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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
Unlike the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the implications of his question, I wholly congratulate the Prime Minister on adopting a robust attitude with the Russian President. Does the President understand that it is not just the
UK but the whole European Union that wants to do business with Russia, but finds it increasingly difficult to do so as there is systematic use of torture by the police in Russia, the right to peaceful assembly is ignored, the murder of journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya remain unresolved, and companies such as BP and Shell are concerned that if they make significant investments in Russia in future they may be expropriated by the Russian Government?
The truth about the relationship with Russia is that we need good relations with it. My meeting with President Putin at a personal level was friendly and cordial, but it will become harder to have the type of relationship that we want unless it is on the basis of certain agreed values. That is how the international community works today and, as I said, there are a lot of issues to resolve.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): As the Prime Minister knows, a child dies every 15 seconds from foul water and lack of sanitation in Africa. He will know, too, that 220 MPs signed my all-party motion the subject; we went to Downing street and delivered a petition. The G8 water plan at Gleneagles promised to ensure access to safe water for 75 per cent. of people at risk in developing countries. There is nothing in the communiqué, and nothing in the Prime Ministers statement, that deals with water, sanitation and the problems that I have described even though, by any standards, they are a top priority. What practical steps did the Prime Minister take to deliver the promises made at Gleneagles at the G8 summit?
The Prime Minister: We are committed, as we were at Gleneagles, to deliver the water and sanitation pledges that we made. I think I am right in saying that that is in the G8 communiqué. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we will have to put specifics on that for the time to come, with respect to water and sanitation and also infrastructure, because part of the problem that many African countries have is the amount of time it takes for them to get any goods to any port that is able to ship them for export. It is not just a question of trade barriers; it is a question of basic problems in relation to infrastructure. Water and sanitation is another issue. This year we decided to focus particularly on HIV/AIDS and education, but the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about water and sanitation would make a very sensible focus for next years G8.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Following the Prime Ministers cryptic response to the question from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) about the G8s commitment to fighting corruption, why should any major British company not assume that if it secures substantial business and employment by offering bribes to an overseas official in an allied country, the British Government will turn a blind eye to any breaches of the law and of our international obligations?
The Prime Minister: Because that is neither what we are saying nor what we are doing. Allegations have been made that are fiercely denied. That is not the issue. The issue is whether it is sensible for us to pursue an investigation that may go on for two or three years, which in my judgment would do enormous damage to a relationship that is of vital importance to this country. The hon. Gentleman should be wary of making allegations that are not undisputedin fact, they are hotly disputedand of saying that because the investigation is not going forward, the allegations are somehow accepted. They are not. The question is whether it is sensible and in this countrys interest to hold such an investigation, with all the damage that it would do. In the end, as I have said to the media, they have their job to do, but I have my job to do, and if I think something is contrary to the interests of this country, it is my duty to say to.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): The Prime Minister will acknowledge that there have been reassurances after every summit meeting about new impetus behind the world trade talks, ever since the failure at Cancun. With more protectionist sentiment in the US Congress, and with a French President with an overwhelming majority but a constituency to defend, what confidence can we have that these assurances will be more concrete than previous ones, and what is the pathway after Potsdam to a final agreement?
