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8. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): What her Department’s involvement was in the production of the dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in September 2002; and if she will make a statement. [134738]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Matters relating to the dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have been examined in great detail by the inquiry led by Lord Hutton, Lord Butler’s “Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report “Iraqi WMD—Intelligence and Assessments”. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office co-operated fully with those inquiries and FCO officials gave evidence to them.

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Mr. Baron: In answer to my written questions, the Foreign Secretary has again refused either to publish the draft dossier, written by John Williams, a press officer in her Department, on 9 September 2002, or to explain why those papers were not made available to the Hutton inquiry. The reason cited for the refusal is national security, but how can the Minister justify that cloak of secrecy when the paper was a draft document intended for publication, and when previous and subsequent drafts have been made available? Or is the real reason because the Williams draft was the first to mention the 45-minute claim and was the basis for John Scarlett’s draft the following day?

Dr. Howells: Lord Hutton had access to all documents he wished to see. [ Interruption. ] Both John Scarlett and John Williams— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Wishart, you are out of order. In no circumstances should you keep shouting at a Minister.

Dr. Howells: That is right—Ministers like me get sensitive about it.

Both John Scarlett and John Williams referred to the draft dossier in their evidence sessions. There is, therefore, no question of its existence being hidden from the inquiry.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): When Colin Powell gave evidence to the United Nations Security Council was he fully aware of all the hesitations and qualifications in the intelligence community behind the dossier, which only subsequently became apparent?

Dr. Howells: I cannot answer for Colin Powell, or for anybody in the American Administration.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I do not want to tread on the Minister’s sensitivities but he should recall that of the four inquiries two were by Committees that were cheerleaders for the Iraq war and the other two dealt only with certain parts of the evidence. We have not had a full inquiry. That dossier was a disgrace. It was presented as evidence to the House on which a decision was taken to take this country to join in Bush’s war in Iraq. If the evidence in the document was true, I do not believe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have not heard a question so far, but I think the Minister will try to reply.

Dr. Howells: Thank you for that, Mr. Speaker, as I did not hear a question either and I would certainly not recognise the two Committees as being “cheerleaders” for any war. They were filled with very distinguished Members of this House and the other place, so I think that my hon. Friend does them a great disservice.

European Constitution

9. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): If she will make a statement on plans to hold a referendum on the EU constitution. [134740]

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10. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): By what criteria she will reach a view on whether a referendum should be held on any new EU constitutional treaty. [134741]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): There is at present no consensus among EU partners on the way forward regarding the constitutional treaty or, indeed, any new treaty. Those issues will be discussed at the European Council in June. The Government’s approach to the discussions was set out in my written ministerial statement of 5 December 2006. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 16 April this year, we should return to the idea of a conventional amending treaty that makes a European Union of 27 work more efficiently and focuses on its citizens’ priorities. However, as we have made consistently clear, if the constitutional treaty comes back in its present form, the Government would want to hold a referendum.

Andrew Selous: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is not up to this Parliament, still less Ministers, to transfer any further powers from Britain to the European Union without the express agreement of the British people given in a referendum.

Mr. Hoon: I will surprise the hon. Gentleman because I looked for some help and advice on this issue from the Opposition Front Bench. I received some useful advice from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who voted against holding a referendum on the Maastricht treaty on 21 April 1993—as, incidentally, did the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who asked a question earlier. That is significant because the Maastricht treaty established the European Union, as we now call it. It made significant amendments to the European treaties and, in that light, clearly affected the relationship between Westminster and Brussels, which is what the shadow Minister for Europe has been talking about. It introduced a common foreign and security policy, a European security and defence policy, a new competence for the EU in respect of co-operation in the field of justice and home affairs, qualified— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister has made his point.

Stephen Hammond: On 20 March in response to my question, the Minister said that the Government’s policy had not changed and that if the constitutional treaty returned,

Yet on 20 April, the Prime Minister, when asked by Le Monde whether the modified treaty would be put to a referendum, said: “No. That is clear.” The Government’s position has changed, so who is correct—the Minister or the Prime Minister?

Mr. Hoon: The Government have been quite consistent on this issue. We made it clear that, because of the constitutional nature of the constitutional treaty, it would require a referendum. Again, however, the hon. Gentleman should check with his own Front
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Benchers precisely what the Government’s policy should be. We have been asking them to set out their position, but unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We cannot hear the Minister. We need to be able to hear him.

Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks has changed his view quite dramatically. I suspect that he changed it 10 years ago—indeed, on 1 May 1997, when he went from being a Cabinet Minister into opposition.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there will be no EU constitution without a referendum in this country? The public out there are absolutely fed up with the creeping transfer of powers to Europe. We need a referendum: will my right hon. Friend give us that guarantee today?

Mr. Hoon: I have already given the House an assurance that if the constitutional treaty returns in its present form, the Government would seek to hold a referendum.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend resist the siren calls from both sides of the House for this constitutional referendum? May I say how pleased I am that there will not be one? If we are to join together in Europe to tackle the challenges of migration, terrorism, immigration, threats to public health and climate change, we need to work together incrementally to do so. I ask my right hon. Friend not to take any lessons from Conservative Members, whose sole promise to pull out their people from the European People’s party has been delayed while they find someone to sit with.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She has pointed out the total inconsistency of the position adopted by the Opposition. That position varies according to whether they win or do not win elections. There is no principle involved, as far as the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks is concerned; it is simply tactical opportunism.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Minister may be aware that a large group of Labour and Conservative MPs, together with professors and academics, have formed the national campaign for a referendum, of which I am chairman. What words of encouragement will he give to that important body?

