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Wednesday, 11 September, 2002, 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK
MPs recalled for Iraq debate
Parliament is to be recalled so MPs can debate the Iraq crisis.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked for the recall, which Downing Street wants to happen on 24 September.
It is expected the government's long-awaited dossier of evidence against Saddam Hussein will be published at the beginning of the same week.
Mr Blair stressed the government is "not at the stage of making decisions about military commitments with regard to Iraq".
"Should we be so in the future, Parliament would obviously be given every opportunity to express its view," Mr Blair said in a letter to Commons Speaker Michael Martin released earlier on Wednesday.
MPs had not been due to return from their long summer break until the middle of October.
But Mr Blair has bowed to strong pressure for a recall amid mounting concern over the possibility of a US-led attack on Iraq.
In his letter to the speaker, Mr Blair said he wanted to wait until after US President George Bush's speech to the United Nations general assembly on Thursday, before calling a debate.
Commons Leader Robin Cook said it would not be right for MPs to debate the Iraq situation until the government had published its promised dossier of evidence.
"When I discussed this with the prime minister, it was clear that the logical time for Parliament to meet is when that dossier is published," said Mr Cook.
"I think it is right that Parliament should be one of the first bodies to fully assess it, fully explore it and question ministers on it."
Currently plans are for a one day Commons sitting, but the government has not ruled out a two-day debate.
Mr Blair will himself make a statement before Foreign Secretary Jack Straw leads a debate on the crisis.
The move was welcomed by Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who said: "I will certainly be contributing to this important debate in the House of Commons.
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was also pleased Mr Blair had agreed to the recall, despite MPs being set to return to Westminster as his party holds its annual conference in Brighton.
Mr Kennedy said: "I welcome the fact that the prime minister has recognised the need for a recall of Parliament so these important issues can be discussed as soon as possible."
Both opposition leaders are being briefed about the Iraq crisis by Mr Blair on Thursday. Mr Kennedy said he looked forward to talking about the recall then.
It is understood MPs opposed to war will attempt to force a vote on the issue when Parliament is recalled.
Labour MP Alice Mahon said she was glad there would be a debate but disappointed after Downing Street told her there would be no vote.
"It is not enough for the lucky few MPs who get called in the debate to be able to voice their opinion," said Mrs Mahon.
Hard evidence, not more "supposition", was needed if Mr Blair wanted to "follow George Bush to war", she added.
In his letter to Mr Martin, Mr Blair said he would discuss with the speaker's office the best day for holding the debate, but he favoured early in the week.
The prime minister said he understood why some MPs wanted an earlier debate.
But there had to be a "rigorous process" so the document was as detailed as possible without compromising intelligence sources.
The recall decision came as America announced that 600 troops from its central command are moving to the Gulf state of Qatar.
The troops are on a three-week exercise, but officials say the move could be made permanent and it will fuel speculation over possible military action against Iraq.
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