Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House would want to join me in sending our profound sympathy and condolences to the family of Ken Bigley. Throughout their ordeal, they have conducted themselves with the greatest dignity, courage and strength. Furthermore, I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of the two British soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq since the House rose on
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.
As we have not heard a great deal recently about policy on the single currency, will the Prime Minister say whether it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to seek entry, subject to tests? If so, in the event of his being re-elected, when would the referendum be held? If there were a clear no vote, would he accept that absolutely as a decision for the foreseeable future?
The position on the single currency remains unchanged and, for once, the hon. Gentleman accurately describes it. In principle, we favour joining, subject to economic tests that have to be met. Were a referendum to be put to the British people on such an issue, the decision would, of course, be binding and would be accepted. He must be delighted that, after years of being a lonely campaigner on the Conservative Benches for withdrawal from Europe, he now finds himself in the mainstream of his party.
Last October, P&O Ferries announced the sacking of 600 British seafarers in Dover. This October, it wants to sack another 1,200 seafarers and shore staff and it wants to threaten swingeing cuts to on-board manning, which will impact on safety. What help can redundant workers in Dover and other parts expect from Government, and what action will Ministers take to ensure that P&O is not allowed to compromise safety in the interests of profit?
We will, of course, make sure that P&O, as all others must, abides by its health and safety obligations. We are sorry about the number of my hon. Friend's constituents who will lose their jobs as a result of this announcement, but the Department for Work and Pensions stands ready to help anyone who is made redundant. I can speak from experience in my constituency. Emergency programmes that the Department for Work and Pensions has put in place have been very successful in finding redundant workers alternative employment. I assure him that we will do everything we can in Dover to make sure that that happens.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing my deepest sympathy to the family of Kenneth Bigley and my great admiration for the enormous dignity with which they have borne their dreadful ordeal. I, too, join the Prime Minister in expressing my condolences to the families of the British soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq.
I support the war; it was the right thing to do. Will the Prime Minister realise that, before he can move on, there is one matter that he must deal with? He did not accurately report the intelligence that he received to the country. Will he now say sorry for that?
I made it abundantly clear—and do so again—at the time of the Butler report that I take full responsibility and, indeed, apologise for any information given in good faith that has subsequently turned out to be wrong. That is entirely proper; I have already done that. I do not accept in any way that there was any deception of anyone. That has been looked into by four separate independent inquiries, and in each case the allegation has been found to be wrong. I will not apologise for removing Saddam Hussein. I will not apologise for the conflict; I believe that it was right then, that it is right now and that it is essential for the wider security of that region and the world. I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would stop playing politics with the issue—that is precisely what he is doing. He should remember that he and his party supported the war for precisely the same reasons as we did. It would be more helpful if he would back our troops out in Iraq rather than doing what he is doing now.
We back our troops wholeheartedly. I did not ask the Prime Minister to apologise for the war, because I support it, and neither did I ask him to apologise for what he describes as "the information". I asked him very specifically about the way in which he misrepresented the intelligence that he received to the country. Why can he not bring himself to say sorry for that?
I cannot bring myself to say that I misrepresented the evidence because I do not accept that I did. What is more, in the light of some of the comments of the UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, it is worth pointing out what was unearthed by the Foreign Secretary—he told the House this yesterday, but it deserves repeating—about Hans Blix's view of the September information that we gave to the House at the time. I hope that the House will permit me to read from the report by the UK United Nations mission about Hans Blix's view of the dossier. He said that he felt that
"it did not exaggerate the facts, nor revert to rhetoric".
Blix thought that
"the section risked understating Iraq's indigenous capacity to produce WMD".
In other words, it was the case that everyone at the time accepted the evidence on weapons of mass destruction. It is correct that some of that evidence, although not all of it, has subsequently turned out to be wrong, but that is a very different matter from deceiving the House, so I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw that allegation.
The Prime Minister has just asserted that he accurately conveyed the intelligence to the country. The intelligence that he received made it clear that little was known about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons work since late 1998. The Prime Minister told the country that the intelligence had established beyond doubt that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. How can he maintain that he accurately reported the intelligence to the country? Why will he not say sorry for that?
