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Mr. Straw: That allegation is completely untrue. It is unworthy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and he knows it. I made it clear, and so did the Prime Minister, repeatedly, that we wanted to see the issue of Saddam Hussein's clear breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions resolved peacefully. The phrase that I used repeatedly, in the Security Council and outside, was that we would of course take yes for an answer. Had there been any evidence of compliance with resolution 1441 in those Security Council resolutions, it would not have lain in my mouth to say to my colleagues, without demur from any of them, in the Security Council on 7 March, that not one had claimed that Saddam was in compliance with the Security Council, nor would it have been remotely possible to have come before this House on 17 and 18 March and make the case for military action. The case for military action, I remind the House, was on the basis of a breach of Security Council resolutions rather than on any matter of intelligence. The evidence was put before the House in two successive Command Papers and, I add, the Iraq Survey Group has confirmed that it ascertained a clear and continuing breach by Saddam of those disarmament obligations.

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Should we not keep reminding everyone that there was a very large majority in favour of taking military action at the time? Those who voted for such action presumably did so on the basis that it was legal—otherwise they would not have voted accordingly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is pretty grubby to see those who voted for and enthusiastically backed the war now jumping on the anti-war bandwagon? What sort of respect can anyone have for the official Opposition?

Mr. Straw: I agree with my hon. Friend and I commend him and other colleagues on both sides of the House who have been consistent on this matter. If only we had seen similar consistency from the Opposition Front Bench. If I recall correctly, all the Conservative Front Benchers voted in favour of the resolution of 18 March, yet from July last year, we have seen the extraordinary spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition trying to have it both ways. In The Sunday Times of 18 July last year, he made two wholly contradictory statements. First, he said:

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He then went on to say:

adding that he was

Well, it is time for the Opposition to put up or shut up on this matter of the military action.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): The Foreign Secretary will know that the Attorney-General has a duty to provide legal advice to Parliament in addition to his duties in relation to the Executive. Was not his written answer of 17 March 2003 effectively the provision of such advice to Parliament? In that case, should not Members of Parliament be entitled to see the    background papers, setting out the detailed considerations relating to the legal issues on which the Attorney-General's published view was based?

Mr. Straw: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the requirement on the Attorney-General to provide legal advice to Parliament is very limited indeed and it is a wholly separate duty from the clear and continuing requirement to provide legal advice to the Government internally. Such advice is very clearly protected by the long-standing principle of legal professional privilege, confirmed by the Law Lords and many other courts. It is protected by the ministerial code. As recently as four years ago, the House had every opportunity during the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill to disagree with that. As I have already said, not a single Member on either side of the House ever proposed that the advice of the Attorney-General should be made public in the way that is now being suggested.

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the failure to circulate the Attorney-General's background documents to the Cabinet was a failure to comply with the ministerial code? Having asked the Prime Minister for an undertaking relating to factual matters, the Attorney-General clearly changed his mind. Keeping all that secret was done to mislead the Cabinet, and the publication of only partial legal advice from the Attorney-General was done to mislead Parliament. These are terribly serious matters, which can be cleared up only by putting everything openly on the record. Otherwise, the very institution of the Attorney-General as a reliable part of our constitutional arrangements will be brought into doubt.

Mr. Straw: I am sorry to say that I do not accept any part of what my right hon. Friend said. There has been not the slightest evidence of providing anything other than the straightforward facts of the matter both to this House and to the other place. There is no secret about the fact that the Attorney-General sought the view of the Prime Minister as to whether Iraq was in further material breach. That was set out clearly in the Butler inquiry's report.
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As to the matter of the ministerial code, that charge, which my right hon. Friend has made in the past, was fully dealt with by Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary. Paragraph 23 of the code, which I happen to have in front of me, is much more narrowly drawn than she suggests. The Attorney-General was actually present in the Cabinet—I re-examined the minutes this morning—and offered the clear view that military action in respect of Iraq, as of 17 March, was lawful. I recall that my right hon. Friend was there and voted in favour of military action—and I am glad that she did. The Attorney-General was there to take questions. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary recall that it was my question to the Prime Minister on 14 March that gave rise to the subsequent publication of the Attorney-General's opinion in the House of Lords? My question asked about the basis on which it was proposed that we should go to war. More and more facts, and more and more contradictions have emerged. Indeed, I recall that in her resignation speech, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) accused the Prime Minister of misleading both her and Parliament—and she has repeated much the same today.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that, under the rules and conventions of the House and under the rules of ministerial conduct, it is the Prime Minister—I see him in his place now—who is responsible for deciding on the disclosure of the Attorney-General's advice and for rectifying any misleading statements that may have been made? I tabled a question to the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Will the Foreign Secretary now answer the charge whether the Prime Minister—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Straw: With apologies to the hon. Gentleman, his question to the Prime Minister of 14 March 2003 did not immediately come to mind. The House wished to be informed of the Attorney-General's legal advice and that was what happened. My noble Friend the Attorney-General answered a question in the House of Lords, which was repeated in this House, and I published a detailed explanation of the background. There is nothing odd about the view that we took. Anyone who knows the history of what happened in Iraq and of what happened after achieving resolution 1441, knows that the evidence was overwhelming—no one contradicted it at the time—that Saddam was in clear further material breach of his obligations. He was given a final opportunity under the first paragraph of resolution 1441 and he was told specifically what would amount to a "further material breach". There was no requirement whatever in 1441 for a second resolution. I am as comfortable as I was on 18 March in being absolutely clear that the military action that we took was justified—and it remains justified in the light of what we now know.
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European Council

1.8 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about the European Council that took place in Brussels on 22 and 23 March. It was the fifth in a series of summits about the Lisbon agenda on economic reform in Europe.

