I beg to move,
That this House
recalls the Prime Minister's assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being used at 45 minutes' notice;
further recalls the Government's contention that these weapons posed an imminent danger to the United Kingdom and its forces;
notes that to date no such weapons have been found;
and calls for an independent inquiry into the handling of the intelligence received, its assessment and the decisions made by ministers based upon it.
I begin by expressing a warm welcome to the Foreign Secretary. I think that it is the first time that we have seen him at a Liberal Democrat Opposition day. We hope that it will be the first of many such happy occasions.
The Prime Minister has rightly said that there is no more solemn decision for him than to commit British forces to military action. The decision of
It was a decision that was taken against the background of unparalleled public anxiety, which brought more than 1 million people on to the streets of London. We know that a swift and professional victory has been won, and that United Kingdom forces played a distinguished role in it, although one cannot help observing that it would have been surprising if the most powerful military nation in the world—in coalition with others, including the United Kingdom—had been unable to defeat what had become virtually a third-world army, with ageing equipment, poor morale and inadequate leadership.
I shall come to that point in due course, if I may.
I know of no current principle of international law that legitimates military action because it is successful or produces a benevolent outcome. The Government repeatedly expressed their determination—one would have expected no less—to act in accordance with international law. It is no secret that there was a dispute—some would say a continuing dispute—as to whether military action in this particular case was legitimate.
Since this is a matter of some controversy, it is right that I say what my own view is. Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 undoubtedly authorised military action, but resolutions of the UN Security Council are not the only source of international law. Such military action has to be seen against the principles of international law. It would have been legitimate only if it were truly a last resort, when all other diplomatic and political alternatives had been exhausted, and, indeed, if the action proposed was proportionate, involving no more force than was necessary to achieve the objectives of the resolutions. I did not believe then, and I do not believe now, that those requirements were or have been satisfied. There was still mileage—to put it colloquially—in the inspection regime, and the proposed use of force was by no means proportionate, in that it was designed to bring an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein.
If members of the United States Administration are to be believed, regime change was always their objective. Not so the United Kingdom Government. At a press conference on
"Our aim has not been regime change. Our aim has been the elimination of weapons of mass destruction."
Indeed, he said—and implied as much again today—that if Saddam Hussein had disarmed, both Saddam and his regime could have survived.
So it is clear from that analysis and from what we recall, that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were at the very heart of the Government's position, as was the ability to use them within 45 minutes. The Government's case was that the United Kingdom and its forces in particular were at risk from the continued possession of those weapons. If my memory serves me right, Ministers said that, for example, British forces in Cyprus would be at risk if Scud missiles with a suitable range were armed with chemical or biological warheads.
The Government also advanced the case—sometimes, not always—of anticipatory self-defence under article 51 of the UN charter. That could be supported only by a belief that the threat was imminent, to the extent that an anticipatory right of self-defence arose.
I am interested in the exact wording that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is using. Is he saying that the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Government, said that there was an imminent threat, or that his interpretation of what was said is that there was an imminent threat?
I am saying that it was a clear part of the case made by the Government that there was an imminent threat that weapons could be launched at 45 minutes' notice, and that British forces in Cyprus, for example, were at risk from such weapons. If that does not amount to an assertion that the use of such weapons was imminent, I cannot imagine what it would take to satisfy the hon. Gentleman in that regard.
The question of the imminent threat is very important. It is now clear that President Chirac had said that if the weapons inspectors failed to disarm Iraq, it would be necessary for the Security Council to approve military action. The only reason not to go through the UN, via the capacity of the Security Council, to secure agreement must have been that the matter was urgent and that there was an imminent threat; otherwise, we could have had unity in the international community and the Security Council.
Indeed. As I recall, when this point was made on the last occasion on which Dr. Blix appeared before the Security Council, he said that it would not be a matter of years or a matter of weeks before he and his team could complete their inspections, but that it could be a matter of months. That view was rejected, and as the right hon. Lady says, that can only have been on the understanding that the threat was so acute that Dr. Blix should not be allowed the time that he thought appropriate to complete the inspections.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
Much turned on the opinion of the learned Attorney-General, who ultimately—and unusually—made it known that he had expressed the view that military action was legal. It is axiomatic that on getting counsel's opinion, one should always be aware of the factual basis on which it was given. It is a reasonable inference that the Attorney-General proceeded on the factual basis then outlined by the Government. We are entitled to consider these questions. If the Attorney-General had known then that the immediate nature of the threat depended on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness, it is arguable that he might have changed his opinion. If he had known that Mr. Rumsfeld was likely to say that the weapons might have been destroyed before the war, it is arguable that he might have changed his opinion. If he had known that Mr. Wolfowitz would imply that weapons of mass destruction were not important in the decision to take military action, it is arguable that he would have changed his opinion. If he had known all three of those things, it is indisputable that he would have changed his opinion.
When the case for continuing with the policy of containment and deterrence was being made, the Government's response was that it had failed. The imminence and acuteness of the threat was the Government's answer to the continuation of that policy.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not also think that this adds up to the totally unsatisfactory position whereby an Attorney-General is in the other place and not in the House of Commons? Some of us—the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been among them—would have put these very direct questions to him. There are certainly two possibilities, if not more, in terms of distinguished lawyers on the Labour Benches who could have been appointed Attorney-General.
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say exactly where in the Attorney-General's opinion the word "imminent" is used or the concept of an imminent threat is mentioned? That is not the Attorney-General's opinion; that view is based entirely on resolution 1441.
We never saw the Attorney-General's opinion; what we saw was an abstract of it. As I said earlier, if ever one is sent counsel's opinion, one should ensure that the factual statement on which that opinion is based is also supplied.
I want to pick up on a point that the Prime Minister made with some robustness during his answers today. He said that there has been a concentration on humanitarian efforts that has inevitably had an effect on efforts to seek out any weapons of mass destruction.
I am bound to say that the primary task of the coalition forces was to secure any such weapons—or, indeed, the facilities for their manufacture—so as to prevent them from falling into the hands of the very terrorists who formed such an important part of the G8's conclusions during the past two or three days. I do not believe that the legitimate humanitarian objectives were in any way mutually inconsistent with the overwhelming and primary responsibility to lay hold of and secure any such weapons.
On the question of the existence of such weapons, Mr. Cook provided something of a searchlight into the position in his forensic and most dignified resignation speech of
"Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target."—[Hansard, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 727.]
The right hon. Gentleman was suitably coy about the sources of information on which he based that conclusion, but I am willing to infer that during his time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he had access to information and material of the utmost sensitivity, and that he would not have expressed his conclusion in those terms unless he was satisfied that there was a sound factual basis for doing so.
I shall now deal with the question of the form of the inquiry. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he expects an inquiry to be mounted by the Intelligence and Security Committee and that he will co-operate in every respect and make all materials available to it. I am not sure how far he went in respect of making all witnesses available, but it is certainly the case that any inquiry—whether by the ISC or an independent inquiry—will not be effective unless it can see everything and question everyone.
I understand the purpose of the motion before us on weapons of mass destruction. However, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman, unlike critics on the Government Benches, bring himself to welcome the fact that one of the most murderous and barbaric dictatorships has been destroyed, and that the people of Iraq are free from Saddam? I have not heard that sentiment expressed by critics today, and I wonder why.
Let us be clear. I have said clearly in the House that Saddam Hussein was steeped in the blood of his own countrymen and women, but we cannot make assertions such as the hon. Gentleman's without taking some moral responsibility—collectively, if not on a party-political basis—for what happened. It was after Halabja, where 5,000 people were killed, that the British Government of the day extended further credit facilities to the Saddam Hussein regime. It was after the end of the Iran-Iraq war that the British Government of the day continued to extend such credit facilities. There was a time when, because of his opposition to Iran, Saddam Hussein received the support of the United Kingdom and the United States. David Winnick may like to distance himself in a party-political sense from what I said, but it is not something easily understood on the streets of Arab capitals in the middle east.
The Intelligence and Security Committee is composed of people of independent judgment and senior Members of the House. I could not say otherwise, sitting in front of my right hon. Friend Mr. Beith in the presence of Ann Taylor who chairs the Committee, Mr. Mates and Joyce Quin who was present a few moments ago. My comments are no reflection on their independence or their judgment. The ISC's recent report on Bali demonstrated its willingness to be critical of the Government. However, I do not believe that an inquiry by the ISC is the best form of inquiry for the specific circumstances of this case.
I refer back to the depth and extent of public anxiety evidenced by the number of people who turned out on the streets of London and elsewhere to demonstrate and by the postbags of every Member of Parliament. Clearly, we need an investigation that is answerable not just to the Prime Minister or the House, but to the public who came on to the streets in such numbers to express their anxiety.
Initially, I took the view that there might be scope for a special Select Committee of the House, but I have subsequently changed my view and I shall explain why. The Leader of the House made an important intervention this morning both in The Times newspaper and in an interview with Mr. John Humphrys. I have no doubt that that interview will become part of the learning process of young BBC interrogators and, perhaps, of budding Leaders of the House for a long time to come. I fear that anyone attending a BBC Christmas party is likely to hear that tape many times.
To be serious, that intervention raised the stakes on any interpretation. A senior member of the Government says that he believes that someone in the intelligence services undermined the Government. Those of us with long political memories will recall that that intervention echoes some of the events of the Wilson era. It raises the stakes in a highly significant way, which cannot be denied. Secondly, I have become more persuaded that the substance of any inquiry must inevitably be what passed between the Prime Minister's office and the intelligence services, which requires a unique scrutiny. I do not believe that a Committee of the House or Parliament can provide such scrutiny.
Indeed. I would have argued what I am arguing in my speech in any case. One cannot alter the fact of these events. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is a student of John Maynard Keynes, but it was he who aptly said, "When the facts change, I change my opinion".
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman lack ambition for the House and for parliamentary Select Committees? Should we not all be saying that those are the right forums for an inquiry, in preference to a Franks inquiry behind closed doors or a Scott inquiry that will take us to 2004–05 before it reports? The House of Commons is the right place and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs should be buttressed in its campaign to prosecute this matter and gain access to security and intelligence documents.
I hope that I lack no ambition for the House and I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's criticisms in what I am about to say. I have already said that for any inquiry to be effective, it must have access to everything and to everyone—at all levels of Government, politicians and officials alike. When national security is not involved, there is no reason why an inquiry should not sit in public.
On the question of the time limit for production of a report, the right hon. Member for Livingston and myself formed an ever-lasting bond on the rain-spattered pavements outside the mews of Buckingham Palace, waiting to gain entry to the Scott inquiry, which went on for a considerable period—or, as some would argue, for too long. There is no reason why an inquiry of the sort that I seek could not be given a time limit within which to report. The inquiry should be headed by a judicial figure with experience of weighing evidence and attaching significance to it.
It must be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that the Foreign Affairs Committee has a certain level of security clearance, but it is not a level of clearance that is apt in the circumstances with which we are concerned. [Interruption.] I am not talking to Andrew Mackinlay, but to Mr. Cunningham. I know that he wishes I was talking to him, but I am talking to his hon. Friend. I was saying that the particular level of clearance given to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee might not be appropriate. Whoever is charged with the responsibility to investigate must have the ability to see everything and to talk to everyone. I am not convinced that that will be allowed.
I am a survivor of the Trade and Industry Committee's inquiry into the Iraqi supergun affair, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the record of those proceedings shows clear evidence of the fact that that Committee's efforts to get Ministers and officials to appear before it and tell it what they knew—indeed, to get a Member of the House to appear before it and tell it what he knew—were thwarted time after time. I confess that my experience does not lead me to be overly confident in the notion that a Select Committee inquiry would be the best way to deal with the matter.
The inquiry to be established will have several significant questions to consider. The Prime Minister used the word "overriding" on several occasions today, and he no doubt did so precisely and deliberately. The question that the inquiry must consider is whether Downing street sought changes to last September's dossier, as is now alleged, although such seeking may have fallen far short of overriding. The inquiry should consider who was responsible for the final contents and form of the so-called dodgy dossier. Who was responsible for the allegation that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger? That allegation was comprehensively destroyed by Dr. el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency in the course of the Security Council's proceedings, when he pointed out that the exchanges of correspondence appeared to be false. As later investigation proved, one item bore the name of a Minister who had not been in office for some seven or eight years.