As we explained when we had the debate in July, the intelligence was precisely that Saddam Hussein continued to produce WMDs. We know from the Iraq survey group that he indeed had the intent and capability and retained the scientists and desire, but that he might not have had stockpiles of actually deployable weapons. We have accepted that and I have already apologised for any information that subsequently turned out to be wrong.
Everyone knows what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to do. Having supported the war and urged us to go to war, he is now attempting to capitalise on anti-war sentiment to try to give himself credibility. I have been through what he has been saying over the past few months, and at the last count he had no fewer than four separate positions on the Iraq war—three too many for anyone who seriously aspires to be Prime Minister.
In the light of the revelations concerning the intelligence documentation in the autumn of 2002, will the Prime Minister explain why, in the January before the war started, Britain and the United States prevented Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors from going back into Iraq to confirm their suspicions that there were no WMDs?
Hans Blix and his inspectors were in Iraq before the war began. We had no option but to go to war in the end because it was plain that Saddam Hussein had no intention whatever of complying with UN resolutions. Those people who want to pray in aid the Iraq survey group in respect of stockpiles of weapons must also accept the other part of what the Iraq survey group said, which is that Saddam retained the intent and the capability—the teams of scientists and so on—and was in breach of United Nations resolutions. That is what Mr. Duelfer expressly said. It was the breach of UN resolutions and their enforcement that was and is the reason for going to war.
I associate the Liberal Democrats again with expressions of sympathy for the family of Mr. Bigley and the two United Kingdom members of the armed forces who have lost their lives since we last gathered.
On a point of accuracy, when Sir David Manning, then the Prime Minister's top foreign policy adviser, minuted him on
"would not budge in" his
"support for regime change", was he accurately reflecting the Prime Minister's views?
We always made it clear that if the only way of enforcing the UN resolutions was regime change, there had to be regime change. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at that minute as a whole, he will find that the basis for our argument throughout the entirety of that period was that we had to go back to the UN and we had to enforce UN resolutions. That is why we went back to the UN in November and got the further resolution. Had it been a case of us supporting regime change, rather than the enforcement of UN resolutions, we would not have gone back to the UN.
Now that we know that the 45-minute claim was unfounded and has been withdrawn, and now that we know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, regime change becomes the only remaining argument, but the Prime Minister knows that regime change is contrary to international law. Where does all that leave the status of this war? Is it not the fact, and should not the Prime Minister accept it, that he led us into an illegal war?
No, I am afraid that I do not accept that. Let me put on the record again what was perfectly obvious from the debate in the House on
We went to war because we took the view that we had to enforce the United Nations resolution because we could not continue—not post-
Right. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the report in full, he has to accept, just as I must accept, that the evidence indicates that there were not stockpiles of weapons, that there were breaches of UN resolutions, because that is what the report says—[Interruption.] So he accepts the report; he just disagrees with its conclusions—except the conclusion that suits him.
Let us make one thing abundantly clear. It was a difficult choice. I took the choice. I stand by it. But let us be clear about this also: if the right hon. Gentleman had had his way, Saddam Hussein and his sons would still be running Iraq. That is the case and that is why I took the stand that I did. I take it now, and I, at least, will stick by it.
Does the Prime Minister agree that although safe use of the internet opens up worlds of learning and adventure unknown to previous generations of children, it also opens up new dangers of cyber bullying, cyber stalking and cyber grooming, to name but a few? Will he welcome the work of WiredSafety in supporting Teenangels, a group of young people teaching themselves the safe use of the internet? Will he also welcome the launch of their UK activity in Portcullis House tomorrow?
I entirely agree about the importance of the issue that my hon. Friend raises and with what she said about the need both to help children use the internet safely and to combat child pornography. As she probably knows, the UK has perhaps the world's best regime for tackling child pornography, the Internet Watch Foundation, and we continue to work closely with the industry, law enforcement agencies and children's charities to seek ways of protecting children from abuse. The internet obviously bestows enormous opportunities and benefits, but it also creates the dangers to which she draws attention, so it is important that we make sure that we do everything possible to protect our children, who may be gaining access to unsuitable material.
At the Labour conference a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that after November he would make revival of the middle east peace process "a personal priority." Yesterday, an 11-year-old Palestinian girl was shot and critically wounded. About 100 Palestinians and many Israelis have died in the latest offensive, and Israel plans to purchase 500 bunker busters, the intended target presumably being Iran's nuclear installations. Does the Prime Minister believe that the Palestinian and Israeli people can wait until after the US presidential elections in November for the peace process to be revived?
