Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 220-239)

6 JULY 2004


  Q220 Mr Ainsworth: Both?

  Mr Blair: I think we have already got nuclear power now. What happens with the future generation we have got to leave open, but for the near future we will be meeting some of our requirements through nuclear power, obviously.

  Q221 Mrs Dunwoody: Prime Minister, transport is responsible for a quarter of our carbon emissions, so if we find difficulty with the big problems perhaps we could target that. Can you tell me, since cars are getting cleaner but there are many more of them, why we still only have a voluntary agreement with the manufacturers? Could you also tell me, which is more important: keeping the money for the Treasury that we get from the fuel tax or moving towards alternative fuels?

  Mr Blair: Well we obviously need the fuel tax because otherwise we cannot pay the bills, but we are trying to develop alternative fuels as well.

  Q222 Mrs Dunwoody: Why is it that Japan, America, Canada and Germany are all ahead of us in the fuel cell technology research, and we could easily be encouraging local authorities to set up hydrogen highways in this country; we could be using bus fleets, we could be using a number of different plans to move forward the whole hydrogen technology thing, yet we are suggesting "We can't really take too much account of that because it is for the future." We could be doing that now. Why are we not?

  Mr Blair: We do a certain amount by way of incentives that people are given, and that is why the Chancellor has introduced a whole series of incentives over the past few years. I agree with you, you can always put more money into hydrogen research, you can put more money into renewable energy—you can put more money into everything—but there is a limit to the amount of money we have got to spend, and if we start taking money off fuel duty that means I have to cut it from somewhere else in the Budget.

  Q223 Mrs Dunwoody: It does not matter how often we call them "challenging targets", the reality is that we are not going to hit the 2010 target. What are we going to do about that?

  Mr Blair: I do not accept that we will not. I do agree that it is challenging but I do not accept that we will not meet it. However, in the end we have to decide where are we going to put our money and our research. We have, basically, focused on the renewable. It is true other countries have focused on hydrogen; there was a massive investment going on in the US in that, and of course the technology as it develops will be a technology that, no doubt, everyone can use. The simple answer is there is no limit to the amount of money we can invest in this but there has to be a limit to the amount of money the Government practically can put into it.

  Q224 Mrs Dunwoody: This country now has a very important role in car manufacturing and is supplying very high quality, niche products to American markets. That work already exists; we know it is happening. Why are we not creating within this country the situation which means that we could continue to benefit from that and actually lead rather than follow?

  Mr Blair: What sort of things do you—

  Q225 Mrs Dunwoody: If you look at the work that is being done by General Motors in America, if you look at work that is going on in Berkley, large amounts of that work are based on what is happening in car manufacturing in this country. Why are we not saying to them, "We will give you a hydrogen highway, we will give you some way of encouraging car manufacturing so we are ahead of that curve"?

  Mr Blair: All these things can be looked at, Gwyneth.

  Q226 Mrs Dunwoody: Not just looking at it—we are already contributing through transport. So we have a choice, we can use taxation, we can use research, we can use encouragement. What are we going to do—sit back and say "These are difficult questions. We will do them in about ten years' time"?

  Mr Blair: No, because, to be fair, as I say, there have been all sorts of incentives given for cleaner fuels, and so on, in the Budgets over the past seven years. However, in the end, the hard question is this: how much money are you prepared to commit to research, for example, in the hydrogen field? You can provide incentives for companies to do it but, in the end, what they will want is—and a lot of the money that is going into this type of research in the United States is—public money. We have put our research effort into other areas, it is true, but you are not going to be able to do everything, I am afraid, with limited resources.

  Chairman: Thank you. Now we move to Iraq and to the Middle East, to the war on terror, and to Alan Beith.

  Q227 Mr Beith: Prime Minister, before turning to Iraq I would like to clear up a point about Guantanamo. We now know from the Attorney General that you have personally asked President Bush to repatriate the four remaining British detainees. When did you do that and by what process?

  Mr Blair: We have been engaged in this discussion with the US over a number of months and we formally requested the return of the four that are remaining there a few weeks ago. There are still discussions now about what will happen in respect of them. The basic situation remains as it has always been: that if we do have them back here we have to make sure that we can also guarantee our own security.

  Q228 Mr Beith: You said "a few weeks ago". Was that in the form of a personal exchange between you and the President?

  Mr Blair: Yes, it was. I think that the issue is the same as it has always been, and I made it clear—I think I said this in an interview a few days ago—that Guantanamo Bay is an anomaly that, at some point, has got to be brought to an end; there is no doubt about that at all. So far as the British detainees are concerned, we have got the five back, the four we are still discussing, but we need to be absolutely sure when we have them back here that we can cater properly for our own security. There is a reason why we got five back and we are still debating the four.

  Q229 Mr Beith: What was the President's initial response to the personal request you put to him?

  Mr Blair: The American response has been the same all the way through, that in the end if the trial requirements do not meet our standards then they will come back but we also need to make sure they are not going to be a threat either to people in this country or elsewhere. That is the nature of the discussion that is taking place.

  Q230 Mr Beith: So is your argument that you, in your own mind, have not been able to satisfy the President that you can meet that requirement?

  Mr Blair: It is not a question of not being able to satisfy him. It is difficult because I do not want to go into the details of each of these four cases, but we got five back immediately when we decided that the trial system in the United States did not correspond to the Attorney General's stipulations, and the four we are in discussion with the United States about. I hope we can resolve it reasonably soon, but I do not think the United States is being unreasonable in saying "We need to make sure that there is proper security in place for these people".