In the light of what the Leader of the House has said, the inquiry must also consider whether there is any evidence of efforts by one or more persons in the intelligence services to undermine the Government. That would be a grave constitutional outrage if it were true, and it is therefore worthy of investigation. The inquiry should also consider to what extent the Government relied on Iraqi sources who may have been motivated by an understandable desire to overthrow the regime, and whose objectivity may have suffered as a result. In the light of what the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, frankly told the "Today" programme last week, the inquiry should also consider the extent to which our Government relied on uncorroborated information from a single source.
I hope that the whole House will vote for the motion. I apprehend from the interventions from the leader of the Conservative party that we may be able to look to him and his colleagues for support. Those who supported the Government have a stronger reason for voting for the motion than those who did not, because the supporters did so on the basis of statements of fact, some of which are now subject to question. Had they known so at the time of the historic vote on
We owe it to ourselves to have a thorough investigation by an independent inquiry, but—much more than that—we also owe it to the whole country.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"believes that the Intelligence and Security Committee established by Parliament is the appropriate body to carry out any inquiry into intelligence relating to Iraq;
and notes in relation to Iraq's disarmament obligations the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483."
My right hon. Friend read out the amendment—unfortunately, I shall have to support it tonight, because I am subject to the Whips—which states that the Intelligence and Security Committee was set up by Parliament. It is not a matter of semantics to say that that Committee was not set up by Parliament. It is appointed by the Prime Minister and is answerable to him. It is not a creature of Parliament. The Foreign Affairs Committee is the only appropriate body, because it was set up by Parliament. The ISC might have been set up under statute, but the Committee is constituted by the Prime Minister, and is fatally flawed for that reason.
I shall deal with that issue immediately. The Committee was indeed established by Parliament and, for the avoidance of any doubt, I have in front of me a report of the Second Reading of the Bill that established it, from
As for the appointment of the Committee by the Prime Minister, I shall lift the veil on a debate that has been going on for some time. One of the arguments—I am sorry, I shall rephrase that, because we do not have arguments in the Government: one of the differences of emphasis that I have had with some of my colleagues is that I think that it would be better to bite the bullet and establish a Select Committee. We could make similar arrangements for the security clearance of its members and the special security of all the evidence.
With great respect, I was cleared, but I do not want to go into that issue because it would take too long. Given my past, I can tell the House that my clearance under the old positive vetting procedure was not just a matter of a tick in a box. I had at least three successive grillings by officers of the security services, but in the end I received a tick. Years later, when the fact that the security services held files on me—which I already knew—became public, I refused to abuse my position as Home Secretary to see the files.
In practice, the membership list of the Intelligence and Security Committee is drawn up in the same way as the membership list of an ordinary Select Committee. It is drawn up by debate between the Whips across the Houses. The idea that somehow the Prime Minister can stop the publication of the judgments of the Committee is simply untrue.
I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that, because he is a distinguished member of the ISC. What actually happens is that every time the Committee reports, it does so—under statute approved by Parliament—to the Prime Minister. The purpose of that is to allow for redactions, or deletions—and it is always indicated where they occur—in the report, to protect highly sensitive information. To my knowledge, no Prime Minister in this or any previous Administration has ever desired or sought to amend any judgment made by the ISC. Were any Prime Minister—or Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, as those responsible for the day-to-day running of the agencies—to try to amend such a judgment, the Chairman and the members would be the first to tell the House about it, and in my opinion, it would be a matter for resignation. It would be preposterous to try to amend the Committee's judgment, and no one would try. I hope that that answers the point about the integrity of the Committee.
May I explain to my hon. Friend that amendments are never made to the report? I have just gone through the forthcoming draft report and I was asked for my agreement on a number of what are called redactions. As it happens, I told my right hon. Friend Ann Taylor, the Chairman of the ISC, that I refused to agree one deletion, on the grounds that I could see no good reason for it. As a result, I think that that item is now going to surface. What my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and I are asked to approve is, for example, that very sensitive source information or financial information be taken out. However, we never ever seek to amend the report, and still less to suppress its judgment. My hon. Friend asks for an undertaking that there will be no attempt to amend the report, apart from any deletions of the sort that I have described, and I give him that categorical and cast-iron undertaking.
I turn now to the overall context in respect of Iraq. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt briefly with that earlier, but only eight weeks have passed since Saddam Hussein's brutal regime fell. In that time, we and our coalition partners have set about the task of helping the people of Iraq to build a more secure, prosperous and democratic nation. Enormous challenges remain in what will be a long-term commitment, but we believe that the situation in the north and the south is slowly improving. However, as I told the House on
When I made my last report to the House on
Obviously, we all know that that is a Security Council resolution, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is a compromise, in that the UN is being given only a parallel role with the coalition, rather than the primary role in bringing an Iraqi interim authority into being. However, I read in the press that the American representative in Iraq has said that the idea of holding a conference to bring forward an Iraqi Government has been cancelled, and that a smaller group is to be selected for that purpose. What is the UN's role in that?
I was about to come to those matters, and I shall deal directly with my right hon. Friend's second point. Of course, the resolution was indeed a compromise. That is an inevitable and inherent—indeed, an admirable—part of the process by which 15 different member states of the Security Council come together to debate, negotiate and—we hope—agree Security Council resolutions.
Paragraph 11 of resolution 1483 reaffirms that Iraq
"must meet its disarmament obligations", and also recalls Security Council resolutions 687, 1284 and 1441, the key disarmament resolutions passed since the Gulf war.
Resolution 1483 was passed unanimously, after much negotiation and after Britain, the US and Spain—the countries that moved the resolution—had first tabled the original draft. I always made it clear—in private to my right hon. Friend Clare Short, and publicly—that the draft was a draft and that if we wanted the unanimous agreement that we got in the end there would have to be compromises.
However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, among others, has sometimes suggested that it is possible to secure votes by some kind of additional pressure. I think that "bullying" was the word that she used, but the experience of the past nine months shows clearly that members of the Security Council make up their own minds on the issues before them. That is simply a matter of fact. Sadly, they did not agree to the so-called "second resolution" in March. We tried very hard, but the Security Council decided not to agree to that resolution, and we did not put it to a vote. However, it did agree last November to resolution 1441—again after a good process of negotiation and compromise, and it agreed to resolution 1483 on
I ask the House this question: would France, China, Russia and Germany have called just two weeks ago for Iraq to meet its disarmament obligations if they had believed that those obligations had already been met? Of course they would not. Yet the Security Council—which is made up of grown-up countries perfectly able to decline to vote in favour of a US-UK resolution when they wish—repeated at the beginning of operational paragraph 11 that Iraq must meet its "disarmament obligations".
I shall deal directly with the other point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood. It is true that Mr. Bremer has proposed that the Baghdad conference should be delayed and that, pro tem, there should be an arrangement of the kind that my right hon. Friend has described, to assist the coalition authority. We are in active discussion with the US about that, but we also believe that what the US and the coalition provisional authority—effectively, the US and the UK—are doing is fully consistent with resolution 1483.
I have two other things to say on this matter. First, I shall write with more details to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, and I shall place that reply in the Library. Secondly, one of the good things achieved by the process of negotiation on resolution 1483 was a significantly strengthened role for what was originally to be a special co-ordinator from the UN. That post is now that of a special representative, who has powers with which I believe the Secretary-General is very happy. In turn, the Secretary-General has appointed Mr. de Mello, who I think is well known to my right hon. Friend; he is a man of the highest reputation and integrity in the international community. He has undertaken to report regularly to the Security Council. If he feels at any stage that what we are doing is unsatisfactory, he will make his own report to the Security Council.
I should add that under resolution 1483, the US and the UK—the coalition provisional authority—are required to make very regular reports to the Security Council. I am absolutely with my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood—I am sure that the whole House is—in wanting to ensure that the words used by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush about a vital role for the UN are translated into real action. I believe that they have been, in resolution 1483.
Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Iraqi assistance fund is under the control not of the UN, but of Britain and the US? The fund has access to all the Iraqi foreign reserves frozen during the Saddam regime. It is busy handing out contracts for reconstruction, mainly to American companies, and it also has access to all the oil revenues that are coming in. Is my right hon. Friend surprised that there is growing opposition in Iraq to the US presence there?
I suggest that my hon. Friend read the terms of the resolution. It is true that operational paragraph 12 establishes the fund, to be held by the central bank of Iraq and subject to the directions of the coalition provisional authority, for the time being. However, the fund is to be audited by independent public accountants approved by an independent monitoring and advisory board. That board includes representatives of the UN Secretary-General, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and certain regional bodies. Moreover, the money can be used only for the benefit of the people of Iraq. That, too, will be audited.
It is therefore simply wrong of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North to suggest that there is any possibility that the funds could somehow be siphoned off for the benefit of the members of the coalition. The coalition has power over the funds because of its obligations as the occupying power.
One of the things that I insisted should be included in the initial draft of the resolution—and there was some reticence about this—was an acknowledgement that we were the occupying power, as defined under the fourth Geneva convention and the Hague regulations. That acknowledgement imposed very significant obligations, and it was not a role that the UN wanted at that stage, especially given the controversial history of the occupation.
I have no doubt that the concealed evidence will, in time, be exposed. However, intelligence gathering in Iraq remains up to date. The disabled special Olympics team there has been identified. We have had commitments in the House that resources will be available to enable that team to participate in the games. Can the Foreign Secretary give me an assurance—
The fourth Geneva convention and the protocol, and the Hague regulations. A good abstract exists of both those sets of international instruments, and I shall make a copy available to the hon. Lady.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out in detail, both at Prime Minister's questions and in his statement about the G8 summit, the arrangements that the coalition forces are making to step up their efforts to investigate sites, documentation and individuals concerned with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes. There is no need for me to repeat what he said.
The motion focuses, as Mr. Campbell said, on the claim that weapons of mass destruction were capable of being used at 45 minutes' notice. It further recalls the Government's contention that those weapons posed
"an imminent danger to the United Kingdom and its forces".
It is not the main point of the debate, but I was struck by the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not use his customary forensic skills to choose words that the Government had actually used. We talked about a threat to international peace and security, as had the United Nations. So far as I am aware, however, we have never talked about the weapons posing an "imminent danger" to the territory of the United Kingdom or its forces. I was struck, too, by the fact that in the course of questioning, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was unable to come up with a single source for a central claim in his motion.
I will give way later, but I want to make some progress.
Let me make it clear why Ministers and the Joint Intelligence Committee regarded the information in our dossier as reliable, including the claim—far more carefully worded in the dossier than in newspaper rewordings of it—that Saddam's military planning allowed for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be readied within 45 minutes of an order to use them. That seems to me to be an unremarkable claim, since most materiel can be made available within 45 minutes of an order to use it; indeed, the order to use it is often not given until it is known that the materiel is available for use.
The intelligence on 45 minutes came, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, from an established and reliable source, not a defector, who has been reporting to us secretly for some years. The intelligence became available at the end of August. It was discussed by the Joint Intelligence Committee in the first week of September. It was included straight away in classified JIC documents. The fact that it had already been included in JIC assessments before its appearance in the public dossier puts in perspective the wilder accusations in the media.
Let me deal with the point made by Mr. Portillo—
A dossier was prepared. It was in draft, and it was discussed in the normal way. Then it went back to the head of the JIC and his colleagues for final approval. I saw the draft; I cannot remember exactly what comments I made on it, but they will be among the evidence given to the Intelligence and Security Committee. A draft of the foreword was then prepared. That, too, was subject to discussion with and agreement from the head of the JIC to ensure, plainly, that what was in the foreword was entirely consistent with what was in the body of the document.
I am awfully sorry, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has answered my point. Of course it is axiomatic that what was in the foreword was consistent with the body of the report. What I asked was whether, when the reference was moved from the body of the report to the foreword, to stand above the Prime Minister's signature and be given the extra emphasis of having the Prime Minister's signature below it, intelligence officers made any representation to the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, that, given the provenance of the information, it did not bear sufficient weight to stand above the Prime Minister's signature.
