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ASBOs (North Yorkshire)

20. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What recent discussions she has had with the Crown Prosecution Service on the breaching of antisocial behaviour orders in North Yorkshire. [223618]

The Solicitor General: I spoke yesterday to Dan Jones, who is the Crown Prosecution Service antisocial behaviour co-ordinator in North Yorkshire.
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Miss McIntosh: I am most grateful for that answer. Can the Solicitor-General confirm that those who breach an antisocial behaviour order in North Yorkshire are brought to court? If that does not happen, there is no merit in issuing an antisocial behaviour order in the first instance.

I thank the Solicitor-General for responding to my Adjournment debate last week, but when does she plan to write to me about the outstanding questions that we did not have time to discuss during that debate?

The Solicitor General: I shall write to the hon. Lady very shortly about the outstanding issues from last week's debate; in fact, I shall try to do so before the House rises for the Easter recess. She is absolutely right: it is important not only that antisocial behaviour orders are made in appropriate cases, but that they are enforced. If people think that no action will follow when such an order is breached, there will simply be no currency or value in it. It is important that breaches should be reported to the local authorities and the police, who should work together, as they do in North Yorkshire, to ensure that such orders are made in appropriate cases and that they are taken seriously.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that antisocial behaviour orders should be used only as a method of last resort and that the staged approach used in south Wales of first sending a letter to parents or issuing young people with a football-style warning card has been very successful and has meant that fewer antisocial behaviour orders are issued? Is she aware that the Welsh Affairs Committee has strongly endorsed that approach?

The Solicitor General: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, the first and most important thing is to ensure that there is no antisocial behaviour. If such behaviour can be dealt with other than by the courts, that is preferable—certainly in the case of young people, whom we want to divert from the court process while making sure that they do not carry on committing antisocial behaviour. However, if they do not accede to those warnings, it is important that they and everyone else in the system should understand that court action is there to back up the law against antisocial behaviour.

Commission for Africa (Financial Crimes)

21. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): What action the Law Officers' Departments are taking to implement the recommendations of the Commission for Africa on combating financial crimes including bribery and corruption. [223619]

The Solicitor General: The Law Officers' Departments are working closely with other Government Departments and agencies to implement the important recommendations made by the Commission for Africa on combating bribery and corruption.
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Hugh Bayley: The Commission for Africa calls on developed countries such as ours fully to implement the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's action statement on bribery, to take all necessary legal and administrative measures to repatriate state funds illicitly acquired from developing countries and to ratify and implement the UN convention against corruption during 2005. At the launch of the report, the Prime Minister signalled that the UK will implement all the commission's recommendations. Will the Solicitor-General examine whether the Serious Fraud Office, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service have sufficient resources to do so, and will she write to let me know her conclusions?

The Solicitor General: I shall certainly write to my hon. Friend. Those agencies—the Crown Prosecution Service, the SFO and SOCA, when it comes into existence—will be key in implementing the OECD's recommendations. The SFO and the CPS are considering how to do that.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work with Transparency International. There is now a widespread recognition that fighting corruption involves those who offer bribes as well as those who receive them; the Commission for Africa and the OECD have emphasised that. As for ratification of those individual points, the
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Prime Minister has made it clear that we will ratify all those conventions and, having done so, will put them firmly into action.

Iraq (Legal Advice)

22. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): What recent representations she has received on publishing the Attorney-General's advice on the Iraq war. [223621]

The Solicitor General: Since 1 January 2005, my office has received 20 requests for disclosure of the Attorney-General's advice on the legality of military action against Iraq. Those requests have been received from hon. Members, journalists and members of the public.

Bob Spink: Does the Solicitor-General accept that the Government's continued refusal to publish that advice has put the trust and integrity of the Prime Minister right at the centre of this general election?

The Solicitor General: No, I do not. The Government's position is consistent with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was passed by this House and which contains an exemption that was accepted without demur in this House for legal professional privilege. That exemption has been accepted under the ministerial code as recently as when there was discussion of the Freedom of Information Act. It was also accepted by previous Administrations, and it is what the Government are acting under.

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Attorney-General (Advice on Iraq)

12.30 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Solicitor-General if she will make a statement about the circumstances surrounding the letter from Mrs. Elizabeth Wilmshurst and the Attorney-General's change of opinion on the legality of military action in Iraq?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Let me take the two parts of the question in turn: first, the circumstances surrounding Ms Wilmshurst's letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's legal adviser of 18 March 2003.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst was one of the deputy legal advisers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As is now well known, she submitted her resignation on 18 March 2003 because she disagreed—I quote from her minute of that date—that it was

Given that difference of views, her resignation was an honourable course to take and in accordance with the civil service code.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has received a number of requests for the text of Ms Wilmshurst's letter under the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force on 1 January this year. These requests were initially refused, mainly because much of the content of Ms Wilmshurst's letter contained personal data, the disclosure of which would have contravened the first data protection principle under section 40 of the Act.

Following the publication in The Guardian on 23 February of a number of quotations from the letter, however, we took the view that disclosure of this information would no longer contravene the first data protection principle. We therefore disclosed the letter yesterday. Two sentences were however omitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from the document because their content concerned the provision of legal advice in relation to the use of force against Iraq. Regardless of whether these references were accurate, this information was covered by exemptions in the Act that apply to confidential legal advice and the formulation or development of Government policy. Some were also covered by exemptions for ministerial communications and for Law Officers' advice.

It was entirely proper for the Government to withhold information under the provisions of this Act. Indeed, as the Minister who was responsible for taking what was then the Freedom of Information Bill through Parliament, I can recall no suggestion from any party in the House that the Government's legal advice should not be exempt from such disclosure.

Let me now turn to the second aspect of the question: the Attorney-General's opinion on the legality of military action in Iraq. This whole question is covered extensively in Lord Butler's report on intelligence on weapons of mass destruction at paragraphs 366 to 387, and I commend those paragraphs to the House. Ms Wilmshurst gave evidence to the Butler inquiry, and the substance of her position, then as now, is covered in paragraph 376 of the report.
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In the light of Saddam's failure to comply with his very clear obligations, set out in United Nations Security Council resolution 1441 of November 2002, the United Kingdom, United States and Spain tabled in February 2003 a further draft resolution in the Security Council, posing tough but attainable tests for Iraq. That gave Saddam Hussein the final opportunity to comply, which was offered by resolution 1441.

I attended a series of ministerial Security Council meetings in the early months of 2003, the last of which was on 7 March 2003. As I said in my speech to the Security Council on that day, not a single member of the Security Council disputed that Saddam was in material breach of his obligations under resolution 1441 and preceding resolutions. He had not fully complied with the clear obligations set out in 1441 and the preceding resolutions.

The Attorney-General, in his written answer of 17 March 2003, gave what he has described as his genuinely and independently held view that military action in Iraq was lawful on the basis of Saddam's breach of the then existing UN resolutions. As he then said, authority to use force against Iraq derived from the combined effect of resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. A large majority of the House supported on 18 March 2003 the Government's motion before the House to take military action in respect of Iraq, in view of Saddam Hussein's continued failure to comply with his clear obligations, imposed by the Security Council.

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