I beg to move,
That this House
welcomes the Ninth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Decision to go to war in Iraq, Session 2002–03, HC 813;
but notes some reservations by Committee members that it not only had insufficient time but insufficient access to crucial documents to come to comprehensive and definitive conclusions on some of the issues;
further notes the recent concerns raised over intelligence material;
and calls on the Government to set up a judicial inquiry finally to establish the facts of the matter.
I start by congratulating the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, under the chairmanship of Donald Anderson, on its report. The Committee certainly had to work fast in the full glare of publicity, without the necessary access to intelligence papers and personnel, and it concluded, at paragraph 170 of its report, that the refusal by Ministers to allow such access hampered it in its work. Nevertheless, it has produced a useful report, while recognising that important questions remain unanswered. Indeed, it continues to ask some of those questions in the hope—I sometimes think that it is perhaps a vain hope—that it may still get answers to them. The Committee has not shied away from criticism. Indeed, the minutes of the proceedings show that the criticism would have been even sharper if certain amendments had been passed. It has done the House a service, for which I am sure that we are all grateful.
On weapons of mass destruction, the Committee effectively concludes that, while the survey group carries out its work, the jury is still out, and we all need to have regard to that position. It calls for further information on the so-called 45-minutes claim and on Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger, and it famously concludes that, by referring to the dodgy dossier as "further intelligence", the Prime Minister misrepresented its status. I am pleased to see that the Committee also criticised Alastair Campbell's chairing of a meeting on an intelligence matter.
A month ago, I wrote to the Prime Minister because of the answer that he gave me when I questioned him about the provenance of the dodgy document on the Floor of the House in February. Is my right hon. Friend surprised that, although the Foreign Secretary has apologised for the document, those of us who have questioned the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House have yet to see his own ministerial code implemented and to receive an appropriate apology, correcting the record?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is not for want of our asking for an apology that the Prime Minister has failed to give one. It is yet another indication of the Prime Minister's arrogance and his contempt not only for the House, but for his own rules in relation to his Ministers that he has not seen fit to come to the House to apologise. The Committee did not and could not, however, give the Government, the Prime Minister or Mr. Alastair Campbell a totally clean bill of health, hence our motion today.
We stand by our support for the action that was taken in Iraq. Like the Committee, we have no doubt, to quote paragraph 41 of the report, that
"the threat posed to UK forces was perceived as a real and present danger".
We believe that the development of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his refusal to comply with 18 UN Security Council resolutions justified action. That is why we supported the Government in the vote in the House on
That, however, is not the main issue of today's debate, which is about the way that the Government handled information in the run-up to that vote. The existence of weapons of mass destruction was not the sole justification for action, but they were certainly a part of it. The Prime Minister conceded that before the Liaison Committee on
"I accept entirely the legal basis for action was through weapons of mass destruction."
That brings me to the central purpose of today's debate. The Foreign Secretary rightly stated yesterday that the ability of the House to vote for or against war was a constitutional change. Not only was it a change but it carries grave responsibilities, which none of us on the night of the vote took lightly. Decisions of life and death can and must be taken only on the best information available. In the case of Iraq and Saddam Hussein, much of that information was bound to be intelligence-based and intelligence-provided. The House has no direct access to such intelligence but only what it is told by Ministers. The House must therefore be able to have total confidence not only in the intelligence information vouchsafed to it by the Prime Minister and his colleagues but in knowing what is intelligence-sourced and what is not. If that confidence is lacking or has been breached, the House cannot be responsibly asked to take on such grave matters.
The Prime Minister and the Government have an overriding duty to be scrupulous and consistent in the way that they provide intelligence material to Parliament. Over these last months, that has clearly not been the case. Two key areas exist, which are inevitably linked but nevertheless distinct: first, the status of the evidence on weapons of mass destruction, and secondly, the way in which the Government have handled and made public intelligence material. At the moment, the theme that links those more than anything else is that of confusion and inconsistency. In this area in which clarity is essential and consistency is vital, we have all found ourselves enmeshed in an increasingly tangled web that has been totally of the Government's weaving.
Would my right hon. Friend consider this proposition: the Government's difficulty really stems from the fact that they decided to go to war to support the American alliance? They knew that that explanation would never be acceptable to Labour Members, and consequently they had to place on weapons of mass destruction a weight that it would not bear, as that was the only kind of argument that they could put to their hon. Friends.
I know that that is my right hon. and learned Friend's view, and as I said on an earlier occasion, I respect him for it. I cannot say that I agree. What I can say is that the Opposition supported the Government because we believed that it was in the national interest to do so and that the situation provided a threat, and a current threat, to our national interests.
Let me start with the matter of weapons of mass destruction. I accepted, and I believe that I was justified in accepting, the Prime Minister's assertions that such weapons existed, not just before the war but since. On
I took seriously the Secretary of State for Defence when, on
"we will find weapons of mass destruction."—[Hansard, 7 April 2003; Vol. 403, c. 29.]
"I'm absolutely convinced that they are there."
"those weapons of mass destruction programmes existed".
He said that he had
"absolutely no doubt that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes, no doubt at all."