I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. If he has a copy—[Hon. Members: "Answer."] The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea is saying that he does not believe that the point about 45 minutes deserved the prominence that the Prime Minister gave it in the report.
I am awfully sorry, but perhaps I am not speaking loudly enough. I am asking the Foreign Secretary a question. When the Prime Minister submitted a draft of the foreword, including the 45-minute point within it, did any intelligence officers remonstrate with the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, to say that they did not believe it should stand in the foreword because it was based on only a single source? If the answer is no, we can all move on.
Given that the Prime Minister displayed such admirable statesmanship in the run-up to and conduct of the war against Saddam Hussein, and given that the people responsible for weapons detection are different from those responsible for national reconstruction in Iraq, why is it only now, as we learned at Prime Minister's Questions, that a new body is being established to intensify the search for weapons of mass destruction? In broad terms, within what time scale can we expect that work to be completed and reported?
The establishment of the Iraq survey group was agreed a little while ago. In truth, after a conflict of this kind, eight weeks is a relatively short period. The immediate requirement was to establish security. That still has not been done. A body such as the Iraq survey group plainly cannot operate effectively until there is good security across the country. Having established security, the need alongside that is to meet the immediate and longer-term humanitarian needs of the people. I believe that that is being done as speedily as possible. I acknowledge the impatience that the hon. Gentleman is expressing. We are all impatient for further evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, even though I am entirely satisfied about the basis on which we made our decision on
May I return for a moment to the question of the 45-minute readiness of weapons of mass destruction? For me, the central question is not whether there was one source or two, or whether it was in the first or the second draft. The central point, as we can plainly see now that we are in Iraq, is that that statement was wrong. Has the Foreign Secretary noticed that General Conway, commander of the US Marine Corps in Iraq, has said, after inspecting every ammunition dump and having failed to find a single chemical shell, that we simply were wrong. If the US Marine Corps can say we were wrong, why cannot we?
I simply do not accept what my right hon. Friend says. As he has raised that point, I can tell him that, when I initially took on my current job, one of the reasons that I became convinced of the strength of the case against Iraq, even before
The article stated:
"UN measures remain in place because of Saddam's determination to retain and rebuild his weapons of mass destruction and threaten the region . . . We believe"— that is, my right hon. Friend—
"that Saddam is still hiding these weapons in a range of locations in Iraq, and that Iraq is taking advantage of the absence of weapons inspectors to rebuild weapons of mass destruction . . . We must not be deceived. He still threatens his neighbours. Unchecked, Iraq could develop offensive chemical and biological capabilities, and develop a crude nuclear device in about five years."
My right hon. Friend really must give way on that point. Saddam was not allowed to go unchecked. We pursued a vigorous policy of containment and everything that we discovered when we went to Iraq showed that that policy of containment worked. What my right hon. Friend read out was interesting and, if I may say so, very well written, but it does not answer the question that I put to him. Would he please condescend to address his mind to that question? The central issue is that we have not found any weapons ready for use within 45 minutes. That information was wrong, wherever it came from.
I do not accept that, because we have not yet been able to find physical evidence of the possession of such weapons, those weapons therefore did not exist. That flies in the face of all the other evidence. My right hon. Friend is too skilled to suggest that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction; that he did not use them against his own people in Halabja, as well as against the Iranians; that he did not have a biological weapons programme that he concealed from the world for four years despite the best efforts of inspectors, as my right hon. Friend so eloquently often spelt out; or that biological weapons capability became known not as a result of any work of the inspectors but because of defections. My right hon. Friend seems to brush aside any suggestion that the effective dismissal of the inspectors at the end of 1998, about which he protested strongly, could have had anything to do with the fact that Saddam was still trying to hide his weapons programmes, yet that was the whole basis of his article in The Daily Telegraph at the beginning of 2001.
It is certainly the case that the argument between my right hon. Friend and me, and the reason why he resigned from the Government, was about whether the containment policy was working and inspections would continue to work or whether, on
I will in a second, but I want to make some progress.
The motion before the House implies that the intelligence dossier, with the point about the 45 minutes, was a key factor in the decision to go to war. It was not. The dossier was published on
The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife failed properly to answer a question from my hon. Friend Mr. MacDonald. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was parodying and traducing the legal basis for the military action that we decided to take on
It is nonsense to suggest that the issue before the House on
If we go back to
"weapons of mass destruction programme is active,"—
The House should note that word "active"—"detailed and growing." Referring to the recently published report, the Prime Minister said:
"It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 3.]
If that was not a direct causal link being implanted in the mind of the House, at that point, I do not know what is.
That was indeed the belief not only of the Prime Minister and the House but also of the international community. France, Russia, China and other members of the Security Council, including Syria, were perfectly capable of making their judgments. They came to the judgment that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security. I come back to this point: it is impossible to explain Saddam's behaviour unless he had weapons of mass destruction.
Dr. Blix is just about to publish a further report; there is a reference to it in the Financial Times today. The chief weapons inspector said that Baghdad had supplied his team with increasingly detailed information but that:
"even at the end, Iraq failed to allay suspicions that it had something to hide", and its
"trend of withholding pertinent information" meant that the suspicions mounted and mounted.
That was true for Dr. Blix and it was also true for the Security Council. Those Members, especially my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, who had doubts about the military action and about whether Saddam had a capability should read the reports of the weapons inspectors. They should read the last report of UNSCOM. I have put those reports before the House and everyone can read them, including the 173 pages of the final report. It is impossible to read those reports and to set them against the evidence of Saddam's behaviour without coming to the conclusion that, in Dr. Blix's words, there was a strong presumption for the holding of those weapons.
With the greatest respect, the Foreign Secretary is doing what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have been doing for the last two days: answering different questions from the ones that are being put to him. The Governments of France, Germany and China and the vast majority of the Government's critics in this House never denied Saddam Hussein's history of weapons of mass destruction. They never denied the need to disarm him. They never denied that it might eventually prove necessary to use military force to disarm him. That was never an issue at any time. On
That was the speech that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to make. The speech that I made was a different one, and the speech I would make now, knowing what I now know, would have been the same speech as I made on
"Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council resolutions"— a direct quotation from Security Council Resolution 1441—posed a
"threat to international peace and security".—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 760.]
We noted that in 130 days since resolution 1441 was adopted, Iraq had not co-operated actively, unconditionally and immediately with the weapons inspectors and had rejected the final opportunity to comply and was in further material breach of its obligations. We said that, given that, we decided to approve military action. That was the basis on which we came to that decision.
No, I will not give way. I must make progress.
I am glad that Mr. Clarke made that concession, because one could be forgiven today for thinking that there are many people who opposed the war on one basis two months ago—that they thought more time should be given to the inspectors, and are now saying that they opposed it on a different basis, namely that Saddam did not have any weapons of mass destruction or did not pose a threat to international peace and security after all.—[Interruption.]
People should be absolutely clear about this. The whole issue and argument was whether it was appropriate to take military action at that stage or whether it would have been better to allow Saddam more time. I had come to the view, reluctantly, that we should support military action. I notice, by the way, since there have been some questions about the position of the French people, that Mrs. Therese Delpeche, who is the French UNMOVIC commissioner, appointed by the agreement of the French Government, said that having pondered the documents produced by Hans Blix's team on the unresolved issues—in particular, the 173-page report put before the Security Council on
"the only possible course of action now".
Thus it was not only people in the United Kingdom or the United States who were supporting the position that we were proposing and that I put before the Security Council; it was people including the French commissioner of UNMOVIC, with all her experience. Her patience, too, had run out.
Let me respond to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and then I will give way. At the beginning of my remarks, which I shall conclude shortly, I dealt with the question of my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay as to why I felt that the ISC was the appropriate body to undertake this inquiry. There cannot be any question about the independence, integrity or skill of the ISC, nor indeed any real objection—
No. Nor can there be any real objection to the fact that the Committee would have to meet in secret. In a debate in 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston spelled out eloquently, as he will recall, why it was necessary for the ISC to meet in secret, and the fact that it has to meet in secret, as he said on that occasion, makes its examination, particularly of Ministers, all the more testing.
The truth is that any other inquiry, whether a judicial inquiry or even a congressional inquiry, would have to hold a large part of its proceedings in private. That is the reality. Alongside the narrow inquiry of the ISC, I also welcome the Foreign Affairs Committee's inquiry, and that will hold its proceedings mainly in public.
However, I say to the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, as a member too of a fine and learned profession, although not as skilled or experienced as he, that we sometimes make a mistake in investing quite the faith that we do in appointing a judicial figure to chair an inquiry of this kind. I have been responsible for establishing some judicial inquiries. I think of one that was satisfactory and did the job pretty quickly: the Lawrence committee inquiry. However, others often take a very long time. Because of the Salmon rules—witnesses, lawyers and so on—large amounts of money can disappear. The Bloody Sunday inquiry is now costing scores and scores of millions of pounds—
Yes, we did. I have been partly responsible for establishing such inquiries, so I can say with some confidence that I do not believe they are necessarily a satisfactory basis on which to proceed.
Instead of the apologies that are expected today, would it not be more relevant if the international community apologised for the fact that it allowed Saddam and his thugs to rule and murder for years without taking any action until very recently? Is not something very wrong indeed with democracies if they could allow Saddam to murder thousands of people over the years?
I confess that I do not remember the Foreign Secretary objecting to the form of the Scott inquiry when Mr. Cook was making such coruscating speeches in the House of Commons against the Government of the day.
The advantage of a judicial inquiry is that it brings total impartiality and a confidence in the public that political influence will not be brought to bear. That is why it seems, in the particular circumstances of this case, when 1 million people came out on the streets of London, that such an inquiry should be instituted.
I simply do not accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. There are on the ISC representatives of his party, representatives of the Conservative party and representatives from the other place—as well as very independent-minded Labour Members. The idea that those senior Members of the House will be suborned, subject to influence, is absolutely wrong. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not say such things when I asked for acceptance of the case for the ISC to look into the Bali intelligence. Its report, which criticised the Government quite roundly, was widely acknowledged as being entirely independent.
In the time available I will not accept any more interventions, but I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends this question. The Government believe that the decision that we took in March was entirely justified, and I have spelled out the reasons why. The reasons why we took that decision are not the reasons now being suggested. People need to look at the record. But I ask those supporting this resolution and our critics whether they seriously believe that when Saddam Hussein chose confrontation rather than co-operation, he possessed no weapons of mass destruction, following our decision on
Even if we make the most extreme allowances for the warped mentality of a murderous dictator, how can we possibly believe that he cheated and deceived the international community year after year, until we had no option but military action, and yet that he possessed no weapons of mass destruction?
The set of propositions that lies behind the charges against the Government is frankly fanciful. Is it not more likely that Saddam, knowing that the game was up and realising that we meant what we said, went to extraordinary lengths to dismantle, conceal and disperse the weapons and any evidence of their existence? We warned about exactly that in the dossier on
I have made it clear that the ISC is composed of senior Members of all parties from both Houses. The Committee's report will be subject to its independent judgment and subject to debate in both Houses. There is no basis whatever for the Liberal Democrat motion. On the wider issue, I am wholly satisfied that the decision that the House took on
This is an important debate. I listened with interest to Mr. Campbell and to my surprise, and occasional alarm, I agreed with him on several of the matters that he raised. However, I was surprised by some of his remarks. He seemed to question the legality of the action that was taken in Iraq but I seem to recall that in the debate on
May I make my second point and then the right hon. and learned Gentleman can deal with them both together?
The right hon. and learned Gentlemen also cast doubt on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, yet I recall that on "Breakfast with Frost" last August, he said:
"it is a valid assumption that"
"has continued with the biological and chemical weapons programme and I think it's also a reasonable assumption that he's trying for a nuclear capability".
That was a slightly different tune to the one that he is singing today, but the popular wind was probably blowing in a different direction then.