I would like the peace process to be revived now, but the reality is that it is only after the presidential election that the President of the Untied States will be able to focus on that. I am determined, as we have done over the past few years, to do everything that we can to get the parties back into negotiation again. I credit the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the appalling death of the Palestinian girl and the fact that many Israelis die in terrorist acts [Hon. Members: "That is what he said."] I have just said that he mentioned it. It is right to approach this in a balanced way. There is huge suffering on the Palestinian side, but there are also wholly unacceptable acts of terrorism that kill innocent Israeli citizens, which is why the only way of resolving this is to get back into a proper process of negotiation. As I said, I will make it my personal priority, but the reality is that it will be after the presidential election in the next few weeks before we can make progress.
My right hon. Friend may have seen reports that the Fundacion Hospital Alcorcon near Madrid, the model for the Government's foundation hospitals, has proved to be a disastrous failure, and that the Spanish Socialist party now plans to take it back into the state sector. Will he look at the Spanish experience and consider abandoning plans for foundation hospitals in Britain?
I am afraid that I have not seen those reports, but I shall no doubt study them. However, the reason for establishing foundation hospitals is to give hospitals greater freedom to operate within the NHS, because they treat NHS patients. Many hospitals want foundation status because they recognise that in a modern NHS it is important to have a strong measure of devolution, and that is what such hospitals represent.
The Prime Minister said on Monday that he wants consensus on pensions policy. Age Concern, Help the Aged, the National Pensioners Convention, the National Association of Pension Funds, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Conservative party and many of his own Back Benchers all want means-testing to be reduced through a substantial increase in the basic state pension. Will he therefore join that consensus?
We have increased the basic state pension, and we have not merely introduced higher basic state pensions but the £200 winter fuel payment, which is awarded on a non-means-tested basis, free TV licences for the over-75s and the £100 payment for all over-70s to help with council tax bills. We have done many things, such as introducing concessionary fares and abolishing hospital downrating, on a non-means-tested basis, but the pension credit—I assume that that is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to—is necessary to tackle existing pensioner poverty. It is worth pointing out that the amount of money that the Government have spent on pensions is almost double what linking the basic state pension to earnings would have cost in the time that we have been in office. We have—and we make no apology for this—been trying to focus on the poorest pensioners first.
The Prime Minister dismisses out of hand the possibility of joining the consensus that on Monday he was keen to establish. Does he not accept that, after seven years with half of all pensioners caught by the means test—a number that is rising—£35 billion taken out of pension schemes by the Chancellor's pension tax, two thirds of final salary schemes closing to new members and more than 10,000 pension funds winding up since 1997, it is time to stop talking and start taking action? Does the Prime Minister accept, as Adair Turner does in the report that he published yesterday, that means-testing discourages saving?
It is correct that the pension credit is calculated on a means-tested basis, but that is the only way in which we are able to get help to the poorest pensioners first. However, we are dramatically increasing the amount of money that is going into pensions, and not only the poorest pensioners but all pensioners have gained advantage from the provisions that we have introduced. We are also doing things for people currently in work who will be pensioners at a later time.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to talk about action. Of course, the Conservatives did act when they were in office. Let me tell him how they acted. When the Tories left office, one in four pensioners lived in poverty. The Tories broke the link with earnings. Today, the Tories go on about linking the basic state pension with earnings as though that had always been their great crusade. The fact is that they broke the link. In 1997, the poorest pensioners were expected to live on only £69 a week. The Tories twice slashed the value of SERPs, introduced VAT on fuel bills, and presided over the pensions mis-selling scandal; and occupational pensions fell, not rose, under the Conservative Government. And who was a Cabinet Minister for 10 of those years? The right hon. and learned Gentleman was. I agree that we need a consensus in taking this issue forward, but he will forgive me if we do not pay too much attention to what he says about it, given his record in government.
Pensioner poverty has not in fact declined under this Government. I will tell the Prime Minister what our policies would do. Conservative policies would commit us to taking specific action to deal with the pensions crisis by introducing a bigger state pension, abolishing compulsory annuities, letting companies promote their pension schemes, and operating a proper pension recovery programme.
