Earl of Michael Ancram (Devizes, Conservative)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is not for want of our asking for an apology that the Prime Minister has failed to give one. It is yet another indication of the Prime Minister's arrogance and his contempt not only for the House, but for his own rules in relation to his Ministers that he has not seen fit to come to the House to apologise. The Committee did not and could not, however, give the Government, the Prime Minister or Mr. Alastair Campbell a totally clean bill of health, hence our motion today.
We stand by our support for the action that was taken in Iraq. Like the Committee, we have no doubt, to quote paragraph 41 of the report, that
"the threat posed to UK forces was perceived as a real and present danger".
We believe that the development of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his refusal to comply with 18 UN Security Council resolutions justified action. That is why we supported the Government in the vote in the House on
That, however, is not the main issue of today's debate, which is about the way that the Government handled information in the run-up to that vote. The existence of weapons of mass destruction was not the sole justification for action, but they were certainly a part of it. The Prime Minister conceded that before the Liaison Committee on
"I accept entirely the legal basis for action was through weapons of mass destruction."
That brings me to the central purpose of today's debate. The Foreign Secretary rightly stated yesterday that the ability of the House to vote for or against war was a constitutional change. Not only was it a change but it carries grave responsibilities, which none of us on the night of the vote took lightly. Decisions of life and death can and must be taken only on the best information available. In the case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein, much of that information was bound to be intelligence-based and intelligence-provided. The House has no direct access to such intelligence but only what it is told by Ministers. The House must therefore be able to have total confidence not only in the intelligence information vouchsafed to it by the Prime Minister and his colleagues but in knowing what is intelligence-sourced and what is not. If that confidence is lacking or has been breached, the House cannot be responsibly asked to take on such grave matters.
The Prime Minister and the Government have an overriding duty to be scrupulous and consistent in the way that they provide intelligence material to Parliament. Over these last months, that has clearly not been the case. Two key areas exist, which are inevitably linked but nevertheless distinct: first, the status of the evidence on weapons of mass destruction, and secondly, the way in which the Government have handled and made public intelligence material. At the moment, the theme that links those more than anything else is that of confusion and inconsistency. In this area in which clarity is essential and consistency is vital, we have all found ourselves enmeshed in an increasingly tangled web that has been totally of the Government's weaving.