It just so happens that I brought a copy of Hansard with me. On
"It may well be true that, legally, no new Security Council resolutions are required for the resumption of inspections. It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. Indeed, the existence of that authority was the only possible legal foundation for the actions taken in December 1998. However, I have no doubt that, from a political and a diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43-44.]
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the analysis that I gave a moment or two ago, he would know that I said that any military action must be a last resort. United Nations Security Council resolutions are not the only fountain of international law and action taken must be proportionate. It did not seem to me that regime change was proportionate action.
I think that I can rely on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's words from last year. As we said when we practised together in the Scottish courts, I rest my case.
I also listened with particular care to the Foreign Secretary. As he and hon. Members know, we supported the Government's action on Iraq and their reasons for it. We believe that the Prime Minister and Government acted in the national interest and we backed them. We do not resile from that position in any way, nor do we modify our view that the campaign in Iraq was well conducted and effective. I must say that we are less happy with the Government's failure to prepare properly for the peace and we shall have to return to that vital issue on another occasion.
Our main concern stems from allegations about the Government's handling of intelligence material and evidence on the existence of weapons of mass destruction that proliferated last week while the House was in recess and we were unable to raise the matter. The intensity and nature of the allegations was designed to undermine the credibility not only of the Government, but of our intelligence services. Allowing such allegations to go unanswered could be nothing other than damaging to our national interest. They need to be answered not only comprehensively and fully, but urgently. It is not enough to dismiss them as absurd, which the Prime Minister seemed to do in certain press conferences last week. The allegations were detailed and the response to them also needed to be detailed.
The Government constantly claimed that they had answers to all the questions and we hoped that the Prime Minister would come to the House and clear the air, thereby ending the damage that the doubts and suspicions created by the allegations were causing. That is why a letter that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition sent to the Prime Minister yesterday set out five key questions and why I listened to the Prime Minister today with particular interest. He gave us answers but they did not answer the questions that we raised and neither were they full or comprehensive. They did not dispel the doubts and suspicions, and I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not take the opportunity to lay the matters firmly and conclusively to rest today. I therefore listened especially carefully to the long speech made by the Foreign Secretary. He dealt with the contents of various documents in detail, as he always does, but I do not believe that he gave satisfactory answers to the five key questions that we posed yesterday.
Let me remind the Foreign Secretary and hon. Members of the questions. First, we still need to hear the truth behind the allegations that the dossier's original conclusion was deleted and a new preamble, reportedly written by the Prime Minister, was inserted. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary read the report in The Sunday Times on Sunday suggesting:
"after extensive consultation between . . . the JIC chairman" and others in Downing street, various changes were made. The article also says that in a memo to Alastair Campbell, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee said that the foreword, written by the Prime Minister,
"had been incorporated within the overall document 'but the conclusion had been dropped'."
In order to try to establish the precise nature of the original JIC report, we have called for the document, including the conclusion, to be published so that we would know whether there was any real truth behind the allegations in the article. We have received no satisfaction so far.
Secondly, we have not been satisfied on the question of the 45 minutes. It is all very well to say—I do not disbelieve it—that the piece of intelligence was vetted and passed by the JIC and included in the report. However, the suggestion that the information was not significant flies in the face of the evidence. The information appears three times in the report: in the preamble, the executive summary and the body of the report. As the leader of the Liberal Democrats pointed out, the Prime Minister referred to it in his speech at the time. If the Prime Minister had not regarded the information as highly significant, it would not have been treated in such a high-profile way. Was the intelligence single-sourced or, as several reports yesterday suggested, was it double-sourced—or corroborated, as we say in Scotland? When significant intelligence information is used, how often is single-sourced intelligence accepted as opposed to corroborated intelligence? My right hon. Friend Mr. Portillo asked a question in which I think there was a barbed hook. I heard the Foreign Secretary's reply but we should be told whether single-sourced or double-sourced intelligence is usually used on such occasions.
Had there been weapons of mass destruction with a 45-minute capability, someone in Iraq would have come forward after the war to ingratiate themselves or to get money by giving us all the details. Perhaps in tonight's Adjournment debate on the detention of Tariq Aziz, the question can be addressed as to why one of the many who are now in the hands of the coalition has not corroborated the information that the House wants.
The hon. Gentleman and I approach the issue from a different angle. I believe that the Prime Minister accepted that intelligence information as genuine and that is why he spoke about it in the House. I am trying to clear the air by getting the Government to say why the information was regarded as so important that it was mentioned so often and why a single-sourced piece of information was used in that way. I see Government Front-Bench spokesmen shaking their heads, but until they deal with those questions the suspicions and doubts will continue, and it will be because of their reactions.
Thirdly, we asked for a categorical assurance that there was no disagreement between Downing street and the intelligence services on the handling of intelligence information. A number of allegations have been made about that which go to the heart of the relationship between our intelligence services and the Government. In the light of this morning's developments, the question is more urgent and relevant. We need clear and categorical reassurances. We have not received them.
Fourthly, Secretary Rumsfeld said last week—I have taken some trouble to establish precisely what it is that he said—that "it is possible" that at the time we invaded Iraq we were not sure whether Saddam had biological and chemical weapons and was prepared to use them. Secretary Rumsfeld also said:
"it is possible that the Saddam regime decided that they would destroy them prior to the conflict".
We need to know whether the Government agree with that assessment because it was made by a very senior member of the American Administration. If they do, we need to know how that squares with the Government's reiterated assertions, which I do not disbelieve, that weapons of mass destruction exist and will be found. Again, on that we have not received a satisfactory answer.
Lastly, the Prime Minister told us on television on Sunday that there was new information to back up his previous statements about weapons of mass destruction which had not yet been published. In the light of the allegations now being made, not least by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife, we need to know what that information is. If it confirms the Prime Minister's position, surely this is the moment when it should be published. In the light of current speculation, it should be published immediately.
In St. Petersburg, the Prime Minister said:
"What we are going to do is assemble that evidence and present it properly to people".
Surely it cannot take long to assemble evidence that is, according to the Prime Minister, already available and is now urgent. Again, we have received no satisfactory response to that request. We are therefore left with the situation in which, after Prime Minister's questions, a Prime Ministerial statement and a long speech from the Foreign Secretary, the doubts and the suspicions remain. The air has not been cleared and the damage continues.
There is also another element. In an extraordinary outburst, the Leader of the House today launched an attack on growing rogue elements in the intelligence services.
The Leader of the House made the most serious accusations against those elements. He was not able to name them. There is no indication that disciplinary action is being taken against them. In short, in his ill-considered and ill-advised outburst, he has done more to undermine confidence in our intelligence services than all the allegations to which I have previously referred. So serious is his attack that it cannot possibly just be allowed to rest. He has single-handedly made the case for an inquiry. We had hoped that clear answers might have pre-empted that, but they were not forthcoming. The serious charges levelled by a very senior member of the Government at the intelligence services compounds that situation. We now believe that an inquiry is necessary.
We have considered the various forms that such an inquiry might take. It will have to be independent and open if it is to dispel suspicions and doubts not just in the House but among members of the public. Although we have the greatest respect for the Intelligence and Security Committee and welcome the inquiry that it will undertake, it does not fit those two criteria simply because of the way in which it is set up and the way in which it takes evidence.
I am not suggesting that it should not. In fact, I told the House that I welcome the fact that it is undertaking the inquiry. What I am saying is that it cannot by definition be called an open inquiry because it hears its evidence in private. To dispel the doubts on this occasion, the inquiry needs to be open.
What exactly does the right hon. Gentleman mean by an open inquiry? Surely he is not seriously suggesting that all the evidence for his model of inquiry should be taken in public in the open.
The point about the ISC is that none of the evidence will be taken in public. I shall deal with how that could be done in a moment.
We also respect and welcome the decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee to conduct a similar inquiry. It is right that Parliament, through that Committee, is able to have such an inquiry, but I do not believe that it can satisfy the criterion of independence which I believe public opinion now requires, especially in the light of the outburst from the Leader of the House this morning.
If further damage is to be mitigated, the inquiry must be certain and clear. Our proposal is for a resolution in both Houses of Parliament under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. That is the most powerful form of inquiry and is appropriate for an issue of this gravity. The tribunal would be chaired by a senior judge with judicial powers to force witnesses to attend on oath and require the production of documents. It would be a contempt of court to refuse any of those requirements.
Under the Act, the tribunal is not allowed to refuse the public, including the press, to be present at any proceedings unless in the sole opinion of the tribunal it decides that it is in the public interest to refuse public access, probably because the subject matter is sensitive. In that case, the nature of the evidence would be to do with national security. On those specific points, the tribunal might decide to exclude the public for the time when those particular issues are considered.
The problem is not one of security, but of the Government's handling of security information. I was amazed by the Foreign Secretary's reaction to the idea of judge-led inquiries. I hope that in the privacy of his room tonight he will blush when he recalls the words that he used. It is interesting that all those inquiries into our conduct when we were in government that were set up by this Government were judge led. There is no problem with judge-led inquiries that deal with the previous Government, but if they are into this Government they do not want them.
The allegations are not about the justification for action in Iraq; nor are they about the conduct of that action. Those were clear and evident and are not affected by the allegations with which we are dealing today. The allegations are concerned with the way in which the Government handled intelligence material and whether, in doing so, they were always totally open and honest with the House. That is what an inquiry must establish, as well as dealing with the serious assertions made by the Leader of the House this morning.
Conservative Members are not in the habit of supporting Liberal Democrat motions, not least because they are rarely sufficiently clear to support. This motion does, however, call for
"an independent inquiry into the handling of the intelligence received".
That principle accords with the type of inquiry that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition called for today. We will therefore support the motion in the Division Lobby. The Government had the chance to clear the air. They fumbled it. They now must live with the consequences.
The conclusions that I have reached about the way in which the Prime Minister misled us in order to rush to war in Iraq are serious indeed. I am well aware of that. I wish that I had not reached those conclusions, but I fear that they reflect my opinion and I need to put my case. Obviously, loyalty to one's Government is an important quality, but loyalty to the truth is a higher imperative.
If I am right in my conclusions, it is a very serious matter indeed. The truth must be found and lessons must be learned by the Government and by our system of government, so that such things can never happen again.
The Christian teaching on just war, to which the Liberal Democrat spokesman referred—and I understand that the Muslim teaching is very similar, unsurprisingly—says that the cause must be just, the remedy proportionate, the war winnable, and that there must be no other way of putting right the wrong. The problem with the war in Iraq is that the possibility of resolving the problem in another way was not exhausted. It was therefore not a just war. That is why the Churches all over the world, including all the American Churches apart from the Southern Baptists, opposed the war at that time.
As Mr. Clarke said, most of us thought that we had to adhere to the possibility of military action to uphold the authority of the UN, but we wanted to exhaust the possibility of disarming Saddam Hussein and, if possible, displacing him without going to war and inflicting more hurt and suffering on the people of Iraq. We did not exhaust all the possibilities of achieving that.
I am not one of those who believe that we could ignore the problem of Saddam Hussein and continue with the policy of containment. On that, I agree with the United States neo-conservatives, now the hawks in the Bush Administration. Saddam Hussein was a vicious tyrant, guilty of grave crimes against humanity, he was defying the UN, and sanctions were causing enormous suffering to the people of Iraq. But Saddam Hussein was the problem, not the people of Iraq. We therefore needed to try to find a way to resolve the problem without inflicting on the people of Iraq further suffering, war and the chaos that has come after war.
The US Churches put forward such a plan. It came late, but it was well thought through. It included a proposal for coercive disarmament backed up by a UN-mandated force, the indictment of Saddam Hussein in order to bring him down and then a UN mandate in order to bring Iraq to democracy. There were other proposals that we should have tried, but I was always of the view that we had to be willing to contemplate the use of military force ultimately, and that we could not leave the situation as it was for a further 12 years.
On weapons of mass destruction, there has been a great deal of discussion today and my time is limited. I saw all the written intelligence for a number of months and had a number of personal briefings from the security services. We are all agreed that the regime was determined to experiment with chemical and biological weapons. It had previously tried to have nuclear weapons, which had been dismantled by the previous weapons inspectors. That is why Saddam Hussein continued to defy the UN and why sanctions continued. That is not in dispute among us. The question is how weaponised were the materials, how imminent was the threat, and why could we not wait for the Blix process to be exhausted.
