Asked if he would agree with the suggestion that if Saddam had complied with UN Resolution 1441, as the Prime Minister had said that he wanted him to do, Saddam would still be in power today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that in his speech in Glasgow in February 2003, the Prime Minister had said that "The time is the time necessary to make a judgment: is Saddam prepared to co-operate fully or not? If he is, the inspectors can take as much time as they want. If he is not, if this is a repeat of the 1990s - and I believe it is - then let us be under no doubt what is at stake.....The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam. It is not the reason we act. That must be according to the United Nations mandate on Weapons of Mass Destruction". As the Prime Minister had said at the time, the reason for going to war was because Saddam was in breach of UN Resolutions, and had been for over twelve years. Resolution 1441 had given him a final chance to comply. Had he done so, he would have still been there. However, he had not complied, and that was the important point. Asked why the Prime Minister had criticised the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in PMQs today for adopting a position that would have left Saddam in power in Iraq when the Prime Minister himself had been looking to do the same thing by getting Saddam to comply with Resolution 1441, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to get drawn into a debate along party political lines. That said, it was important for people to recognise that, as we had pointed out at the time, we would have seen a different kind of regime had Saddam complied fully with the UN - a regime which would no longer be sustained by the threat of WMD.
Asked if the Government was concerned about the rise of economically inactive people of working age, the PMOS said he thought the main message arising from today's employment figures was the fact that unemployment was continuing to fall. This was a consequence of an economy that had been well managed. The Government's record on employment was there for all to see. He pointed out that there were a number of areas where the Government was continuing to work hard to encourage people back into work.
Asked why the Prime Minister was refusing to say "sorry" when Patricia Hewitt and Lord Falconer had both done so, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that whatever form of words were used, it was important to make a clear distinction between the mistakes in intelligence which the Prime Minister had acknowledged and for which he had accepted full responsibility in his response to the Butler Report, and apologising for the war which was something the Prime Minister was not prepared to do, despite the wish of his critics. Equally, it was important to recognise that the ISG had not only concluded that there were no WMD in Iraq. They had also stated that Saddam had been in multiple breach of UN Resolutions. The fundamental case for war, therefore, remained as valid today as it was at the time and was why the Prime Minister continued to believe that the conflict had been right.
The PMOS said that while he understood the media's focus on Iraq today, he thought it worthwhile to note the very good results contained in the NAO's report on A&E waiting lists today which showed that we had moved from a situation in 2002/3 where only just under 80% of people had been seen within four hours or less, to 95% of people being seen within that timeframe in June this year. We were on target to hit 98% by the end of the year. He was making this point because one evening paper had presented this positive story as a disaster. If it was a disaster, we wanted more like it.
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