The Prime Minister:
Part of the trouble is that underneath the surface, an immense amount has been going on. The matter has formed part of every conversation that I have had over the past few months with President Bush, Chancellor Merkel, the presidency of the European Union and so on. I have spoken regularly to the Prime Minister of India and to the President of Brazil about it. There are three elements: Europe must cut its tariffs, America must cut its farm subsidies, and on non-agricultural access Brazil, India and others must agree to a lower coefficient for progress to be made. Those three positions are coming closer together, which is why leaders have gone ahead with the meeting on 19 June. They would not have gone ahead with it at all unless there was a chance of reaching agreement. If they can reach agreement on headline numbers there or thereabouts, there is the
possibility of concluding the agreement by the end of the year on the detail of it. There has been quite a lot of progressfar more than appearsjust in the past few weeks, but the outcome hangs in the balance. It is not correct, as some people think because the subject has not been covered, that the thing has gone down. It has not. The discussion that we had around the table at the end of the G8 summit was more upbeat than one might have expected. They are very close now, but a little extra movement is required by all three parts.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I welcome the Prime Ministers candid exchange with President Putin. Does he agree that the abuse of human rights in Chechnya, the sale last year of more than $34 million worth of arms to the murderous tyranny in Sudan and the use of the veto to stop concrete action against the brutal military dictatorship in Burma are an additional three good reasons why President Putin is not yet greeted with the uncritical acclaim of the international community that he apparently expects?
The Prime Minister: Well, all these issues need to be examined. I think the most important thing is that Russia does understand that in the end there will be limits to the relationship that it is able to have with the rest of the world unless it is on the basis of shared values and shared principles. The problem is that of course people will want to deal with Russia and have to deal with Russia; we are engaged in talks with Russia on a number of different things that are of fundamental importance. I think the real question for Russia is this: does it want to maximise its relationship with the western world, in which case shared values and shared principles are the only basis on which to do it, or is it content to have it minimised? In the end, there is no point, as I have said before at the Dispatch Box, in our making empty threatswe are not in a position to deliver on those. What I tried to say to the President is that there is a real concern, as has been shown in the House today, and a sensible policy would take account of that. Of course, it is true that there are valid and legitimate points that Russia has to make about western policy towards Russia, but in the end those strategic interests can be gained only by recognising that certain values are fundamental to countries like ours and other western nations, and it is just not possible for them to be compromised.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have a named day question tabled for answer today about the rate at which the operational allowance paid to our brave servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan is due to be raised to take account of inflation. Imagine my surprise this morning, then, when I saw that the Press Association was reporting that reporters travelling with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Baghdad have been given that information ahead of my question being answered. What can be done, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that Ministers, particularly the next Prime Minister, put their responsibilities to the House before the needs of the press?
That this House supports the principle that there should be an inquiry by an independent committee of Privy Counsellors to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath and to make recommendations on the lessons for the future.
The subject of a major inquiry into the Iraq war was last debated in the House last October. Given the extent of public anxiety on the issue, the mounting problems being experienced on the ground and the widespread feeling across politics in principle for holding such an inquiry, I make no apology for returning to it now. The motion calls for agreement to the principle that an inquiry of the kind led by Lord Franks into the Falklands war should be established. It does not of itself specify the timing or any further details and it therefore provides the opportunity for the Government to make clearer their own thinking or to come up with their own proposals.
A month ago, in a debate with some parallels to this one, we similarly proposed agreement in principle to the formalising of parliamentary approval for decisions to go to war. On that occasion, the Government responded constructively by accepting the principle and promising to produce detailed proposals and to consult the Opposition parties in the meantime. It was to be hoped that the Government would respond in similar fashion to this debate, which is in effect an invitation to them to set out in more detail inside the House their thinking on an inquiry that several Ministers have been happy to say they favour when outside the House.
The last time we debated these matters, the Foreign Secretary managed to get through the debate without conceding that a major inquiry would be held, only for the Defence Secretary to say, within minutes of the end of the debate,
When the time is right of course there will be such an inquiry.
If the Government believe that there will be such an inquiry, there is no reason for them not to accept the principle of it today. That is all that the motion calls for. In addition, the Leader of the House said on 23 February:
I think we have all made clear there will be an inquiry in due course,
As the candidates for the Labour deputy leadership have travelled the country, they have come under a great deal of pressure from Labour party activists,
leading them all to say, in various ways, either that there will be an inquiry or that there should be one. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) said:
I do see the case for an inquiry as part of an overall reconciliation with the British people and actually we have an opportunity over the next three months with the new leadership to turn the page on this.