The only reason not to allow Blix to go on, and thereby to throw away the unanimity that had been achieved in the Security Council on resolution 1441, was if there was some kind of urgency. I believe that the security services briefing was that there was a threat, as I have briefly tried to summarise, but then there was an exaggeration of the imminence of that danger. That is the importance of the 45 minutes and the suggestion of the potential link to al-Qaeda. There was an attempt to suggest an imminent threat that did not, in fact, exist.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. As somebody who could not support the Prime Minister in the Lobby that night, I have some sympathy with what she is saying. On
"I repeat my warning: unless we take a decisive stand now as an international community, it is only a matter of time before these threats come together.—[Hansard, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 23.]
The Prime Minister was boxed in because he had troops deployed in Kuwait and war became the only option. That was so regrettable. It sounds to me as though the right hon. Lady would agree.
I shall deal with the points that the hon. Lady has made. The extraordinary thing about the al-Qaeda point is that al-Qaeda members must have gone to Iraq before the war. They must be there now. If there really was a risk from chemical and biological weapons, and indeed the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that the looting of the atomic plant has created the danger of the equipment for a dirty bomb becoming available, then why for heaven's sake was there not much more rapid action to make secure whatever material was in Iraq? That was extraordinary, and contradicts the claim that there was an al-Qaeda link. There will be more discussion of that and there will be inquiries, but I wish to make a number of other points, because I fear that there were other deceits on the way to war.
Three very senior figures in Whitehall said to me that the Prime Minister had agreed in the summer to the date of
The Foreign Secretary said at the time that we had to threaten force to avoid the use of force, and I agreed with that. That was his paradox. I agree that that is how we got 1441, but then came the contradiction. We were told that we had to go to war because we had troops in the desert, but we had deployed them in order to try to avoid war. That is explained only if there was a date to which we were working.
The Prime Minister told us that we could not get a second resolution because the French had said that they would veto any second resolution. A member of the public sent me the transcript of the Chirac interview, and it is plain that he said clearly on
I have the French transcript of the exact words that President Chirac said. Nowhere did he say that he was ready to contemplate the use of force. What he said—I do not refer to the veto reference—was that if there was a majority of nine on the Security Council authorising war, France would vote no. [Hon. Members: "Ce soir."] Not "ce soir". That is in a different part of the interview. He said that France would vote no, and that killed the chances of a UN path to peace.
I shall run out of time. I have the words of President Chirac on
"'We are sorry but Iraq isn't co-operating, the progress isn't sufficient, we aren't in a position to achieve our goal, we won't be able to guarantee Iraq's disarmament', in that case it will be for the Security Council and it alone to decide the right thing to do. But in that case, of course, regrettably, the war would become inevitable. It isn't today."
That is what Chirac said on
We will never know whether, if we had pursued the Blix process and indicted Saddam Hussein, we could have liberated Iraq without the horror, chaos, death and suffering of war. As a result of the secrecy and the element of deceit in getting to war by that date, preparations for the post-conflict situation were inadequate. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was set up in the Pentagon to deal with post-conflict Iraq, was full of politics about who was going to be the new Government of Iraq. That was not a matter for that body: it should have been left to the UN to be done properly under a Security Council mandate. ORHA did not face up to or prepare for the Geneva convention obligations: the keeping of order being fundamental, as well as the immediate provision of humanitarian relief and the maintenance of civil administration. There is chaos in Iraq, and some 70 people a week are dying.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think that the independent inquiry should extend to these serious matters. Many people have lost their lives, including some of our soldiers and an awful lot of people in Iraq. There must be an inquiry into those matters.
I hear what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the intelligence information was used to justify the action that I am discussing, and it could have been interpreted in such a way that a different route could have been taken to resolving the problems to which it referred.
My time is almost gone, so I shall briefly explain the conclusions to which I have sadly come. We should have tried to resolve this crisis without military action if we could, but the grave accusation that I am making is that there was deceit on the way to military action. If we can be deceived about that, what can we not be deceived about? We must get to the bottom of this. The Government's record must be made absolutely clear, and there is a major lesson for our system of government. We must not make decisions like this. There must be better ways of making sure that information is properly used and decisions are properly made, especially when the lives of large numbers of human beings are at stake.
Clare Short in her opening and concluding comments, made it clear why the Government would be wise to accept this motion. This issue is about the integrity of the Government and the trust that people place in them. The right hon. Lady, who until recently was a member of the Cabinet, has laid the most serious allegations against the Prime Minister. In her opening comments she said in terms that the House had been misled by the Prime Minister. That is from a person who, until recently, had been a leading member of the Cabinet. I worked with the right hon. Lady in my capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development and, like all members of the Committee, I know the care with which she carried out her duties. We are confident that she would not have resigned from that post without good reason. After all, she was the first Secretary of State for International Development and had built up the Department over six years. We are all professional career politicians who know that people do not surrender such jobs unless they have some real reason of substance. The right hon. Lady has given us some insight into what that might be.
We are also concerned about the integrity of the Government when we see the way in which they have responded to the stories in the past couple of days. It is the most bizarre action for No. 10 to put up the Leader of the House to make the allegations that he has made in a newspaper article and on the "Today" programme this morning. Everyone in the House knows that the Leader of the House, under any Government, is a senior member of the Cabinet, and he would not have made those press comments unless they had been fully cleared with No. 10 and with the machinery of government as a whole. We all know that the "Today" programme puts in bids for Ministers. We often hear John Humphrys and others saying that so and so was invited on to the programme and that they refused to come. The Leader of the House showed no reticence about going on the "Today" programme this morning to repeat his comments, allegations and accusations against the intelligence service.
The purport of that and the reason why Members are concerned is that it gives the impression of a Government trying to spin away a story about whether the House has been misled by suggesting that it is all down to some rogue intelligence officer who has been briefing journalists such as Andrew Gilligan and others. They contend that that is really what the story is about, rather than the concerns of the right hon. Members for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and for Birmingham, Ladywood that the House has been misled over a period of time.
I hope that the Government understand that if they cannot start to reassure our constituents about such issues, confidence not only in them but in the machinery of government will simply leach away. Many of our constituents will be scratching their heads about other matters this evening. We repeatedly heard the Prime Minister say at the Dispatch Box today that the reason why weapons of mass destruction had not been found was that the search had only just begun and the team had only just started its work. I ask those on the Treasury Bench about the large numbers of my constituents who wrote to me and visited me in constituency surgeries. They came from Church groups and other groups, and included other concerned individuals, and they lobbied hard before the conflict, saying that the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time to find weapons of mass destruction and establish whether they existed. How on earth will the Government and the Prime Minister explain to those people—my constituents and those of every Member of this House—that there was insufficient time to look for weapons of mass destruction, so it was necessary to go to war and remove a regime by force of arms, but some eight weeks later, when no weapons of mass destruction have purportedly been found, the Prime Minister's excuse is that we have only just started our work? How on earth can those claims be reconcilable? The suspicion among large numbers of our constituents is that this is a question not so much of weapons of mass destruction as of words of mass deception used by the Prime Minister and others.
It is a question not of eight weeks, but of about 12 years in which the United Nations has been trying to get the weapons out of Iraq. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he does his constituents a disservice and insults their intelligence, as the Prime Minister made that clear today.
I think that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what the Prime Minister said. He was asked repeatedly why weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq. The hon. Gentleman and every hon. Member can read Hansard tomorrow, but it is clear that, on numerous occasions, the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box today that the reason why the weapons had not been found was that the new inspection team had only just started its work and could hardly be expected to have found them in such a short period.
The hon. Gentleman misses the key point, to which I shall return, as it is very important. The key point concerns the integrity of the Government and the machinery of government. That is why it is vital that there is an inquiry such as that proposed in the motion. I also find it bizarre that the Foreign Secretary should be so dismissive of judicial inquiries. I speak as a former Minister who was the subject of a judicial inquiry almost instantly after this Government came to office. I had been a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and no sooner were the Government through the door of No. 10 than they set up a judicial inquiry into the handling of BSE—
Yes. We made no complaint about the judicial inquiry to which we were subject, but at no time did the Foreign Secretary or other Ministers mention the reasons that they have given at the Dispatch Box today for not conducting a judicial inquiry into such matters. Only when the issue starts to touch on the integrity of Ministers in this Government, and of the Prime Minister himself and other key Ministers, do the Government become so reticent about the idea of a judicial inquiry.
The Foreign Secretary made it clear today that co-operation with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs will be pretty minimal. As a Select Committee Chairman, I had not appreciated until today that the answers that we are given depend on our security clearance. I am not quite sure what my security clearance is or whether one's security clearance as a Member of this House changes when one ceases to be a Minister. I seem to recall that when I was appointed as a junior Foreign Office Minister, like the Minister for Europe, I was given what were known as my powers, of which I was very proud. They were purportedly signed by the Queen. When I took them home and showed them to my children, my daughter, with great perspicacity, said, "The Queen doesn't really know you, does she, daddy?"
It is clear that the Foreign Affairs Committee will be told only what it is convenient for the Government to tell it, and the excuse will be given that it cannot be told certain things on security grounds. That was the explanation that was given this afternoon. None of us doubts the integrity of members of the Intelligence and Security Committee—they are all very honourable and senior Members of this House—but it is by definition a Committee that meets in secret and is largely dependent on what the Government choose to give it.
The Government should look themselves in the face and consider the damage that will be done to the machinery of government, given the allegations made by two senior former Cabinet Ministers who were so recently involved in the day-to-day handling of these issues, if they seek to brush matters of such importance under the carpet and refuse to have a full, proper, independent judicial inquiry.
This morning John Keegan, the military historian and journalist on The Daily Telegraph, made the extraordinary claim that the war ended too soon. I suppose that for those who wanted millions of refugees and tens of thousands of dead, and wanted us still to be fighting street by street to liberate Baghdad, it did end too soon. One of the underlying elements of the motion that we are debating is that those who opposed military action, together with those who for opportunist reasons wish to associate themselves with a motion tabled by a party that they oppose, have decided to unite with the feeding frenzy that is going on in the mass media.
Because there is no effective political opposition, certain journalists, including certain correspondents at the BBC, believe that it is their job to generate a feeding frenzy of a kind that—in their view, as they have openly been saying—could bring down the Government. Democracy in this country is ill served by such opportunism. It is also ill served—I say this as someone who has never been a Minister—by people who are happy to be Ministers for many years, but then bite the hand that fed them. I say that with great regret, because I have enormous respect for many of those who have taken that position. I find it sad.
I remind my colleagues that there was no great opposition from some people in 1998 when we bombed Iraq in Operation Desert Fox, or when we launched military assaults against Serbia without a United Nations resolution. Those same people were happy to be in Government at that time. We have to be honest about the motives behind some of the comments that have been made today.
On the basis of what has happened in the past few weeks, if the military action had not happened and the Iraqi people had not been liberated, we would presumably be carrying on with the inadequate policy of containment, with, potentially, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dying as a result of a policy that we knew to be flawed, but which, apparently, the former Foreign Secretary thought should have continued. As Mrs. Browning said, we would have withdrawn our troops from Kuwait—and presumably from the no-fly zones, too—thereby allowing a resurgent Saddam to take an ideological leadership position and again threaten his neighbours in Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia. We know that he used chemical weapons not only against his own people but against the Iranians, and would have wiped Kuwait off the map.
Those were the realities, and those were the stakes that we were playing for. I say that as somebody who in 1988 campaigned against the policy of a Conservative Government who were co-operating with military sales to Saddam's regime. I say that as somebody who invited Kurdish leaders to my constituency, including Barham Salih—now prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous area—when he was the London representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. That was before I was even elected as a Member of Parliament, when I worked in the Labour party's international department.
I make no apologies; I have supported regime change in Iraq for 25 years. When I was a student, I was a member of an organisation called the Committee against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. There has been a legitimate, non-right-wing republican agenda among many people on the left hoping for regime change in Iraq, and if we had followed the route advocated by some people whom we have heard today, that regime change would not have happened.