  Q231 Mr Beith: Can you not just give that assurance?

  Mr Blair: We have to make sure that we can actually do it, and that is not altogether easy.

  Q232 Mr Beith: So it is a slightly different picture to the one presented by the Defence Secretary who said: "We can certainly set out what is the position of the British Government, but we would have to be realistic—we are not always successful."

  Mr Blair: The success arises in relation to whether we can give sufficient undertakings that these people—I do not want to go into the detail of their cases, but there is an issue about these particular people, in respect of the United States, that is not just about their status as detainees, and I need to be very clear in respect of our own country that we are not putting anyone at risk.

  Q233 Mr Beith: At the moment are you not clear?

  Mr Blair: I am not yet satisfied that we have the necessary machinery in place, but we are working on that.

  Q234 Mr Beith: So your request is on hold?

  Mr Blair: It is not on hold, there is a discussion taking place about this. The difficulty for us is this: we all know that we are faced with a significant terrorist threat. Let us be clear, all of these people (not going into individual cases at all) were picked up in circumstances where we believe, at the very least, there are issues that need to be resolved, let us say, in respect of those individuals. Certainly from what I have seen about those individual cases, I would need to be very, very clear that there was in place in this country a sufficient infrastructure and machinery to be able to protect our own security.

  Q235 Donald Anderson: On that: was the timing of your request to the President "some few weeks ago" subsequent to the issuing of court proceedings by lawyers on behalf of the four?

  Mr Blair: The formal request, as it were, was subsequent to those proceedings, but actually this discussion has been going on for a significant period of time. The position of the US has, basically, been the same throughout. It is not so much that we are saying, "We want these people back", and the United States is saying, "We are not having a discussion with you about that". That is not what is going on; what is going on is an attempt to make sure that we can do this in a way that meets our own security requirements. I know this is a very difficult thing, and we feel somewhat hindered in our explanation to people because it would be easy to read parts of the media in relation to these people and say "What on earth have they done?" I just have to be careful in terms of the security of this country as well, and in respect of these individuals—not going into their individual cases at all (it would be obviously wrong to do it)—this thing did not arise out of some sort of random event.

  Q236 Sir George Young: Prime Minister, can we try to round off a discussion that we had a year ago when you appeared before the Liaison Committee? You were pressed quite hard by a number of us on weapons of mass destruction. On several occasions you referred to the Iraq Survey Group, and you invited us to wait and see. We have waited but we have not seen. Do you now accept that the evidence may not be there?

  Mr Blair: The Iraq Survey Group will do a final report, but, as I think I have said elsewhere, the two things we do know are these: we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction but we know we have not found them.

  Q237 Sir George Young: We knew that a year ago, and you invited us to wait and see the evidence. You went on to say: "I am very confident they will find the evidence." Sir Jeremy Greenstock, on Sunday, said the evidence is just not there. Do you agree with him?

  Mr Blair: As I say, what I have to accept is that I was very, very confident we would find them; I was very confident, even when I spoke to you this time last year, that the Iraq Survey Group would find them because all the intelligence and evidence we had was that these weapons of mass destruction existed. I have to accept that we have not found them and that we may not find them. What I would say very strongly, however, is that to go to the opposite extreme and say, therefore, no threat existed from Saddam Hussein would be a mistake. We do not know what has happened to them; they could have been removed, they could have been hidden, they could have been destroyed. At some point, I hope that we will find, when the Iraq Survey Group make their final report, exactly what it is they say. As you know, the Iraq Survey Group, and what they have said already, indicates quite clearly that there have been breaches of the United Nations' resolutions. They do not, in any shape or form, say he was not a threat but, it is absolutely true, they have said that in their view the stockpiles of WMD have not been found.

  Q238 Sir George Young: If we may never find them, in retrospect, perhaps, was it a mistake to put so much emphasis on weapons of mass destruction and less emphasis on regime change?

  Mr Blair: I think the important thing is to go back to what the purpose of this action was. The purpose of the action was in order to enforce the United Nations resolutions. That is why I say it is very important not to go to the other extreme and say, "Because we have not found actual stockpiles of WMD, therefore he was not a threat." It is absolutely clear from the evidence that has already been found by the Iraq Survey Group that he had the strategic capability, the intent and that he was in multiple breaches of the United Nations' resolutions. There is no point in me sitting here and saying "I am saying the same to you now as I said a year ago" because the year has passed and we have not found the actual stockpiles of weapons. I genuinely believe that those stockpiles of weapons were there; I think that most people did, and that is why the whole of the international community came together and passed the United Nations resolution it did, but that is a very different thing from saying Saddam was not a threat; the truth is he was a threat to his region and to the wider world, and the world is a safer place without him.

  Q239 Sir George Young: I think we fought the right war but it sounds as if we fought it for the wrong reasons.

  Mr Blair: No, I do not think that is right either, because I think that that would be to suggest there was no issue in relation to Saddam and WMD. What Jeremy Greenstock said on Sunday is probably what most people speculate about, because, as I say, we know he had the weapons—he used them against his own people—but we have not found them. So you have to accept that. The question is what was the nature of this threat from Saddam? Maybe it is different in the sense that he retained strategic capability and intent; he may have removed, hidden or even destroyed those weapons—we do not know and we have to wait for the Iraq Survey Group to complete its findings—but what I would not accept is that he was not a threat and a threat in WMD terms.

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