I therefore hope that, even though the Government have tabled more or less the same amendment to our motion as they did in October, the Foreign Secretary will recognise in her speech the gathering consensus in British politics and that she will decide to become part of it. Last time, she did not commit the Government to a major inquiry. If she does not do so this time, she will be at variance with many of her Cabinet colleagues.
Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman accept it from me, as someone who voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, that I would welcome an inquiry? However, I do not support a seedy, narrowly focused inquiry with partisan intent, designed to embarrass the Government, but an inquiry that examines the history of our involvement in Iraq over many decades, and will reveal the duplicity of the west in funding and arming Saddam Hussein and preparing over many years his weapons of mass destruction, which were safely disposed of before we went to war.
Mr. Hague: I can partly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not propose any narrow or party-based inquiry, but a wide-ranging, Privy Council inquiry, which would not be conducted on party lines. It might stretch an inquiry too far to go back several decades. That might consume so much attention that much of its work would be obstructed. However, that is all to be debated.
Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): I hope that my right hon. Friend agrees that timing is crucial and that we should face up to that. Does he also agree that it would be irresponsible to pull key people out of a continuing campaign to give evidence to an inquiry in London, impossible to publish a meaningful report without going into such matters as logistics, intelligence, infiltration and the strengths and weaknesses of our position, and clearly impossible to publish such information while the campaign proceeds? Does he therefore further agree that the only sensible course, if an inquiry is to be conducted, is to hold it after the last troops have been pulled out of Iraq?
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con):
Two of my constituents, Sergeant Roberts and Flight Lieutenant Stead, died in Iraq. Sergeant Roberts did not have the proper body armour and Flight Lieutenant Steads Hercules did not have the explosive-suppressant foam device that it should have had. Does my right hon.
Friend anticipate that the equipment supplied to our armed forces in Iraq will be a prime focus of such an inquiry?
We didnt plan for the right sort of aftermath.
On such matters as the disbandment of the Iraqi army, he revealed that the Government had argued against the United States, giving advice that Donald Rumsfeld or others ignored. In expounding his views on such matters, the Minister for Europe recognised that Parliament and people in general will want to know the answers to such questions if ministerial accountability is to mean anything at all.
However, such accountability cannot be supplied by random interviews in The Guardian it needs some kind of formal and powerful process. It has to be remembered that we are dealing with one of the most controversial and difficult issues of our times, and that those of us who fully supported the invasion have had to recognise that success in Iraq has proved progressively more elusive and the consequences of failure steadily more serious.
What is more, we have all had to recognise that some of the mistakes made in the aftermath of the invasion, particularly in relation to the Iraqi army and the de-Baathification process, have had such far-reaching implications that any idea that the decision-making process that led to them can be free of exhaustive examination should now be set aside. This motion therefore seeks to establish the principle that such an inquiry should happen and in a way that allows its membership to draw on very senior diplomatic, military or political experience, to hold some of its sessions in confidence if it needs to and to summon all the papers and persons it deems necessary.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I believe that there should be an inquiry. It seems to me inevitable that, in the fulness of time, there will be an inquiry, but one of the key points is who should sit on it. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it should be Privy Councillors. Although I have great respect for Privy Councillors, I have even more respect for Parliament. I believe that we should hold a parliamentary inquiry. The main reason for allowing it to be done by Privy Councillors is so that evidence can be taken at this difficult time on Privy Council terms. Surely, however, we need an inquiry that is fully in the open, which can happen only once our troops have returned.
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I disagree with it, as I would prefer a Privy Council inquiry. He should remember that membership of Parliament and the Privy Council overlaps but that having a Privy Council inquiry avoids having one conducted along party lines. If their expertise is required, people can be drawn into a Privy Council inquiry simply by being made Privy Councillors.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is the right hon. Gentleman disappointed that, a minute prior to this debate, the Prime Minister walked out of the Chamber, especially in view of an answer that he gave on 25 October last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) when he said that he would be
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