It was suggested by my right hon. Friend Clare Short that we should have found another way of putting right the wrong. The Iraqi people tried to put right the wrong in another way. They rose up in 1991 and the Shi'a Marsh Arabs were brutally suppressed and killed, while the Kurds were driven into the mountains. The Iraqis tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein on many occasions. Why were there all those lookalikes, those people who had plastic surgery and who went around pretending to be Saddam Hussein? He had to have them because he was detested by his people.
I, too, was one of the people who campaigned against Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Does my hon. Friend recognise, however, that we were informed by the Government that we were going to war with Iraq not to achieve regime change but because it had weapons of mass destruction and was capable of delivering them within 45 minutes?
There were many reasons why the military action came about. One was that, according to UN Security Council resolution 1441, Saddam had not complied immediately and unconditionally with a number of resolutions over a 12-year period. A second reason was the report produced in December by the Iraqi Government in response to that resolution. It was totally inadequate and was shown within a few days to have concealed certain things. A third reason was that, as the Blix report revealed, Saddam had failed—amid a cluster of unanswered questions—to list all the things that had been done to destroy weapons such as anthrax and botulinum. All those things were alleged to have been got rid of, but no evidence or documents were produced.
We know that since the conflict, the Kurdish forces in the north of Iraq have discovered some mobile vehicles that are still being investigated to discover whether they are mobile biological weapons facilities. That was reported on
This is the essence of the point about the Security Council resolutions and the fact that the Saddam regime did not co-operate. Within only nine months of South Africa saying that it was not going to be a nuclear weapons state, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had gone in, with the full co-operation of the South African Government, and had been able to declare the country nuclear weapons-free, because it had got rid of its weapons and told the inspectors how it had been done. The Iraqis never did that.
Given the nature of the Iraqi regime, the lies that we know were told between 1991 and 1995, the defecting son-in-law Kamal—who then went back—and other information that was revealed by other sources, it is clear that the UN was lied to throughout the 1990s. We now find that we have not been given any information on what happened to various items detailed in the reports that Hans Blix produced in March.
Kamal might have said that, but he also said that the Iraqis had things that the regime had previously denied having. My point is that this was a lying, corrupt, secretive regime. We therefore have to recognise that we need time to find out what has been going on there.
I do not know what has been going on because I am not there and I am not carrying out the inspections, but I believe that even if not one single chemical, biological or nuclear weapon or warhead is found, it was right and justifiable to liberate the people of Iraq from Ba'ath fascist tyranny and terror.
Given the middle east peace process, the stopping of payments to suicide bombers who reject a two-state solution in the middle east, the facilitation of pluralism and democracy throughout the region and the opening of possibilities for Iraq's oil wealth to be spent not on gold bath taps but on alleviating poverty and providing electricity and water for the Shi'a Arabs and the Kurds in Iraq, we were right. What we did was right, and most of the rest of all this is a distraction.
What our Government did in support of the liberation of the people of Iraq is something of which I am proud. We should not apologise. We should say that we did the right thing, as we will be seen to have done in decades to come. Today the liberated Polish people are joining NATO and the European Union. We no longer quibble about whether it was right to go to war in Poland. In the 1930s, 140 Tory MPs lined up with Adolf Hitler in the Anglo-German Fellowship. We do not talk about that now; we forget about it. But the reality of the world today is that sometimes people must admit that they were wrong, and that it was better to do something very painful and difficult than not to act. It was right to liberate Iraq.
For nine years the Labour party has been led by the Prime Minister; for nine years the party's presentation has been organised by Alastair Campbell. Now it is reaping the whirlwind that it sowed by subordinating the truth to the necessity of conveying the message that the party decided. Seeing the reaping of that whirlwind, I have a sense of schadenfreude. I entirely supported the Government's decisions on Iraq: I think that that policy was correct, and is now being seen to be correct, given the appalling evidence of crimes committed against the Iraqi people by their Government. Our actions, I believe, stand justified at the bar of world opinion. Nevertheless, the idea that we took those actions to defend ourselves against some immediate threat to the United Kingdom from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is of course palpable nonsense. It was wrong for the Government to put themselves in the position of having to rely on the preamble to a document referring to Iraq's ability to activate weapons of mass destruction that would pose a threat to the UK within 45 minutes.
I want to develop my point a little further, because it is important.
The case for action against Iraq relates to our action in 1991, when we went to war in the first place to liberate Kuwait. The fact that that action did not proceed to its conclusion with the removal of Saddam Hussein had to do with the fact that we thought he was going to fall anyway. Two thirds of the provinces in Iraq were rebelling, and it was assumed that the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs would do for the regime. We can say now, with the benefit of the knowledge that we now have, that we made an appalling mistake and an appalling misjudgment in not ending the affair in 1991, and removing the regime by whatever means were then necessary.
In 1995 or 1996, Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law produced evidence of a biological weapons programme. Their decision to return to Iraq was extraordinary—about as extraordinary as the fact that Saddam Hussein did not remove his weapons of mass destruction in the face of the arrival of the inspectors and what was obviously going to happen.
I am grateful to the Minister. I support the Government in respect of their action; they are in trouble as a result of the presentation of their reasons for that action. The case for action in Iraq has been sustained since 1991. It was sustained by the evidence of a biological weapons programme. It was sustained in 1998 when the weapons inspectors were thrown out. What were we able to do in 1998? We could only engage in Operation Desert Fox, an emotional spasm of air bombardment to try to have some effect on the weapons of mass destruction capability. Why? Because the United States was not prepared to will the military means to take necessary action to rid the middle east, a vital area of the world, of that appalling regime.
Given that Ministers right up to the Prime Minister knew that Saddam Hussein had had ample opportunity over the years to conceal his weapons of mass destruction, does my hon. Friend not think that there may be many a Minister who now wishes that he had made, in support of the case for military action, the speech that has just been made by Mike Gapes, but that the difficulty for the Government is that none of those Ministers did so?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who displays his usual perspicacity. I am not sure that Ministers would have wanted to make entirely the same speech as the hon. Member for Ilford, South, but they would have wanted to make elements of it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the threat from Iraq
"arises also because of the violent and aggressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. His record of internal repression and external aggression gives rise to unique concerns about the threat he poses"?
That was in the report published in September. That was the argument of the Government and of Ministers then.
Of course I accept that, but then the Government have to embroider the case, as they do with all their other presentations. It may be true that an element of weapons could have been put together within 45 minutes. It would be useful to know the source of the information, and of the assessment that weapons could be put together in 45 minutes. I ask the Minister to publish that at some stage. There cannot be any possible reason for protecting the source.
What was the technical basis of that assessment? It is a precise time. Are we talking about a particular warhead being attached to a missile? [Interruption.] The Minister will be able to make the case when he winds up. What precise technical reasons underlie the assessment that weapons could be put together in 45 minutes? What was the nature of the weapons? Were they biological weapons, chemical weapons, chemical shells? [Interruption.] The Minister will happily refer to that report in his winding-up speech.
In 1998 we could do no more than undertake Operation Desert Fox, because the United States was not prepared to will the necessary military means—to deploy soldiers on the ground—to do what was necessary in the interests of the Iraqi people and of stability in the region, and to deal with the potential threat from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of someone like Saddam Hussein. We were not prepared to do that in 1998—but that changed on
I suspect that any UK Government between 1991 and now would have been willing to take the action that has been taken to get rid of Saddam Hussein, in the appropriate circumstances, with the support and willingness of the United States to act. It has plainly been in the interests of the middle east, and of the world, to take the action that we did—but the Government are in trouble now and are on the receiving end of legitimate requests for inquiries, because of the culture of spin that goes right to the heart of what they do.
That was revealed in the attitude of the Prime Minister in responding to a question from my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude on the G8 summit. The Prime Minister talked in a flippant way, saying, "That is the business of politics." What Ministers, the Government and Labour Members need to understand is the enormous disservice that has been done to the business of politics by the way in which the Labour party has conducted itself under the leadership of the Prime Minister. The way in which they have presented their attacks on other parties and their twisting of arguments throughout that period have done a disservice to the business of politics.
We have come to the moment when the Prime Minister needs his credibility more than anything else. He has argued for putting British troops into action and for taking military action that, in my judgment, was in the interests of the United Kingdom and of the world. But of course, he does not have that credibility. It has been destroyed by the way in which he and other Ministers—but in particular the Spinmeister himself—have allowed the truth to be twisted and manipulated.
That process continues now. During Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister again advanced the canard that the Conservative party is pledged to a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure. He knows perfectly well that that is not true. If he goes on—
I am dealing with the subject of credibility, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Prime Minister comes to the Dispatch Box week after week to deal with what he described to my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham as the business of politics, and is able to play fast and loose with the truth, is it any surprise that the electorate no longer believe him when they judge his words on an issue as serious as Iraq? That is why we need an inquiry. A Prime Minister ought to command credibility. I believe him on the issue of Iraq, however. To me, his speech to this House last September was the first time that he had commanded total credibility and presented a totally convincing case.
I want the Government to take this message away. They have played fast and loose with the truth in presenting the case for their policies and the case against those of their political opponents. It is about time that the level of political debate was raised; then, when the Prime Minister needs credibility in order to make a case, he can carry the country with him and not find that there are 2 million people on the streets who do not believe a word that he says.
We have listened to 10 minutes of pure spin from Mr. Blunt. I listened carefully to the opening speech by Mr. Campbell, and to those who intervened to support the case for an independent inquiry into the intelligence available to the Government before the war. So far as I can discern, there are two basic reasons why this call is being made, and I shall deal with them in turn.
The main reason is the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction. That is of course frustrating for anybody who wants these weapons to be dealt with, but the real question is whether we can make the logical leap that many Members seem to be making: that because of the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction, we must conclude that they do not and did not exist, and that the entire war was therefore based on a fallacy. To make that leap of deductive logic would be to fly in the face of more than 10 years of evidence, gathered not by British or American intelligence sources in Iraq, but by the UN itself in Iraq. That 10-year history demonstrates clearly how difficult it was to locate and unearth any evidence of weapons programmes.
We should remember, for example, that UN inspectors were searching for a full three years in Iraq before they discovered, in 1995, that there was a full-blown biological weapons programme. We should also remember that they discovered that programme not by stumbling across it during a search, but only because of information that they received from a senior defector: Saddam Hussein's own son-in-law, as it happens. He revealed not only the existence of the biological weapons programme, but that key documents were hidden in a chicken farm and that rocket parts were buried in the back garden of an Iraqi general. They would not have been discovered through a physical search; they were discovered only through the information provided by defectors.
The evidence provided by that person was important, but when he returned to Iraq, Saddam Hussein immediately put him, along with his family, to death. He led weapons inspectors precisely to where the items were located and he revealed the existence of the biological weapons programme.
There is further evidence of how difficult it is to carry out a physical search in a country like Iraq. The most striking aspect of what the coalition forces have so far failed to find is Saddam Hussein himself, his two sons and his entire entourage. They have not been located and I guess that they would take up more physical space than the chemical and biological agents that we are looking for. They are certainly much more difficult to hide. I assume that Saddam Hussein and his sons cannot simply be buried in the back garden of some Iraqi general, but I hope that no one is leaping from the failure to discover them to the conclusion that Saddam and his two sons are no longer alive or hiding in Iraq. That would be a foolish conclusion to reach. It is similarly foolish, and juvenile, to leap from the failure to discover WMD to the conclusion that the Iraqi Government closed down the weapons programme after the inspectors left in 1998. They consistently avoided closing down the programme through all the years of inspections right up to 1998.
In my view, the primary task is to locate Saddam and the top party leadership, because, until we apprehend them, we will not have much chance of gaining the inside information based on the confessions of human intelligence that we need to lead us to where the chemical and biological agents are located.
The second reason advanced to justify the call for an independent inquiry is the claim made by anonymous intelligence sources to the press that No. 10 doctored the intelligence dossier, particularly in respect of the possibility of Iraq using WMD within 45 minutes. It is alleged that that was done in the knowledge that the information was false, or probably false, thereby undermining the case for war. The critics suggest that the 45-minute claim influenced or determined either the legality of the war—the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife—or its political acceptability and public support. I do not believe that either proposition is justified.
