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10 Apr 2003 : Column 401continued
21. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): What monitoring role she performs regarding decisions whether to prosecute in connection with suspicious transactions reported to the authorities by financial institutions. 
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): The Attorney-General and I superintend the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office, who are independent, and they make the decisions on whether to prosecute suspicious transactions reported by financial institutions. We regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss current investigations and prosecutions.
The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In the past, fraud has all too often been considered as a victimless white-collar offence that is not important. My hon. Friend is right to say that money laundering, drug trafficking and human trafficking are all connected with money laundering. Prosecutors across different departments have been working together on the issue, as have ministerial colleagues. My hon. Friend will know that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which introduces a new offence of failing to disclose suspicious transactions, came into force in February this year, and that further money laundering regulations placing obligations on professionals to disclose will be introduced later this year. The international fraud business lies behind a lot of other crime, and we have to gear up our act to tackle it.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Solicitor-General is, of course, right to concentrate on the use of anti-money-laundering and proceeds of crime legislation against terrorism and other serious crimes such as drug smuggling. Will she accept the point that I put to her ministerial colleagues in the Home Office, however, that some financial institutions have used the legislation, which has laudable intentions, to impose extra and very burdensome obligations on customers, particularly on small charities, and have sought to increase their statutory requirements by adding requests for intrusive information for their own commercial reasons? Will she agree to meet me and representatives of charities who have contacted me to look into this matter? We do not want laudable anti-terrorism legislation being misused to intrude too much into people's personal lives and personal information and to disrupt the valuable work that charities do.
The Solicitor-General: Of course, I agree to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the important issues that he raises. Clearly, a balance must be struck: on the one hand, charities and small businesses do not want to be overburdened by reporting regulations, but on the other, they are often victims of fraud themselves. Fraud against small businesses and charities is an issue that they are rightly concerned about dealing with. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and to take those issues forward.
Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): The Customs and Excise prosecution office now comes under the Solicitor-General's Department's aegis. Millions of pounds have been lost to the Exchequer in connection with the failed London City Bond and
I will deal in a moment with the post-conflict arrangements. Let me start, however, with the military situation. All right hon. and hon. Members will have followed the extraordinary events of the last four days as coalition forces entered Basra and then Baghdad. We can all share the new sense of hope so evident on the faces of ordinary Iraqis who are now tasting freedom, many of them for the first time in their lives.
I know that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the courage shown by the men and women of our armed forces and those of the United States, and their compassion in dealing with the civilian population. Some of our service personnel and some of the United States personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice to help remove the threat from Saddam's regime and to secure Iraq's liberation. We mourn them and we send our deepest condolences to their families and to their comrades in arms.
I also want to express my profound sorrow at the death of innocent Iraqi civilians as well as of a number of international journalists and aid workers. This is, I am afraid, a tragic consequence of military conflict, despite all the care taken by the coalition military forces to keep casualties to a minimum.
Given what we have seen and what we now know, there is understandable euphoria at the progress made in recent days. We must recognise, however, that the military task is far from complete. Large areas of Iraq are still not under coalition control, and units of the Iraqi armed forces are still engaged in combat. After years of brutal repression, we have also inevitably seen excesses and lawlessness on the streets as the old regime collapses. Coalition military forces will be doing all that they can to provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people.
For all the difficulties that may be ahead, we are, without question, now at the start of a new and much better chapter in Iraq's history. As our control extends, I am afraid that still more of the dark secrets of Saddam's regime will be revealed. Just two days ago, ITN's Bill Neely gained entry to Saddam's secret police building in Basra. In graphic detail, a former inmate, Hameed Fatil, described how he had been tortured, along with two of his brothers. Hameed was the lucky one; his two brothers, having been tortured, were then executed, but Hameed had to re-enact the ordeal that he had gone through before the cameras. There were no television cameras in Saddam's torture chambersthere are now, and the truth that they reveal is shocking.
As for Iraq's programmes to develop chemical and biological weaponsto develop weapons of mass destructionwe know that those programmes existed. We know that those weapons existed, and in 173 pages of damning detail the weapons inspectors have already spelt out all the questions that the Iraqi regime has failed so systematically to answer. We now will seek those answers, which the Iraqi regime failed to provide. We pledged to rid Iraq of those weapons, and we stand by that commitment.