Mr. Hoon: I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman: I must have missed the press release announcing the significant elevation that he has achieved. I take this opportunity of congratulating him on his appointment and I look forward to the long discussions that he will have with the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks on referendums.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The Minister has said that if the constitution comes back, there will be a referendum. The leaked letter that Chancellor Merkel sent to the Prime Minister and
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other heads of European countries makes it quite clear that the only differences that are going to be proposed are purely presentational ones. Therefore, will we have a referendum if the Merkel proposals go forward?

Mr. Hoon: It is always difficult to comment on a draft document—

Dr. Lewis: It is a letter.

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman refers to it as a letter, as I think did the right hon. Member for Wells earlier. I have seen a series of questions that the German presidency has raised. Those questions are not necessarily answered in the document. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman logically recognises that, being no more than questions, they are not necessarily indicative of anyone position’s at present.

European Constitution

12. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What progress has been made in discussions on a new EU constitutional treaty; and if she will make a statement. [134743]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I have had regular discussions with my German colleagues during their presidency—so too has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who met Chancellor Merkel most recently on 24 April. Our discussions cover many issues, including the way forward on institutional reform. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear, there is no consensus at present among EU partners on this issue. This will obviously be discussed further at the European Council in June.

Ann Winterton: Can the Minister confirm that, if there is a European Union constitutional treaty, its provisions can be implemented in the United Kingdom only through an Act of Parliament and, irrespective of the outcome of any referendum, that Act of Parliament remains paramount?

Mr. Hoon: The constitutional position is slightly different from that, but I will not argue the detail. Where any international treaty requires changes in domestic law, in order to be implemented such a treaty has to be ratified by parliamentary process.

UK-Iran Relations

13. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent assessment she has made of the UK's relations with Iran. [134744]

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): Our relationship with Iran is under review.

Mr. Swayne: What sanctions are yet in preparation?

Dr. Howells: As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows, there are a number of sanctions already in place—mainly those that cover the Iranian banking
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system and the movement of capital through this country. Those are the most important ones in my opinion.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): My hon. Friend the Minister is no doubt fully aware of the part that Iran can play in our struggle in Afghanistan. It is rather ironic that we need the good offices of that country at the present time.

Dr. Howells: Iran is playing a role in Iraq. There is no question about it. I would not say that it was an entirely benign one. We know that there are guns and ammunition that have already been taken into Afghanistan, in a curious relationship between the Iranian Government—or at least some part of the Iranian Government—and perhaps al-Qaeda groupings in Afghanistan. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we keep a close eye on that situation to ensure that it does not develop any further.


14. Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the prospects for a resumption of peace talks in Somalia; and if she will make a statement. [134746]

The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I bought a new suit for the occasion, but nearly missed out on making a contribution.

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We welcome the lull in fighting in Mogadishu in the last few days and hope that a lasting ceasefire can now prevail. We want a political process pursued that can deliver lasting peace and stability and allow for much-needed humanitarian relief. The Government’s annual development and humanitarian programmes provide £21 million for Somalia, and the UK has provided a further £3.5 million of humanitarian assistance following the fighting in recent months. We expect Somalia’s transitional federal Government to show leadership and commitment in reaching out to all parts of Somali society and to intensify their dialogue with the clans in Mogadishu.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree that considerable concern is growing about the role of the Ethiopian troops, and particularly about some of their activities in and around Mogadishu, and does he agree that we ought to do all that we can to support a political, rather than a military, solution?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we have engaged in the way that we have done. In particular, we need a settlement that ensures that the Ethiopians leave the country, but in such a way that there is common agreement by all concerned not to return to the situation of the past few months, and the damage that it has done to the individual citizens of that country.

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Medical Training Application Service

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will bring the House up to date on the two security breaches of the medical training application service, MTAS, that arose last week.

As I explained in a written statement to the House last Friday, on Wednesday 25 April, a serious breach of security protection occurred on the MTAS website. To enable the necessary pre-employment checks to be carried out, personal details of medical graduate applicants for foundation programme posts were made available to the postgraduate deaneries on dedicated web pages. The information was loaded on to the site at about 8.30 am and the deaneries were notified of the relevant web page address for their area at 9.30 am. In making the information available to the deaneries, the MTAS contractor, Methods Consulting, failed to provide the usual and essential password security protection.

At about 2 pm, “Channel 4 News” became aware of the situation. At 4.35 pm “Channel 4 News” telephoned the Department of Health press office to inform it of the security breach. The Department checked the position and informed the contractor, who immediately arranged for all the personal details to be removed from the site. That was completed by 5.15 pm. The Department’s security team undertook an immediate initial investigation, which has established that information on foundation programme applicants was accessed from just 21 different internet addresses, mostly belonging to postgraduate deaneries.

The overwhelming majority of individual accesses before the security breach was closed came from an internet address belonging to ITN, the providers of “Channel 4 News”. The access by ITN began at about 2 pm and ceased at about 5 pm. More than two hours elapsed between ITN and “Channel 4 News” starting to access personal information and “Channel 4 News” actually notifying the Department of the security breach. [Interruption.] There is no evidence that members of the public or other commercial interests, apart from staff at ITN and “Channel 4 News”, accessed the site. None the less, it was an extremely serious breach of security, as well as a breach of contract between the IT provider and the Department of Health. The company concerned has taken appropriate action in relation to its staff, and it fully co-operated with our security investigations. We have already reported the situation to the Information Commissioner. I will also report it to Ofcom and draw it to the attention of the chairman of Channel 4 and ITN.

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