Let us deal first with the legality of war. The proposition that, because the 45-minute claim was a fallacy, the legal case for war becomes invalid is one of the most ridiculous arguments that I have ever heard in this Chamber—and it is particularly disappointing to hear it advanced by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife. The legal case was based entirely on resolution 1441 and the older resolution 687, which the Attorney-General made crystal clear. Contrary to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, there is nothing in the Attorney-General's statement about imminent danger to the United Kingdom, or to any other state. It is based entirely on the fact that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Government were not complying and were in material breach of existing UN resolutions.
The argument for war was perfectly simple. The UN knew that the Iraqi Government once possessed large quantities of chemical and biological agents, a significant quantity of which had never been accounted for by that Government. The UN therefore demanded that the Iraqi Government either hand over the remaining agents for destruction or—and it is a highly important "or"—if they had already destroyed them, that they hand over the documents to verify their destruction. That option was always available to the Iraqi Government, but they followed neither of those options, as Blix himself confirmed in his final report. Blix did hope that, given more time, the Iraqi Government would eventually do one or the other, but I believe that the judgment of the British Prime Minister and the American President was more valid—that the Iraqis would not comply however much time was extended to them. The use of force was therefore authorised and could be exercised.
I have tried hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument and he seems to suggest that the failure to find the weapons is no reason to think they do not exist. What other reason could there be, and what other reason would he accept if, as a fair-minded man, he were to reach a conclusion that they might not exist?
The fact that no evidence of a biological weapons programme was found in three years by UN inspectors in full cry in Iraq did not mean that it did not exist. It did exist, but that became known only after defections made the information available. Most of the breakthroughs in discovery and location have been made on the basis of human intelligence and the delivery of information, not the physical searches that the hon. Gentleman mentions.
Some Opposition Members have argued that the 45-minute claim in the dossier was the decisive factor that swung opinion in favour of war, in the House and among the public. Even the Liberal Democrat spokesman appeared to make such a claim. I confess that I was always sceptical—and I was not alone—about the 45-minute claim. Anybody who swung from being anti-war to pro-war on the basis of the 45-minute claim in the dossier needs to have their head examined.
Because I was always sceptical, I am not surprised—far less shocked—by the suggestion that the 45-minute claim may turn out to have been false. That would be a failure of that piece of speculative intelligence, but it would be a much less striking and embarrassing failure than the one that occurred before the war—as pointed out by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife—which was the claim by British intelligence that the Iraqi Government had tried to obtain uranium ore from Niger in west Africa. That claim was supposedly based on documents that, when they were handed over to the international authority responsible, were shown to be a transparent and rather obvious forgery. That intelligence debacle, or cock-up, was much more embarrassing and worrying in its incompetence than the 45-minute saga.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain what speculative intelligence is? Intelligence is either intelligence or it is nothing at all.
Intelligence can be a claim that is passed to intelligence services from a source within a country, and a judgment has to be made on its validity and plausibility. That happens with 99 per cent. of intelligence. If we could look the claim up in a book of statistics, or find some other factual evidence for it, it would not need to be based on intelligence.
I mention the Niger intelligence failure from before the war, because I do not remember any demands for an independent judicial inquiry into the issue when it was exposed as a forgery and a false claim. Why has the 45-minute claim now assumed so much exaggerated and absurd importance? Why are anonymous sources in the intelligence services briefing the press? It should be noted, incidentally, that they are not approaching their local MP, the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee or the Intelligence and Security Committee. Who are these spooks who are briefing the press? Are they the same ones who used to spy on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1980s on the ground that advocating nuclear disarmament made people potential traitors? Have those spooks suddenly turned into pacifists, stricken by conscience? Is the source of the stories free from any political motivation? Anybody who believes that the stories are a disinterested attempt to serve the public good is much more gullible than anyone who gave credence to the 45-minute claim. For that reason, I hope that the House will treat the leaks and briefings with the contempt that they deserve.
It is a particular pleasure to follow Mr. MacDonald. He spoke with calm and reasoned good sense, and I hope that the House will heed what he said. It is a pleasure to follow him for another reason too, as he and I campaigned very strongly for justice in Bosnia. We were in a small minority, along with Clare Short and Mr. Campbell, who opened this debate. We wanted action to be taken there, and we were not especially bothered about UN resolutions. However, I must not digress on that point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or you would rightly rule me out of order.
I am bound to say that I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary is not here. I appreciate the many demands on his time, but I am sorry that neither he nor my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, are present. They should have been here throughout this relatively short debate. That they are not is tantamount to an insult to the House.
I also think that it is greatly regrettable that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood should have exposed her conscience and then walked out. That is not the way to treat the House of Commons. In recent days, there has been some nauseating nitpicking by people who lost the argument and the vote on
I accept what my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt said, although he too has left the Chamber. He made the point that the Prime Minister had in effect connived at undermining his own credibility by the ultra-reliance on spin that he has displayed during his period in office. I made that point when I spoke in the first or second of the Iraq debates. It is, regrettably, true, although I do not doubt the Prime Minister's good faith or integrity on this issue.
The question at the centre of the debate is whether we believe that our Prime Minister was acting in the national interest and in good faith. Did he place before the House of Commons information that he believed to be true? Frankly, I accept that he did believe it to be true. Like the hon. Member for Western Isles, I always regarded the 45-minute claim with more than a pinch of salt, and I adopted a similar approach to some of the other claims too. However, I do not believe that the claims were made to dupe the House, nor that they succeeded in doing so. I doubt very much whether many of those who voted on
In parenthesis, if the vote had gone the other way on
What should be done by way of inquiry? That is the true subject of today's debate. Sadly, I could not attend the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday afternoon, as Andrew Mackinlay knows. I did not therefore have the chance to participate in its discussion but, as a good democrat, I accept that a decision was made by my colleagues and of course I go along with it. However, on this occasion, I believe that it is right that the Intelligence and Security Committee should be given a prime role.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who would prefer a long-winded judicial inquiry. Of course, it is possible in such circumstances for hon. Members of all parties to score points, as happened with the Phillips inquiry on BSE, and all the rest of it. However, what the House is considering today is how best to deal with a particular matter.
The best way to deal with the matter is quickly. Those of our colleagues who have been appointed to the ISC have the clearance that others do not have. We should entrust to them—
It is a sore point with me as well as with the hon. Gentleman, but nevertheless I am merely stating a fact. It is reasonable for us to call on those colleagues to examine the matter with rigorous impartiality and detailed scrutiny, and then to report on it. I believe the Prime Minister's assurance that the report will be published in full. That report must be given to the House as soon as possible.
Then we can see what it has said. It would be arrogant and presumptuous, as well as downright stupid, to anticipate what it will say. I do not know what it will say. If the report is very critical of the Prime Minister, I shall be surprised and distressed, and it will be a most serious matter. However, we need to know.
The Intelligence and Security Committee is the right body to conduct the investigation and report to the House. It is, after all, a committee of parliamentarians, and they, above all, are best able to judge the integrity of other parliamentarians. I do not believe for a moment that my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary meant to demean the House, but the logical consequence of his argument is that we cannot trust our fellow parliamentarians to report to us on what they have assessed and seen. That is very damaging, and adds to the erosion of the influence of this place, which has proceeded at alarming and disturbing speed in recent years.
I want to bring back public respect for the integrity of Parliament. I want a report that is thorough and detailed that we can discuss and debate. It must be produced quickly and effectively. Producing it with true expedition is the best way in which we can serve the House and the cause before us. That must not, however, afford an opportunity to revisit outworn arguments, or to try to re-run a vote that was decisively carried on
Nor must we be distracted from the true priorities, and, perhaps above all, from peace in the middle east and the present process there. Let us not imagine for one moment that if we continue to snipe and to attack the Prime Minister on an issue on which many of us fundamentally agree with him, we will not undermine in the eyes of the world his credibility, and the credibility of the President of the United States, when it comes to the middle east peace process. I urge colleagues in all parts of the House to have a thought for such things. Perhaps some of my immediate colleagues may do what I do not often do, or particularly like doing, and join me in the Government Lobby this evening.
I have been informed that I have only a few minutes, so I shall try to be brief.
The motion, which I shall support in the Division Lobby, outlines the reasons that we were given for going to war. One was the Prime Minister's assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was capable of delivering that weaponry within 45 minutes. Some people could not accept that explanation. Some of us believe that there were other reasons for going to war, including oil and the determination of the United States to control what happens in the Gulf.
No, I only have a few minutes.
Because of our opposition to the war and our refusal to accept the explanations put forward by the Prime Minister, several of us were accused of appeasing Saddam Hussein. That shocked, saddened and surprised us. Some of us opposed Saddam Hussein way back in the 1980s.
Indeed, some of us have been opposing the arms trade for many a long year. We opposed arms sales to evil regimes such as Iraq and many others. We still oppose the arms trade. We oppose the situation whereby, in 2002, the UK exported to more than 150 countries and licensed arms to 20 countries that had been engaged in serious conflict since 1997.
Some of us who oppose the war are the same people who have been opposing weapons of mass destruction for our whole adult life. We have opposed nuclear weapons in this country—the weapons of ultimate mass destruction. We opposed weapons of mass destruction being in the hands of Israel. For many years, we opposed chemical weaponry and the dropping of napalm on Vietnam by the United States, destroying the land and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens.
Some of those who now accuse us of being appeasers are the same people who, in the 1980s, regarded Saddam Hussein as the friend of the west. They supported arms sales not only to Saddam Hussein but to many other evil regimes. They justified those arms sales on the basis that they were good for jobs, forgetting that while that may have been so, those arms were destroying many lives.
The same people who refused to join us in campaigning against weapons of mass destruction in this country told us that ours were friendly weapons of mass destruction that would defend western civilisation and keep back the communist hordes. One of those people was the Secretary of State for Defence who now says that he would be willing to press the button that would start nuclear confrontation—the ultimate act of madness.
We continue to be told that war with Iraq was necessary because Iraq had those weapons of mass destruction, which were a threat to the world, and because it was willing to use them and could deliver them within 45 minutes, yet we have still not found those weapons. Even if Iraq had those weapons, it certainly did not use them when the war was going on. We are now told that there is a good reason for that: the Iraqis destroyed their weapons of mass destruction a few minutes, or a few days, before the war commenced. I cannot accept that explanation. I cannot accept that a relatively minor military power such as Iraq would go into battle against the strongest military powers on earth—powers with nuclear weapons, the weapons of ultimate mass destruction—and throw away their most effective weaponry. That does not make sense.
In a press conference on Monday, the Prime Minister responded to the concerns and criticisms that no weapons of mass destruction had been discovered in Iraq. He said:
"I think it is important that if people actually have evidence that they produce it."
I agree with that. However, the Prime Minister has a similar obligation. If, as he says, there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he has an obligation to produce the evidence.
Before the invasion of Iraq, the Prime Minister referred to an interview with General Kamal about Iraq's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The Prime Minister said that, in 1995:
"Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said Iraq had weaponised the programme—something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.
Kamal also revealed Iraq's crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in 1990."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 761.]
However, the Prime Minister misled the House by omission because General Kamal also told his interviewers that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction by 1995, as had been revealed by Newsweek on
On page 13 of the transcript of the interview, which was posted on the BBC's "Today" programme website, Kamal is recorded as saying:
"All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed."
"Following his defection...Kamal was interviewed by UNSCOM and by a number of other agencies. Details concerning the interviews were made available to us on a confidential basis. The UK was not provided with transcripts of the interviews."—[Hansard, 26 March 2003; Vol. 402, c. 235W.]
But the BBC had those transcripts. Why then were the Prime Minister, the security services and President Bush's Administration prepared to believe the defector Kamal's information on the extent of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction procurement and development network, but not to listen to information on the Iraqi regime's destruction of weapons of mass destruction?
