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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
As one who voted on 18 March to support the Prime Minister, who does not regret that vote and who recognises that the consequence of a different vote would have been a shattering of the alliance, the remaining in power of Saddam Hussein and the fall of
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the British Government, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he accepts that the Butler report underlines the fact that intelligence is an inexact science? It does not endorse or whitewash everything that the British Government did, but nor is it an indictment of the decision that the House took.
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that; I agree with him entirely. We should study the recommendations of the report carefully and implement them. As he rightly says, this is not an issue of integrity or good faith. It is about trying to deal with difficult decisions in a difficult world.
Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what Lord Butler said in his press conference this morning? He said that intelligence gathering in Iraq was very difficult because of the closed regime. He also said that intelligence gathering had been made more difficult by the cuts in the 1990s following the end of the cold war. What is my right hon. Friend going to do about that aspect of the report?
The Prime Minister: What we are doing already is increasing significantly resources for the intelligence services. There has been criticism of some of the people concerned, but I think that the intelligence services do a fantastic job for this countryI really do. They have been an invaluable support to me as Prime Minister and, I am sure, to many Prime Ministers before me.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What about the question that Butler did not answer and could not really ask, which is: how far was the Prime Minister's willingness to act on very uncertain intelligence the result of a belief that he had already formed that Saddam Hussein had to be dealt with, and a belief that, because the United States was moving inexorably towards an invasion, it was in Britain's interests to try to influence the United Nations in support of that and to be a partner in it?
The Prime Minister: That is not what Lord Butler has found. The plain fact is that we did not go immediately to war. We went back to the United Nations to get resolution 1441. That was the whole purpose of what we were doing. One of the many things that has been exaggerated in retrospect is the idea that, when we presented the dossier, we were saying, "This is the case for war." We were not saying that; we were saying, "This is the case for dealing with this issue, preferably through the United Nations."
As I said a moment ago, if I had thought that Iraq was a direct threat to this country, I would have taken immediate action. I did not do that, but I did think that the WMD issue had to be dealt with. September 11 meant that we could not wait around for it to materialise; we had to get out and get after it now. So that is what we did. We started with Iraq because of the history of UN resolutions. We then went to the United Nations. I believe that UN resolution 1441 was very clear: Saddam had to comply fully and totally. Through all the conversations that I had with Hans Blix, he never once suggested to me that Saddam Hussein was
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complying fully. He used to say, "Well, he's co-operating a bit", and I would say, "That's not enough", and he would say, "Well, you know". Then came the argument that we should give him more time, and I said, "Okay, let's give him more time, but tied to an ultimatum. If we don't tie it to an ultimatum, he's never going to do it." That is why the decision had to be taken on 18 March, as opposed to some weeks later, as it could have been if an ultimatum had been agreed to. France and other countries made it clear that, whatever happened, they would issue no ultimatum. That was their decision, but it meant that, on 18 March, we were faced with either another UN resolution that would have been meaningless, or taking action. That is what we did.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will note that many Back Benchers on both sides still have questions to ask the Prime Minister. You have been in the House a long time, as have I, and you will know that it was the practice, certainly of past Governments, whenever legitimate questions were tabled for written answer, to say, "I refer the hon. Member to the statement that was made on this issue" and to give that as a reason for not providing any further answers. If that happens in regard to the statement that the Prime Minister has just made, will you have a look at the matter, to ensure that any further legitimate questions that are tabled get a proper answer?
Mr. Speaker: As always, the hon. Gentleman helps me out. This gives me an opportunity to say that a Committee of the House recommended to the Speaker that an hour should be given for statements. Because of the circumstances of this statement and the fact that the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Front-Bench spokesman took longerI make no criticism of them for thatI gave exactly half an hour for Back Benchers' questions. As to questions being answered, I have said to the hon. Gentleman before that I am not responsible for the quality of ministerial answers. I thank the hon. Gentleman again.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The spending review announced by the Chancellor on Monday drew the dividing lines and gave a choice for Britain between this Government and the Opposition parties. The choice is between investment in security, law and order, or cuts; economic stability and investment in science and innovation, or cuts; and a future for our public services, or cuts, charges, privatisation and a return to the under-investment in our infrastructure that characterised the Conservative party in Government.
This Government are in a position to invest more, not less, in public services and in those areas that will enable the UK to grow and to prosper in the global economy of the future. We are in a position to do this because the savings that this Government are making on debt interest and unemploymentthe two great costs under the Conservativesallow us to meet our fiscal rules, keep taxes low and spend more on vital services. We have cut the costs of unemployment and the national debt. Together, they now consume just 2.3 per cent. of national incomeas opposed to 4.6 per cent. in 1997and net borrowing is only 2.4 per cent. of gross domestic product and falling over the forecast period. Both are lower than in the past and lower than in our major competitors in the industrialised world.
Because of the tough decisions that we have taken to secure economic stability, we have maintained stable and sustained growth, combined with the lowest inflation for 30 years and the highest levels of employment in our history. That is a far cry from the Britain under our Conservative opponents. That Conservative Government were first in and last out of the world downturns. That Britain suffered two of the deepest and longest recessions since the war. That Britain also had inflicted on it by a Conservative Government 3 million unemployed, interest rates at 15 per cent. and in double figures for four years, 1.5 million in negative equity and 250,000 repossessed homes. That was the Britain of our Conservative opponents.
Because of the economic stability that we have put in place, because the public finances remain sound and on track to meet the fiscal rules, and because we have held strictly to the discipline of the total spending envelope, we are in a position to raise departmental spending from £279.3 billion this year to £301.9 billion next year, £321.4 billion the year after, and £340.5 billion in 200708. In this spending round, three quarters of the spending will go to vital, front-line services, so while overall spending in 200608 will grow by just 2.8 per cent., departmental spending on vital services will have a real terms rise of 4.2 per cent. over the next three years.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend is making many important points. Is it not a fact that the 18 years of Conservative rule created problems in towns such as Burnley, which only this Government, with the housing renewal pathfinder project and neighbourhood
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wardens scheme, have begun to tackle? Certainly, places such as Burnley will recognise what Labour has done for them over the last few years.
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