If the Prime Minister wants a verdict on what he has done, I suggest that he refers to his first Minister for welfare reform, who said:
"When Labour came to office we had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe and now probably we have some of the weakest".
If the Prime Minister calls for a consensus but does not build one, and commissions a report but does not act on it, what prospect is there for pensions in this country?
It is precisely because we intended to take the final recommendations of the report very seriously that we set up the Adair Turner commission. That came about as a result of a decision by Government. It is not correct that we are doing nothing for people currently in work who will be pensioners. There is the state second pension, which is helping millions of low-paid people to build up a second pension; there is the pension protection fund, including the £400 million that is being paid out to those who have lost their pensions; and there is the Pensions Bill that is going through Parliament, which will simplify the rules and allow people greater flexibility in retirement. We are doing a whole series of things, and we will do more once we get the final recommendations of the Turner commission.
We do not need the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give us his forward policy on pensions, or a crystal ball to tell us what he will do on pensions—we simply need to study what he did on pensions during his years in government. The fact is that the Tory record on pensions was abominable in terms of pensioner poverty, mis-selling and provision for the future. Yes, we will build a consensus, but I rather suspect that it will be without the Conservatives.
The Prime Minister tries to justify the illegal war against Iraq to those of us who opposed it on the ground that if we had not gone to war Saddam Hussein and his two sons would still be in charge of Iraq. How, then, does the Prime Minister explain his statement to this House on
"even now, today, we are offering Saddam the prospect of voluntary disarmament through the UN. I detest his regime . . . but even now, he could save it by complying with the UN's demand."—[Hansard, 25 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 124.]?
Exactly. We have been saying that the reason for war was the breach of the UN resolutions. That is perfectly consistent. The reason we had to change regime was that it was obvious that Saddam was not going to comply with UN resolutions, and that is what the Iraq survey group found, but it is not correct that we said that the regime was irrelevant. If my hon. Friend goes back to the debate of
The person who uncovered the mass grave said:
"It is my personal opinion that this is a killing field . . . Someone used this field on significant occasions over time to take bodies up there, and to take people up there and execute them . . . I've been doing grave sites for a long time, but I've never seen anything like this, women and children executed for no apparent reason".
Let me make the position clear to my hon. Friend Mr. Wareing. As we said at the time and as we say now, the legal case for war was breach of UN resolutions. Those breaches have been found specifically by the Iraq survey group. But I said then and say now that the regime was relevant in this sense: such a regime should never have the possibility of having WMD. I said that before
Regularly, before March 2003, the Prime Minister told us that he had plans for post-conflict Iraq, and until recently he believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Did those plans include securing the sites where WMD were kept? Did they include the nuclear sites that have now been looted? Why did those plans not work?
They did, of course, include that, which is precisely the work that the Iraq survey group was due to do. They also included plans for humanitarian assistance. I do not believe there was no proper plan for the post-conflict situation. Now, however, outside terrorists and others are trying to disrupt the march to peace and stability that the vast majority of people in Iraq want.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that businesses in Milton Keynes are right to value the benefits to the British economy of our active membership of the European Union, and that employees are right to value the benefits of the social chapter? In that context, how would he respond to my constituent, Mr. Alex Swanson, a Conservative party member, who wrote that in relation to Europe the Tory party leadership
"seem to have suffered a collective failure of nerve so that . . . principles are regarded as an inconvenient impediment to office"?
In a remarkable debate on Monday on a Bill that has much to commend it, Mrs. Curtis-Thomas make an incredibly powerful and important speech. She raised concerns about the Bill, pointing out that it is possible that people in hospital who would otherwise live can have food and water—fluids—withdrawn from them. She also pointed out that the Bill does not sort the problem out. I believe that we in the House should deal with the issue, not leave it to the courts. I do not know the Prime Minister's view—he may want to give us his personal view—but it surely cannot be right in this day and age that the most vulnerable people can be starved or dehydrated to death simply because they cannot speak for themselves. Labour Members do not have a free vote on the issue. Could the Prime Minister please insist that they be given a free vote, so that all of us who share those concerns can resolve the issue in the House?
I will carefully examine the issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman, but the Minister made it clear that the Bill does not have that effect. I know that he accepts that the Bill is important, and I will get in touch with him on that specific point. I will re-examine the matter carefully, but the Minister disagrees with that interpretation.