I repeat that my opinion is that the war had very little, if anything, to do with weapons of mass destruction. I could never accept the explanation that Iraq not only had the weaponry but the capability to develop and deliver them within 45 minutes. I said at the beginning that I thought the war was about oil and about who controlled the Gulf. I thought it then, and I still think it.
If nothing else, this afternoon's debate has illustrated that Iraq remains an issue of major public concern to hon. Members in all parts of the House. In framing our motion we might have focused on several different issues to do with Iraq, such as humanitarian issues or the governance of the country. Those two are important and no doubt in future we shall have an opportunity to debate them on the Floor of the House.
However, right now the public are mostly and properly concerned about the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction and the basis on which this country went to war. In the course of the debate a number of hon. Members have suggested that we are revisiting the arguments for or against the war set out as late as March. In so doing they tend to skip over many of the points that were raised by those Liberal Democrats who opposed the war at that stage.
Liberal Democrat Members never denied that there was a history of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We never denied the evil history of Saddam Hussein—we were hugely critical of it, as every right-thinking individual would be. We never argued that Saddam Hussein should not be disarmed. We were arguing that containment and deterrence should continue. We argued that we should take the United Nations route. As the weapons inspectors continued their work, we argued that they deserved more time.
The Government passionately and clearly argued a different case. They did so principally on the basis of weapons of mass destruction. They said that was the major reason why action was required. They did not advocate action mainly on the basis of the need for regime change, although they properly point out many of the benefits of the fact that Saddam Hussein has now gone.
The issue of its being possible for weapons to be fired in 45 minutes was at the crux of the Government's case—
Just bear with me. I am afraid my time is rather short.
The issue was at the crux of the Government's case when they were arguing that we should be going into conflict.
That statement is demonstrably incorrect. I have been unable to find a single speech on
Well, the Foreign Secretary used phrases such as that time had run out, and in different parts of the build-up to the conflict—[Interruption.] The point I was about to make before the Foreign Secretary intervened was, whether or not one accepts what Mr. MacDonald was saying about this being a literal truth or otherwise, it was symbolic. It was symbolic of the fact that Saddam Hussein had sufficient weapons of mass destruction, and a sufficient state of preparedness that they were a danger to those around him.
No, I shall not.
The conflict is now well past but we do not underestimate the fragile nature of the situation in Iraq and the real danger in which the Iraqis and our armed forces continue to find themselves. There is no question but that the coalition partners are now in control and supported by United Nations resolution 1483. However, there is a serious question of why it has taken until now to establish the Iraq survey group that will attempt to map and discover where the weapons of mass destruction are.
We were told in advance of going to war that rogue elements in Iraq and elsewhere would use weapons of mass destruction and that the weapons would represent a serious terrorist threat if passed on to groups such as al-Qaeda or simply leaked out to other countries. Given that context, it is remarkable that we have not been in a position in which we were able to ascertain where the weapons of mass destruction might be until now.
The Government have argued that there is no need for an inquiry, but the continuing failure of the coalition to account for weapons of mass destruction raises serious questions not only for hon. Members and the millions of people who opposed the war, but for many who supported the Government in the House and elsewhere on the basis of the Prime Minister's assurances and the evidence offered by the Government at different times. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell set out several key questions, including the specific question of the extent to which Downing street tried to change the dossier last September. Who was responsible for the final content of the so-called dodgy dossier? Who fabricated the assertion that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa? We now add questions about the extent to which the Government relied on Iraqi sources who were motivated by little else but a desire to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime, and the extent to which there was wholesale reliance on uncorroborated information from a single source. Other hon. Members have added to those questions.
The charge has been made that Parliament and Ministers have been misled, and there can be no doubt that we have not received sufficient answers to the questions raised today. Many of the issues go to the heart of government. The Government assert their case passionately and often raise issues that are not specifically relevant to the questions asked today. They have defended their case vigorously and will no doubt do so again during any inquiry.
The fact that the Government have started to raise questions of their own during the past couple of days is crucially important. They have questioned the loyalty of certain elements of the security services by calling them "rogue elements". Some of that was done on the record but other people, who were not attributed, talked to The Times about "score settling". As my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier, that echoes fears expressed under the Labour Government in the 1970s. There are fundamental questions that need answers and it is vital to hold an inquiry to find out those answers.
My right hon. and learned Friend discussed the different types of inquiry that might be held. The Government are exercised by the form of the inquiry suggested in the motion and we must hope that they now see the sense of such an inquiry. Their amendment mentions their willingness to participate in an inquiry conducted by the Intelligence and Security Committee and I emphasise again that we do not question that Committee's independence of mind or integrity.
Perhaps the Minister will respond to one specific point raised by the Prime Minister's comments today. The Prime Minister mentioned that the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments would be made available to the ISC. Will the information on which those assessments are based also be made available to the Committee?
An inquiry could take a number of forms. Frankly, what matters is that the serious issues raised today by Members on both sides of the House, including Ministers, are tackled and resolved. We are not the only ones asking questions, however. People all over the country are asking them, whether or not they supported the war in the first place. We owe it to them to get the answers. We are pleased that the Conservatives will join us in the Lobby. We hope that Labour Members will do the same. 4.40 pm
We have had an excellent debate in which we heard good speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I am sorry that my right hon. Friend Clare Short was not in the Chamber to hear those. Nothing new has been adduced in this debate that was not placed before the House over the past six months. On
I agree with Mr. Blunt, who referred to the Prime Minister's total credibility. I hope that he will not join the Liberal Democrats in the Lobby. In the Prime Minister's speech in September when the document—
I welcome the fact that we have debated Iraq today and that our Parliament has debated and voted on the matter consistently. No other Parliament, congress or national assembly has debated the subject so openly and publicly. I welcome the announcement that one of our great Committees of the House, and possibly a second, will investigate the matters under consideration and report to Parliament.
I wish that the House had been sitting last week so that we could have dealt with those newspaper reports, which said much more about the nature of journalism than they did about the facts. Who could not enjoy this morning's wonderful discourse between Mr. John Humphrys and the Leader of the House? Mr. Humphrys was a guest on the Leader of the House programme and extracted from him the remarkable confession that Mr. Humphrys had talked to sources in our intelligence services who had views that they wanted to express. So I hope that tomorrow Mr. Humphrys will interview himself about those sources and obtain more details.
We also had the delicious story in my favourite paper, The Guardian, alleging that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had been in the Waldorf Astoria in New York to have conversations with Secretary of State Colin Powell. The story was specific. Its reporter alleged that the secret meeting—how journalists love the words "secret meeting"—had been on
In the short time left to me, I have had a chance to correct the distortions, half truths and the unattributed and unsourced allegations that have filled our newspapers and media in recent days.
We might have had a serious debate on the wider issues of Iraq. We might have had a debate on the fact that Chancellor Schröder and President Chirac, who did not support the line of the Prime Minister and President Bush, said in Evian at the weekend that the issue of weapons of mass destruction remained of high importance on the international agenda. Instead, we have had speeches from the Liberal Democrats designed not to place the House of Commons at the heart of policy debate on the future of the region and what we need to do to counter weapons of mass destruction, but rather to use the Commons for petty political point-scoring that is an insult to the people of Iraq, who have been liberated from the tyranny, terror and torture of Saddam Hussein.
Not a word of thanks from the Liberal Democrats to our brave soldiers and airmen. Not a word of praise for our friends in Europe—in Poland and Spain, in Copenhagen and Prague—who have offered political and military support to the cause, first, of freeing Iraq, and today of helping to assure it security. No, this has been the Liberal Democrats bringing the House of Commons down to their level of opportunistic politics. Of course, they were joined by that new member of the Liberal Democrat party, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ancram, who called for an open public judicial tribunal to sit for months, if not years, investigating every aspect of our security services in public. I can think of no more irresponsible suggestion to make at this time, when we need our intelligence services to get on with the high duties that we expect of them.
We would expect such opportunism from the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrat magazine, Liberator, stated in March 2003:
"If the party can keep up its criticism of Blair over Iraq it has been potentially handed a way to harness all the other resentments brewing against Labour. This is the sort of chance that comes rarely."
There we have it.
Three main charges were made against the Prime Minister—first, that there was always a programme for war; secondly, that the quotations from President Chirac were in some way misused; and thirdly, that the report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was doctored to include a reference to 45 minutes. From the time the crisis broke out, it was clear that the Prime Minister and the President of the United States sought to take it to the United Nations, but not at the price of leaving Saddam Hussein permanently in power in defiance of the international community.
President Bush's predecessor, President Clinton, authorised the use of force, along with Britain and other allies but without any authorisation from the United Nations, to bomb Belgrade and bring an end to the tyranny and terror of Milosevic. Many hon. Members opposed that conflict at the time, but then the Liberal Democrats were led by Paddy Ashdown, a man who has never appeared on, "Have I Got News for You", but who knew that fighting tyranny with or without a UN resolution was not something from which to flinch.
The second charge is that the Government mistranslated what President Chirac said in the week when British diplomats were trying in New York to fashion a resolution that could have provided a final chance for Saddam Hussein to avoid the conflict. I have the full text of what President Chirac said in his television interview. His position was consistent. He did not want to authorise armed action. I have not joined in the chorus of those denouncing him, nor do I challenge the sincerity of the positions of those in France and Germany and in my own country who were opposed to the conflict.
President Chirac said on
"My position is that whatever the circumstances France will vote No."
He was pressed again and again by the interviewers. He was asked whether using the veto would be an unprecedented act against the United States. He dismissed that, but no one reading the full transcript can be in any doubt that President Chirac made it clear that he would veto the efforts being made by British diplomats.
Finally, we have the charge that the dossier on Iraq entitled "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction" was manipulated in some way. The reference to a 45-minute warning was in the Joint Intelligence Committee report sent to Downing street. The allegation made by the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that the 45-minute warning period was added to spice up the report was incorrect. The relevant sentence of the report says that Iraq has
"military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them."
That intelligence will come as no surprise to the people of Halabja. They did not have a 45-minute warning, or even a four-minute warning, when Saddam used these weapons to kill 5,000 of them. What the JIC reported on was the suffering that the people of Iraq already knew.
What is new is that anyone can question the clear record set out in the report of Saddam's past practice and future intentions. The report argues:
"The threat from Iraq does not depend solely on the capabilities we have described. It arises also because of the violent and aggressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. His record of internal repression and external aggression gives rise to unique concerns about the threat he poses."
That threat no longer exists. The men and women of Iraq, and especially the children—they died by the thousands when, for his own evil ends, he stole the money that could have saved their lives—are now free.
Building on that freedom will be hard. Two months after the end of Hitlerism in Germany there was nothing but chaos, corruption, poverty and considerable violence. The Nazis were in power for 13 years. Saddam's Ba'ath party was in power far longer. We should not forget that its ideology was based entirely on European nationalistic, fascist politics. Every day we discover new horrors: the mass graves of the 300,000 murdered by Saddam Hussein are the latest example of his use of holocaust techniques against fellow Muslims whom he wanted to exterminate.
In the Balkans, four years after we got rid of Milosevic and despite the presence of scores of thousands of NATO soldiers, we still cannot lay our hands on Karadzic and Mladic, the butchers of Srebrenica. In Northern Ireland, we still cannot find the arms caches of the terrorists. But we will, and we will show to the world that for the most part the United Nations, the JIC and other bodies were right to draw attention to concerns about weapons in Iraq, and we were right to join our allies to rid the world of Saddam and his evil regime.
I am proud to be a member of a Government who have vanquished tyranny. I welcome the investigations that different Committees of the House will now undertake. I believe that the leadership shown by the House as it debated and decided that action should be taken was fully justified. I invite the Liberal Democrats even now to withdraw their opportunistic motion. They will get their headline in the papers tomorrow, but our intelligence services will continue to watch, guard and warn our nation of today's and tomorrow's dangers, and I hope that when the next threat arises the House will not flinch from doing its duty.
Question accordingly negatived.
Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to
Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House believes that the Intelligence and Security Committee established by Parliament is the appropriate body to carry out any inquiry into intelligence relating to Iraq; and notes in relation to Iraq's disarmament obligations the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483.