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Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green) (Lab): I have spoken about Cyprus and Turkey in Adjournment debates on many occasions, so it should be no surprise that I come back to those matters today, so soon after the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 16 and 17 December and the Prime Minister's statement only yesterday. At the end of my remarks, I shall put one straightforward question, as I did not receive an answer from my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House to the question I put in a previous Adjournment debate.
I have no objection whatever to Turkey eventually joining the European Union. I am not opposed to the majority faith in Turkey. On the contrary, currently the only positive reason for the commencement of accession negotiations might be that Turkey is a Muslim country. In many other respects, Turkey still fails miserably and has a long way to go.
"The European Council agreed that Turkey should begin negotiations on 3 October 2005, during the British presidency of Europe. Before this happens, however, Turkey will need to complete its latest reform package. The Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan, confirmed during the European Council that he was ready to sign before 3 October the protocol to the Ankara agreement extending the European Union and Turkey customs union to the 10 new EU member states. That does not constitute formal legal recognition of the Republic of Cyprus."[Official Report, 20 December 2004; Vol.428, c. 1921.]
The last line of that quotation is disturbing: there will be no formal legal recognition of a full member of the EU by an aspirant member when accession negotiations are supposed to start, on 3 October 2005.
In reality, now that Cyprus is a full member of the EU, there is no longer a Cyprus problemthere is a Turkey problem about Cyprus. I shall now quote from the statement of the President of Cyprus, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, made two days ago on Sunday 19 December, on the outcome of the European Council. He said:
"The decision of the European Council incorporates Turkey's commitment to sign the Protocol for the expansion of the Customs Union, so as to apply also in respect of the Republic of Cyprus before October 3, 2005.
First, this commitment is included in the Conclusions and not in an accompanying text and has exactly the same weight and importance as the other provisions of the Conclusions. Second, and perhaps more important, is the fact that it is a necessary prerequisite that Turkey has to fulfil before the start of accession negotiations on October 3, 2005."
"The Protocol does not constitute a simple procedural multilateral agreement. It covers a wide range of issues, such as the movement of people and goods, agriculture, all kinds of transport and many other issues."
I quite understand the specifics to which President Papadopoulos referred, and the protocol of course requires EU negotiations, but bilateral negotiations will also have to be held. President Papadopoulos clearly indicates that the bilateral negotiations require a formal, legal recognition of the Republic of Cyprus by Turkey. Will my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House clarify this matter? Is there to be formal, legal recognition before 3 October 2005? If the answer is no, Cyprus might well veto the talks on 3 October 2005.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): May I say how much I have enjoyed the past five hours or so, listening to the many and varied contributions, and how lucky the Deputy Leader of the House is to draw this duty? He even has the opportunity to reply to them, which is an added bonus. It has been a very enjoyable experience indeed.
I should like to take up the strong thread of concern that has been one of the features of this Adjournment debate and follow the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) in reflecting the anxiety felt by many of us across the parties about the need to emphasise Executive accountability to Parliament by laying a case for impeachment against the Prime Minister, as reflected in motion 37 on today's Order Paper on the conduct of the Prime Minister in relation to the Iraq war.
I also noted in Labour Members' contributions two informed speeches by the hon. Members for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that, although they were made from different perspectives, were both excellent.
I, too, saw the Prime Minister's press conference this morning in Baghdad. I noted that after the last question the Prime Minister asked the interpreter to wait until the press conference had finished before delivering the interpretation. The television commentator said that the security advice was that the live part of the press conference had gone on long enough. It struck me at that point, reflecting on what the hon. Member for Ilford, South said, that it is inconceivable that the Prime Minister could have believed that the consequence of launching a war in Iraq in the early part of last year could be a situation where tens of thousands of people are dead, where the country is in a state of carnage and chaos and where even within that bubble of security it is not possible to continue a press conference for any length of time because of security considerations.
The other feature of that press conference that I noted was that the phrase, "weapons of mass destruction" was never mentioned. As the hon. and learned Member for
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Harborough said, many people would like us to experience collective amnesia about the fact that last year the House and the public were told that WMD were the casus belli for the war.
I want to base my remarks largely on the excellent pamphlet that I have in my hand, "A Case to Answer," which was commissioned by my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr and written by two academics, Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch. Hon. Members will remember that Glen Rangwala was the academic who discovered last spring that the dodgy dossierthe plagiarised PhD thesiswas dodgy. Dan Plesch is well known. He is an honorary fellow of Birkbeck college, university of London, and a visiting research fellow at the university of Keele. He is a widely read historian, author and commentator.
The authors of the document present the substantive body of evidence that requires the House to take seriously the motion on the Order Paper and to call to account, in terms of our own self-respect and in terms of our own proceedings, the Executive and the Prime Minister in particular.
