do not want to go into that issue because it would take too long. Given my past, I can tell the House that my clearance under the old positive vetting procedure was not just a matter of a tick in a box. I had at least three successive grillings by officers of the security services, but in the end I received a tick. Years later, when the fact that the security services held files on me—which I already knew—became public, I refused to abuse my position as Home Secretary to see the files.

In practice, the membership list of the Intelligence and Security Committee is drawn up in the same way as the membership list of an ordinary Select Committee. It is drawn up by debate between the Whips across the Houses. The idea that somehow the Prime Minister can stop the publication of the judgments of the Committee is simply untrue.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) indicated assent.

Mr. Straw: I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that, because he is a distinguished member of the ISC. What actually happens is that every time the Committee reports, it does so—under statute approved by Parliament—to the Prime Minister. The purpose of that is to allow for redactions, or deletions—and it is always indicated where they occur—in the report, to protect highly sensitive information. To my knowledge, no Prime Minister in this or any previous Administration has ever desired or sought to amend any judgment made by the ISC. Were any Prime Minister—or Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, as those responsible for the day-to-day running of the agencies—to try to amend such a judgment, the Chairman and the members would be the first to tell the House about it, and in my opinion, it would be a matter for resignation. It would be preposterous to try to amend the Committee's judgment, and no one would try. I hope that that answers the point about the integrity of the Committee.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): On that point, will my right hon. Friend give a cast-iron assurance that no amendments will be made to the report by the Prime Minister, or anyone else in 10 Downing street?

Mr. Straw: May I explain to my hon. Friend that amendments are never made to the report? I have just gone through the forthcoming draft report and I was asked for my agreement on a number of what are called redactions. As it happens, I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Ann Taylor), the Chairman of the ISC, that I refused to agree one deletion, on the

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grounds that I could see no good reason for it. As a result, I think that that item is now going to surface. What my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and I are asked to approve is, for example, that very sensitive source information or financial information be taken out. However, we never ever seek to amend the report, and still less to suppress its judgment. My hon. Friend asks for an undertaking that there will be no attempt to amend the report, apart from any deletions of the sort that I have described, and I give him that categorical and cast-iron undertaking.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park) rose—

Mr. Straw: I turn now to the overall context in respect of Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt briefly with that earlier, but only eight weeks have passed since Saddam Hussein's brutal regime fell. In that time, we and our coalition partners have set about the task of helping the people of Iraq to build a more secure, prosperous and democratic nation. Enormous challenges remain in what will be a long-term commitment, but we believe that the situation in the north and the south is slowly improving. However, as I told the House on 12 May—I am sorry to have to repeat it today—the situation in Baghdad and the surrounding region remains unsatisfactory. The establishment of a secure environment in Baghdad, and the provision of services there, are a top priority for the coalition. That was one of the main items of discussion between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush last week.

When I made my last report to the House on 12 May, I informed hon. Members of the progress that we were seeking to make to obtain a Security Council resolution establishing the "vital role" for the UN to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush had committed themselves at Hillsborough on 8 April. On the first day of our recent recess, United Nations Security Council resolution 1483 was passed. Copies have been placed in the Library, but I am pleased to tell the House that this resolution more than delivers on the Hillsborough undertaking.

Clare Short: Obviously, we all know that that is a Security Council resolution, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is a compromise, in that the UN is being given only a parallel role with the coalition, rather than the primary role in bringing an Iraqi interim authority into being. However, I read in the press that the American representative in Iraq has said that the idea of holding a conference to bring forward an Iraqi Government has been cancelled, and that a smaller group is to be selected for that purpose. What is the UN's role in that?

Mr. Straw: I was about to come to those matters, and I shall deal directly with my right hon. Friend's second point. Of course, the resolution was indeed a compromise. That is an inevitable and inherent—indeed, an admirable—part of the process by which 15 different member states of the Security Council come together to debate, negotiate and—we hope—agree Security Council resolutions.

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Paragraph 11 of resolution 1483 reaffirms that Iraq

and also recalls Security Council resolutions 687, 1284 and 1441, the key disarmament resolutions passed since the Gulf war.

Resolution 1483 was passed unanimously, after much negotiation and after Britain, the US and Spain—the countries that moved the resolution—had first tabled the original draft. I always made it clear—in private to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), and publicly—that the draft was a draft and that if we wanted the unanimous agreement that we got in the end there would have to be compromises.

However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, among others, has sometimes suggested that it is possible to secure votes by some kind of additional pressure. I think that "bullying" was the word that she used, but the experience of the past nine months shows clearly that members of the Security Council make up their own minds on the issues before them. That is simply a matter of fact. Sadly, they did not agree to the so-called "second resolution" in March. We tried very hard, but the Security Council decided not to agree to that resolution, and we did not put it to a vote. However, it did agree last November to resolution 1441—again after a good process of negotiation and compromise, and it agreed to resolution 1483 on 22 May.

I ask the House this question: would France, China, Russia and Germany have called just two weeks ago for Iraq to meet its disarmament obligations if they had believed that those obligations had already been met? Of course they would not. Yet the Security Council—which is made up of grown-up countries perfectly able to decline to vote in favour of a US-UK resolution when they wish—repeated at the beginning of operational paragraph 11 that Iraq must meet its "disarmament obligations".

I shall deal directly with the other point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. It is true that Mr. Bremer has proposed that the Baghdad conference should be delayed and that, pro tem, there should be an arrangement of the kind that my right hon. Friend has described, to assist the coalition authority. We are in active discussion with the US about that, but we also believe that what the US and the coalition provisional authority—effectively, the US and the UK—are doing is fully consistent with resolution 1483.

I have two other things to say on this matter. First, I shall write with more details to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, and I shall place that reply in the Library. Secondly, one of the good things achieved by the process of negotiation on resolution 1483 was a significantly strengthened role for what was originally to be a special co-ordinator from the UN. That post is now that of a special representative, who has powers with which I believe the Secretary-General is very happy. In turn, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. de Mello, who I think is well known to my right hon. Friend; he is a man of the highest reputation and integrity in the international community. He has undertaken to report regularly to

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the Security Council. If he feels at any stage that what we are doing is unsatisfactory, he will make his own report to the Security Council.

I should add that under resolution 1483, the US and the UK—the coalition provisional authority—are required to make very regular reports to the Security Council. I am absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood—I am sure that the whole House is—in wanting to ensure that the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush about a vital role for the UN are translated into real action. I believe that they have been, in resolution 1483.

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