The recent, rapid course of events has made all the more timely the discussions on Monday and Tuesday at Hillsborough between President Bush and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Those discussions were dominated by issues relating to post-conflict Iraq. Copies of the joint declaration issued by the two leaders have been placed in the Library.
Our immediate priority is to ensure the delivery of food, medicine and humanitarian assistance to the people of Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will make a statement on that shortly; but, in brief, British forces are already heavily engaged in the provision of humanitarian assistance and in the organisation of basic services in the areas of the south that we control. As the coalition brings security to more of Iraq's territory, the flow of assistance will increase. We are actively looking at sending police advisers to Basra to assist UK forces and to help to create a more lawful and peaceful environment as soon as possible, but our responsibilities to the people of Iraq go well beyond immediate humanitarian relief.
For a generation, Iraqi people were starved of information both about developments in their own country and in the wider world, but those days when they had to labour under the lies spread by Saddam's propaganda machine are now at an end. I am pleased to announce that a new Arabic television service, "Towards Freedom" is being launched in Iraq today, with opening statements from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush.
A major subject of discussion at Hillsborough was how best to help the people of Iraq build a stable and prosperous country, living in peace with its neighbours. The Hillsborough declaration emphasised that the United Nations had a "vital role" to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. The United Kingdom and United States plan to seek the adoption of new United Nations Security Council resolutions, which would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid delivery of humanitarian relief and endorse an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq. In that context, we welcomed the appointment, by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, of a special adviser to work on that range of issues.
At Hillsborough, we reaffirmed our commitment to protect Iraq's oil and other natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used for their benefit, and for their benefit alone.
Active discussions are under way among members of the Security Council to prepare the ground for those further resolutions. In addition to participating in the Hillsborough discussions, I have travelled in the past week to Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Madrid for consultations with Secretary Powell and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, Russia, France and Spain and our other NATO and EU colleagues.
It is our guiding principle that, as soon as possible, Iraq should be governed by the Iraqi people themselves. We therefore support the early formation of an Iraqi interim authority, which will progressively assume the functions of government. The coalition will need to work with the UN in establishing that body. As an initial step, I greatly welcomeI believe that the House will, toothe initiative taken by British military
Iraq's neighbours, too, have important interests at stake. They, like us, want to see a stable and prosperous Iraq living at peace in its region. Many of them have given valuable support to the military coalition. All will have an important contribution to make in the reconstruction phase. Last week, I saw the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mohamed Gul, and I look forward to talking to him again shortly. Next week, I will be visiting a number of Gulf states in the region.
My ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), will shortly be visiting Syria and Iran. It is important to maintain dialogue with both those countries. Syria and Iran now have their chance to play their part in the building of a better future for Iraq. I have maintained a dialogue over the past two years with the Iranian Government and, in particular, with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, covering a wide range of issues, including some that cause us concern. As for Syria, we hope that it will now take the opportunity to make a decisive break with the policies of the past and so contribute to a better future for the entire region.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has so often emphasised, nothing would make a more significant contribution to stability in the region than a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue. That, too, was the subject of major discussion at Hillsborough. The Prime Minister and President Bush look forward to the publication of the road map as soon as Abu Mazen's Cabinet has been formed. President Bush made clear yet again his commitment and that of his Administration to implementing the road map and, as he said at the press conference, to expending the same amount of energy in the search for peace in the middle east as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done in respect of Northern Ireland.
For the Iraqi people, the search for a lasting peace began yesterday. Iraq has been a country essentially at war with its neighbours and itself for the past 24 years, its people subjected to a tyranny whose full horror will become ever more apparent in the coming days and weeks.
Just 23 days ago, this House endorsed the Government's decision to resort to the use of force in order to remove the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and to bring the Iraqi people's long nightmare to an end. In committing our armed forces in this way, we in this House took the most difficult decision that can ever face any democracy. But we were right to do so, and today we are well on the way to achieving the objectives that we in this House set. In doing so, we have taken on new responsibilities to and for the people of Iraq, and we will apply the same energy and commitment to fulfilling those responsibilities as we have to the military task.