Iraq's unconditional acceptance of the terms of the UN Security Council's Resolution passed last Friday is encouraging news – especially since it came forty–eight hours before the deadline set by Resolution 1441. The next deadline is on December 9 – by when Iraq has to provide “a currently accurate, full and complete inventory” of the weapons of mass destruction it is alleged to hold. To judge by the statement made yesterday afternoon by the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, this deadline may also be anticipated. He repeated what Saddam Hussein has also said, that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical or nuclear. “Iraq is clean” said the ambassador – and he said it in English, French and Arabic just to make sure it was heard.

If this categorical claim is to be believed, the inventory required by the United Nations can presumably be provided very quickly indeed – it will be a blank sheet of paper! Yet, just to think of such an unlikely outcome illustrates the difficulties that will now face the Security Council in determining how far Iraq is genuinely co–operating in the disarmament process which is the UN's ultimate objective. We are entering a dangerous period during which the United States and Britain will be inclined to distrust Iraq's every move while the majority of Security Council members will want to give it the benefit of the doubt. At stake will be the risk of the premature use of force by an impatient American administration.

Ray Fleming

The Queen's speech

Yesterday morning, at the State Opening of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth looked as if she would rather have been anywhere but sitting on her Throne and reading the government's list of legislation for the forthcoming parliamentary year. Partly this may have been because of the scandals swirling round her person, but it may also have been out of irritation with a Prime Minister who has breached protocol by personally previewing in the media the very measures that she herself is supposed to unveil in her speech.

So much had been leaked about the government's intended emphasis on crime prevention in the coming year that it became more interesting to see what was not in the Queen's Speech. There was almost nothing about Britain's possible membership of the EU's single currency; a routine reference to the five economic tests to be completed by next June was not accompanied by any hint of preparation for an early referendum. If this is delayed into 2004 it will be getting uncomfortably close to the next general election. Another omission was hard plans for reform of the House of Lords, once an important issue for a Labour government. Nor was there anything firm about the hot issue of a ban on hunting – only that a Bill will be introduced to enable Parliament “to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs”.

Clearly, David Blunkett is the man of the moment – he will have five Bills on reform of the criminal justice system to get through Parliament, a huge task.