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Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. May I join him, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, in extending our condolences to the families of the Black Watch personnel who have been killed or injured, as well as to those of the very brave civilians who are giving their support and assistance to the Black Watch in their extremely dangerous job? The families not only of serving Black Watch personnel but of the Scots Guards, who have reportedly been placed on replacement standby, would welcome some clarification of the Government's position on possible replacement forces, given that they are clearly adhering to their view that the Black Watch will be home by Christmas. The House and the families concerned would welcome any clarification that the Prime Minister can give them on that issue, not least because there were contradictory reports in the media this weekend on whether replacement forces would be deployed at the end of this period.

Whatever the original principled disagreements over the basis for the war, and, indeed, the more recent divergences of view over what many of us regarded as a strategic political and military shift over the Black Watch deployment, there is obviously consensus on wanting to see the democratic timetable and an independent Iraq achieved, and on our having no truck with terrorism. I am sure that the Prime Minister will acknowledge, however, that the real concerns over this American-led assault on Falluja—not least in terms of the civilian casualties involved—give rise to fair and legitimate questions. These questions have been raised on the international stage by Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and they are also arising within the Iraqi interim Government, not least in the different viewpoints now being expressed by the Prime Minister and the President there.

Does the Prime Minister agree that, whatever the events of the next few days and weeks in Falluja, it is essential that the Americans' conduct does not squander
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any moral capital or undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process, especially if that were to result in a Sunni boycott of any elections taking place in January? On a practical as well as moral level, will the Prime Minister address the question of what contingency plans have been put in place to deal with those insurgents who have already fled Falluja, or who will in due course be flushed out of the city and move to other parts of the country, perhaps to carry on their notorious activities there? Formal hostilities in Falluja are commencing as we speak, so I am sure that the Prime Minister will acknowledge that these are responsible questions to which the House will genuinely want to return in due course.

On the allied issue of Iran, the Prime Minister has already responded to some of the discussions that have taken place. He has an important summit meeting coming up later this week with President Bush, which is surely welcome, given the agenda that will be in front of them. If, as he suggested a moment ago, further discussions among the three European powers—the United Kingdom, France and Germany—will be taking place over the next few days, is he hopeful that he will be in a position to ask the President to endorse the strategy of these three countries in regard to Iran later this week in Washington? On completion of that summit meeting, does he intend to return to the House with a further statement of this kind, perhaps this time next week, to enable further discussions to take place?

On the issue of the eventual composition of the European Commission, does the Prime Minister agree that the way in which the European Parliament, as the directly elected representative body of all the member states, was able to have an impact on the President of the Commission should encourage one and all of a Eurosceptic disposition or otherwise that it is the proper forum in which proper European parliamentary pressure can be exerted to achieve a healthier, more desirable outcome? Does he also agree that this recent crisis, so-called, in fact redoubles the argument for a smaller Commission—ultimately—of precisely the type that the constitution puts forward?

Finally, on the issue of the constitution and the referendum pertaining to it, the Prime Minister has said that it is the Government's position that there should be a referendum in due course. Will he confirm that the Government, irrespective of what might happen in referendums that may precede one here, will proceed with a referendum, come what may, in this country? If the type of economic liberalism and greater economic flexibility, to which he alluded in his statement and which were discussed at the summit, are achieved, will he perhaps, on a future occasion, see scope for doubling up a referendum on the constitution with one on the single currency?

The Prime Minister: First, in respect of Iraq, let me say that although we had a disagreement about the war, I accept entirely that the questions the right hon. Gentleman is asking are perfectly legitimate ones to ask in this connection. I have made it clear that the Black Watch deployment will be finished so that the Black Watch is back in time for Christmas. It is not anticipated that the Scots Guards will replace the Black Watch in the job that it is doing at the present time.
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I also entirely agree that the important thing is to ensure that the democratic elections in Iraq go ahead. As I think we saw with Afghanistan, what happens in the course of the movement towards democracy is that some of those people who were anti-democratic forces end up on the defensive because people can see that there is a democratic process they can take part in. The power of some warlords in Afghanistan was broken not in the two years after the invasion, but in the few months running up to the democratic elections.

The decision in respect of Falluja was taken by the Iraqi Government. It is really important that people understand this. Prime Minister Allawi made it very clear when he was appointed by the United Nations—endorsed by the United Nations—back in June that decisions of this nature were for him. Anyone who heard his press conference today, including his description of exactly how those terrorists and insurgents are using hospitals, schools, mosques and other places to store explosives and to try to ensure that in removing them there is the maximum damage done, could hear from his statement how passionately he believes that this is important. I understand that the decision has also been endorsed by the National Assembly. The very fear that he and others have is that if these terrorists and insurgents are allowed to carry on effectively making no-go areas in Iraq for the Iraqi Government, the issue of elections will be made more difficult.

That brings me to the UN and the Secretary-General's letter. He said in that letter that the Iraqi elections are what he called, I think, the keystone of progress in Iraq. That is true. It is true also that he went on to express reservations about the action in Falluja, but as Prime Minister Allawi says, without the action in Falluja the keystone of the democratic process may be at risk. That is the important reason for doing it.

I think the Secretary-General is right also in saying it is important that we retain the moral high ground in fighting for elections in Iraq, but I say this to him and to others: part of us doing that is to keep emphasising the whole time to people that if the terrorists and insurgents would stop, elections would go forward. There would be full participation by Sunnis and others in those elections. Everyone wants that to happen. If the terrorism and insurgency stopped, there would be no need for American and British and other countries' troops to help the Iraqi forces before they are able to look after Iraq on their own.

The truth of the matter is that it is the terrorism that keeps troops from America, Britain and elsewhere there. If it stopped, of course, the Iraqi Government would be able to assume control of those areas, the UN-sponsored elections would take place and we would have a democratically elected Government. That is why I say to people that the absolutely critical argument to understand is that these terrorists are not fighting foreign troops because of their presence—they are fighting them because they are an obstacle to preventing democratic elections. They know that if democratic elections happen, people will never give up democracy.

In Afghanistan, turnout was highest among women, and highest in the areas where the Taliban used to hold sway. It is obvious from the past few weeks, I am afraid, that the terrorists have an increasingly sophisticated strategy, in relation to how they operate, what they say and how they play the modern media. They are trying to
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ensure that they focus attention not on their attempt to prevent democracy but on the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, when they know perfectly well that those forces would leave if only the terrorism stopped.

In respect of Iran, the Americans, France, Germany and the UK take the same line: we have all made it clear that it is not acceptable for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons capability. It should come into compliance with the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are trying to put maximum pressure on it to do that. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would endorse that strategy, which we all endorse.

In respect of the European Parliament, I sort of agree with what the right hon. Gentleman says. In respect of a smaller Commission, I entirely agree with what he says—in time, I think that that is important. We have made it clear that we will have a referendum on the EU constitution. As for combining that with one on the euro, we have always made it clear that membership of the single currency must be decided on the basis of the economic tests, and that remains the case.

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