The case is that the Prime Minister made 28 statements about Iraq's weapons that were not supported by the intelligence assessments available to him. To give but one example, on 17 September 2002, his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, wrote in an e-mail that when publishing the intelligence dossier the Government needed to make it clear that
One week later, however, when the Prime Minister presented the dossier to the House of Commons, he said that the threat was "serious and current". It is impossible to reconcile the e-mail from the Prime Minister's chief of staff with the statement that the Prime Minister made to the House a week later.
Twelve occasions documented in "A Case to Answer" show that the Prime Minister failed either to disclose available counter-evidence or to ensure that it came into the public domain. I was particularly struck by Saddam Hussein's ill-fated son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who was often cited by the Prime Minister as providing evidence for the possession of weapons of mass destruction. However, we now know from the Butler inquiry that British intelligence had access to information that that gentleman gave the UN weapons inspectors on 7 August 1995, when he said that he had personally ordered the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. That information proved to be correct, but the point is that, although available, it was not presented to the House or to the wider public.
Butler expressed great surprise at the failure formally to withdraw material that was found to be false until much later in the process. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr pointed out, even now the Prime Minister is disinclined to tell us when that particular fact became available to him. Finally, on the question of whether the Prime Minister entered into an agreement with the United States without the consent of Cabinet, Parliament or the people, when my hon. Friend offered evidence that he had, the Deputy Leader of the House became particularly agitated and appeared to disagree with him, even though my hon. Friend quoted from a series of leaked e-mails and documents from reliable Executive sources.
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I was struck by "Plan of Attack" which was written by Bob Woodwardwho was involved in a previous impeachmentwith the compliance of the White House, and describes events in September 2002. It states:
"On the morning of Sept. 7, 2002 Blair left London on a transatlantic flight to see Bush at Camp David. In Blair's conversations with Bush, it was increasingly clear to the Prime Minister how committed Bush was to action . . . Bush looked Blair in the eye. 'Saddam Hussein is a threat. And we must work together to deal with this threat, and the world will be better off without him.' Bush recalled that he was 'probing' and 'pushing' the Prime Minister. He said it might requirewould probably entailwar. Blair might have to send British troops. 'I'm with you,' the Prime Minister replied, looking Bush back in the eye, pledging flat out to commit British military force if necessary, the critical promise that Bush had been seeking."
If we believe that account or, even more pertinently, the other information now in the public domain, it is nothing like what the House of Commons was then being told. Any reasonable personthat may, or may not, include the Deputy Leader of the Housewould at least conclude from the dossier and the mass of information that there was a process whereby the House was not told the truth and that there is a case to answer. Some people say that that should be done through an election, but elections are conducted on many issues. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition agreed at their respective party conferences that the key issue was one of trust.
I hope indeed that the key issue in the general election is one of trust. I have the results of a System Three Scottish opinion poll that asked which party is trusted in Scotland. The fieldwork was carried out on 27 October, and the Scottish national party came top. The "don't knows" came second, then Labour, and then the Liberals. The Conservatives had 7 per cent., which seems a bit high to me, and then came the other parties. Given that the Prime Minister identified the lack of trust in him as an issue that results from the Iraq war, I hope that the election will be about trust because that would influence the result and I would be very happy indeed. I suspect, however, that the election pattern in Scotland will not exactly reflect that question of trust but reflect other issues as well. An election is about many issues, not one in particular.
Some people say that there should be a vote of confidence, but such a vote is about confidence in a Government, not the actions of an individual Minister or a Prime Minister. Many Labour Members would gladly replace the Prime Minister with the Chancellor of the Exchequer if they could, but if it came to a motion of confidence in the Government they would vote loyally with the Government. Some people say that the matter should be, or has been, settled by inquiry, but there is something profoundly unacceptable about inquiries whose terms of reference and personnel are chosen by the person who should be inquired into. That is not the case in any proper judicial process.
Lastly, this issue comes down to whether impeachment remains to us in the parliamentary armoury. I am grateful to Lord Murray for some information that is pertinent to our consideration of that issue. In April 1977, a motion at the Young Liberals' annual conference in Weston-super-Mare was
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unanimously passed that called on the then Liberal leader, David Steel, to introduce a Commons motion to impeach Ronald King Murray, who was Lord Advocate for Scotland at the time. Presiding over that conference was a young man called Peter Hain, who is now, of course, the Leader of the House of Commons.
"I remember the suggestion to impeach me, which was, of course, entirely misconceived . . . It is, nevertheless, perfectly permissible to move an impeachment motion in the Commons, and I do not think a debate can be avoided."
He went on to say that, in his opinion, impeachment remains part of the parliamentary process; indeed, it is an essential part of calling a Government to account. The evidence is there and the case needs to be answered. A shadow will be cast over the body politic until we parliamentarians find a way to make progress, and if we are to act with self-respect, we shall do just that.
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