It is the British case that economic reform is not going as far or as fast as it must. Nevertheless, over the past five years, 6 million extra jobs have been created in Europe. We have opened up the telecommunications market, and the gas and electricity markets have been liberalised, bringing new choice to consumers. Air travel has also been opened up, bringing cheaper air tickets. In the recent World Economic Forum study of international competitiveness, six EU states were among the 15 most competitive nations in the world. Britain is one of them and has risen a number of places in the last year.

Some progress has been made, but the truth is that there used to be eight EU countries in the top 15. There are still far too many unemployed people in Europe and too many businesses unable to compete as they should. That provides the EU's challenge.

The European Council rightly decided yesterday to support the Barroso Commission's emphasis on growth and jobs as the first-order priorities. There was also strong support for the Commission's proposals for improving and simplifying its approach to regulation.

However, the services directive is at the heart of this next phase of the Lisbon programme. Services account for 70 per cent. of both the UK and EU economies. The directive is intended to liberalise that market. It does this by requiring national Governments to make it easier for European service companies to establish on their territory, so regulatory regimes must be simplified and made accessible. It also facilitates temporary, cross-border trade in services.

The directive is unquestionably an ambitious measure. Authoritative studies show that it could bring at least 600,000 new jobs to Europe, and add some €37 billion to the European economy. Also, many of the accusations made about it are unfounded or overstated. It does not mean that workers from a low-cost member state can work permanently under their country of origin wages and conditions in another member state. The posted workers directive already prevents that. Neither does it mean that consumer protection and health and safety legislation will be circumvented or abandoned. Again, there are complementary measures that cover those areas.

It is true that there are some genuine concerns about the implications of the proposals—for example, for us there is their impact on the national health service—that need to be addressed in the negotiations. The directive, inevitably and rightly, will be amended as it goes through its legislative process. The Commission signalled that several weeks ago, and confirmed as much again at the European Council. However, the changes will be part of the normal legislative and negotiating process and, fortunately, the final decision will be by qualified majority voting. None of that has changed as
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a result of this European Council, whose conclusions were of course subject to the unanimity rule, so any member state had a veto over them.

However, to have withdrawn the directive, as some wished, would have been a grave injustice and error for Europe's economy. President Barroso is therefore absolutely right to maintain it. The Commission remains committed to the main principles of the directive, as do we and many other EU Governments, notably those from the new member states. Its adoption will be a key test of Europe's seriousness about reform.

The issue, however, that underlies the debate about the services directive is the future of the European social model. Some, notably France, believe that that model should remain in its existing form. Some, like Britain, believe firmly in Europe's social dimension but wanted it updated to take account of modern economic reality.

Fortunately, in this debate—which will dominate discussion of Europe's economic future over the coming years, just as the debate over the transatlantic alliance will dominate debate on foreign policy—we have the benefit of some empirical evidence. The UK has shown that it is possible to have flexible labour markets combined with a minimum wage, tax credits to help families into work, family-friendly policies to help the work-life balance, the new deal for the unemployed, record investment in education and skills, and a strong economy. I believe that that is the modern social model for Europe, and that it is recognised as such by many of our partners. The result has been higher growth, higher employment and lower unemployment for the UK. Those successes can be replicated across Europe, with the right policies.

It is worth adding that the UK has also benefited from its decision, unique amongst the larger member states, to open its labour markets to workers from the new member states. Far from disrupting our labour markets, they have, for the most part, made a positive contribution to the British economy. If we want Europe to compete not just with the USA but with China and India in the future, this type of open and flexible economy is precisely what we need.

I should report briefly to the House on four other issues covered during this European Council. We endorsed the deal reached in ECOFIN on reform of the stability and growth pact. That introduces a more sophisticated system for implementing the rules, taking account of issues such as the level of debt, investment, and the impact of the economic cycle, all in line with UK objectives, while maintaining financial prudence.

On climate change, we discussed a long-term strategy for the EU, including progressive targets for reducing emissions. We shall take that process forward in the context of our G8 and EU presidencies later this year.

On Africa, the European Council noted the Commission for Africa's report and agreed that we had to step up our support for that continent. There is now unanimous support inside Europe for the policies that can confront the challenge—indeed, the scandal—of thousands of African children who die needlessly every day and, where they survive, live lives of unimaginable poverty and deprivation: 2005 must be, and should be, Africa's year.
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On Croatia, we discussed follow-up to the recent decision by European Foreign Ministers to postpone accession negotiations, but to start as soon as there is full co-operation by the Croatian Government with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The British Government, in principle, strongly support Croatian membership of the EU. The next step is likely to be EU discussions with Croatia, led by the present and future presidencies, about how to achieve full co-operation with the tribunal. I should add that we also supported democracy in Lebanon.

As was obvious from this Council, and from recent NATO-EU summits, there is a big debate going on in Europe today. It is vital to Europe's future, and to the future of Britain. In this debate, we know where we stand: in favour of the transatlantic alliance as the bedrock of our security; in favour of adapting Europe's economy to the future as the path to our prosperity. It is a debate in which we have allies. It is a debate that we can win. But to win we have to participate, fully, wholeheartedly, with self-confidence and belief; we must not marginalise Britain, reducing it to the role of spectator. The policy of this Government is clear: to be at the centre of the debate, not the margins.

I commend this statement to the House.

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