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5. Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): What measures the Government will take to combat piracy. [123869]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): The United Kingdom is working hard for a concerted and effective approach to combat piracy. We are making progress through the UN, with political and international legal initiatives. Together with our EU partners, we have taken a lead in promoting practical co-operation against piracy.

Mr. Foulkes : The matter is serious, as the Minister rightly implies. It is not the romantic piracy that we see on films. The problem is especially serious in African and Asian waters, where bulk carriers, containers, cargo ships, oil tankers and other vessels have been hijacked and their crews seized and terrorised. Will the Minister consider taking further action through the International Maritime Organisation and other international bodies?

Mr. Mullin: My right hon. Friend is right—it is a serious issue. We work closely with international maritime organisations. The key is to ensure that countries with nationals who engage in piracy take the problem seriously. We have worked with them to ensure that they protect shipping in and adjacent to their waters. I am glad to say that recently there have been some successful prosecutions. India prosecuted 14 Indonesian pirates, who received long prison sentences. Long prison sentences were also handed out in China. Indonesia handed out prison sentences, too, although they were rather shorter than we would like. Those are examples of countries that are beginning to take the problem seriously.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

6. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Whether the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes originated within his Department. [123871]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): No. The claim in the September dossier that the Iraqi military could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of

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being given an order to do so was based on intelligence material, assessed as reliable by the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Harry Cohen : Is the Select Committee right in saying that the 45-minute claim came from a single uncorroborated source, which was even wrongly quoted in the September dossier? Why was it given such prominence and by whom? Did the Foreign Secretary show a lack of discernment about that very dodgy claim, or is his responsibility for foreign security services purely nominal? Should there not be scarlet faces in Whitehall over the poor quality intelligence, poorly used?

Mr. Straw: The intelligence relating to the 45 minutes was subjected to the same rigorous assessment by the Joint Intelligence Committee as all other intelligence is. There was no interference by anyone else, as the Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged in its report yesterday.

The 45-minute claim was given neither undue prominence in the dossier nor undue prominence in any debates or arguments that followed. If hon. Members on both sides of the House look at what they said in the House on the subject between September and March, they will find that it was scarcely mentioned. Moreover, on the best analysis of the comprehensive records available in the Foreign Office, we can find no occasion whatsoever when, in the scores and scores of interviews that I gave on Iraq over that eight-month period, I was asked one question about the 45-minute claim by any representative of the British press, TV or radio.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): But as of today, does the Foreign Secretary still believe that Iraq was capable of launching chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes? If so, on what evidence is that based?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I do. The evidence was before the House very clearly indeed on 18 March. It was overwhelmingly open-source evidence and it was clearly set out. I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to the House that we need to recall that between September and November, there was the most intensive discussion internationally about whether Iraq posed a threat. Every single member country of the United Nations, including Russia, France and China, as well as the US and UK, concluded and asserted in resolution 1441 that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security on account of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, its unlawful missile systems and its defiance of the will of the United Nations. It was because of Iraq's failure actively and immediately to co-operate with the inspectors that the House rightly made the decision to take military action on 18 March. It was right then and it would be right again to do so.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): Does my right hon. Friend agree with Alastair Campbell's criticism of the BBC for reporting on the basis of a single, anonymous, uncorroborated source, and if so, should undue prominence have been given to the 45-minute deployment claim—four times in the document,

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including in the Prime Minister's introduction, as well as in his speech—without any indication that it was based on a single, anonymous, uncorroborated source?

Mr. Straw: There was a world of difference between the source of the 45-minute claim in that JIC assessment and the source, if such it be, of Mr. Gilligan's claim. Yes, I do agree with Mr. Campbell. The BBC did get it wrong, and it should acknowledge that.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Given the report in today's edition of the Washington Post that states:

does the Foreign Secretary agree that that assertion should not have been included in the September dossier?

Mr. Straw: I have not read the Washington Post this morning. I will catch up with it later. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and heard the evidence that I gave not only in public, but in private. As he well knows, the information that was included in the dossier and assessed as reliable relating to the purchase of uranium—not that Iraq had purchased it, but the fact that it had sought to purchase it—was based on sources quite separate from those based on the forged documents, about whose provenance we knew nothing until earlier this year.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I voted against the Iraqi war five times, I did not vote because of 45 minutes, the right-wing BBC or any of that stuff? I voted against the war on principle, because I thought it was wrong to follow that cowboy Bush into invading another country. If that carries on, we do not know where it will stop. I have been staggered by the number of times I have read about the 45 minutes since I came out of hospital. It was not the central issue. All I would say to my right hon. Friend, and to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, is "Next time you see that cowboy Bush walking towards you, avert your eyes and walk the other way."

Hon. Members: Welcome back!

Mr. Straw: I have already, in private, welcomed my hon. Friend back, and I am delighted to do so publicly. Unlike some Members of the House and many sections of the media, my hon. Friend is not seeking to rewrite history. The idea that the argument between September and March was about the 45-minute claim is utter nonsense. My hon. Friend is entirely correct about that. I invite every Member of the House, on whichever side of the argument they were, to examine what they said, and if they can point to more than two occasions when they mentioned 45 minutes, I will ensure that they are personally given two tickets to the opening game of Burnley football club.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes): Is not the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the sponsoring Department of MI6 and therefore of the intelligence information provided for the relevant dossiers? When, therefore, did

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the Foreign Secretary first realise that the dodgy dossier was not an intelligence document, but, to coin a phrase, a horlicks? Was it before he allowed United States Secretary Colin Powell to commend it to the United Nations Security Council as "exquisite"? Was it before he allowed the Prime Minister to mislead the country by misrepresenting its status as further intelligence? If he knew that it was not an intelligence document, did he tell them so, and if, as head of the sponsoring Department, he had not been told that this was not an intelligence document, should not some heads roll?

Mr. Straw: Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman and the House. I have already acknowledged in round terms—[Interruption.] I am answering the questions; hon. Members should pay attention. I have already acknowledged, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done, that mistakes were made about the process relating to the document. They were wrong and we have apologised for that, but the contents of the document were accurate. The Foreign Affairs Committee at no stage challenged the accuracy of that document. Much of the document was drawn from intelligence and the Committee said that its contents were "important". As to the dates when I knew, I will write to him, but—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): And put it in the Library.

Mr. Straw: I shall make it available in Hansard.

As far as I recall, it was after the dates of the statements by Secretary Powell and, I think, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

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