There was no doubt either about the introduction of the word "programmes". The Prime Minister's official spokesman qualified the use of the word when he said:
"we will find evidence not only of weapons of mass destruction programmes but concrete evidence of the product of those programmes as well".
So, we have talk of programmes and their products, the result of which is increasing confusion.
I questioned the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee and raised the subtle change of language. My right hon. Friend is on to an absolutely vital point. Surely the reason why we went to war was that Saddam Hussein posed a direct military threat to the region and the west. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the House is fully aware of that point and respond to a further specific point? Why did the Government simply stop talking about the 45-minute threat after September? They did not talk about it in March, so they must have known then that the information was no longer reliable.
If I may, I shall come on to the 45-minute claim a little later in my remarks. We must be cautious not to get caught up on that point because I think that that was the intention of Mr. Alastair Campbell. He raised it before the Foreign Affairs Committee because he hoped to divert attention from more serious matters.
On my hon. Friend's first point, I say again that we need clarity on the Government's position on weapons of mass destruction because it has varied over the past few weeks. We need to know their clear position today. For example, on
"at the top of Whitehall" had told him that the Government now accepted that they would not find the weapons. I do not know who those senior sources were, but I would be interested to hear from the Foreign Secretary, who met Mr. Andrew Marr that afternoon, whether, by any chance, he agreed with those senior sources. I offer him the opportunity to respond now, although he might be keeping his head down.
Immediately after that, the story began to change again. Downing street disowned the senior source only to be outdone by a senior Foreign Office adviser who was reported in The Herald on
"We remain confident that weapons of mass destruction and products will be found and nobody at the Foreign Office takes the view that we no longer believe we will find them".
The situation is completely circular. There are those who say that the weapons will not be found and those who say that they will be found. Some people make attributable comments and some make non-attributable comments. Once again, we have confusion. The only thing that remains clear about the Government's position on weapons of mass destruction is that it is totally confused. We need today an unambiguous statement from the Foreign Secretary on where the Government stand on weapons of mass destruction.
That is only part of the tangled web in which the Government are foundering. The other part is how they have handled intelligence material. For example, there was a claim about uranium from Niger going to Iraq. The claim was stated as a fact in the September dossier but was subsequently shown to have been partially based on forged documents. There was no explanation of who forged them and why. There is no mention of CIA concerns in the Government's response. We now have a belated explanation that there were other sources of intelligence that apparently cannot be disclosed. Even more unusually, we are told that such sources cannot be shared with the United States. There are again more unanswered questions, and further confusion and suspicion.
I have never thought that the 45-minutes claim was key. I believe that Alastair Campbell decided to make that the smokescreen behind which to conceal the Government's other shortcomings. He believed that war with the BBC was preferable to war with Labour Back Benchers. The smoke has blown back in his face. In the farcical charade of who non-attributably told whom what and when on the provenance of the 45-minute claim, the Government last week suddenly offered up their official, Dr. David Kelly. Yesterday, Dr. Kelly made it clear, contrary to what the Government had suggested, that he was not Mr. Andrew Gilligan's unnamed source, and I understand that the Foreign Affairs Committee has supported him. There has been more inaccurate spin and confusion.
Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to why, when Mr. Andrew Gilligan first made his accusations on the media, which was some weeks before the Foreign Affairs Committee investigated the matter, 10 Downing street and Mr. Alastair Campbell did not complain immediately? Instead, Mr. Campbell seemed to wait until he appeared before the Committee. Surely that is another example of the way in which the Government set up smokescreens.
That is precisely why I thought that there was a smokescreen. There had been no earlier complaint about the report on the "Today" programme and no complaint was made about a report on "Newsnight", which was produced independently of the investigation that gave rise to the story on the "Today" programme. The Government have never complained about the "Newsnight" report although it made precisely the same allegations as Mr. Gilligan.
I am still puzzled about why Downing street did not issue a denial after the "Newsnight" report. The report contained exactly the same allegations, although they were made by a different journalist. I have been in politics for a long time and when I see a cloud of smoke going up, I reckon that I can tell whether it is a smokescreen or an explosion.
The most damaging element of the whole affair relates to the so-called dodgy dossier that was published on
"By producing such a document the Government undermined the credibility of their case for war".
The right hon. Gentleman cited the Prime Minister's statement about "further intelligence". However, does he accept, as the Foreign Affairs Committee makes clear, that the Prime Minister did not set out to mislead Parliament and that he acted inadvertently? The right hon. Gentleman goes on about how awful smokescreens are, but he slips in facts and tries to move away from them, thus creating smokescreens of his own. Will he accept that the Prime Minister's actions were not deliberate?
I shall address that point directly in a few moments because it is important.
The Government's production of the document was not the only thing that undermined the credibility of their case for war. We now know that the Prime Minister, albeit inadvertently, misled Parliament, for which he has neither apologised nor explained himself. When challenged, he said that he did not know the document's full provenance. He said that he did not know that it was not an intelligence document when he spoke about it in the House. Apparently, the Foreign Secretary did not know that either because he said the other day that he did not know that the document was not an intelligence document for more than three days, although his Department is the sponsoring Ministry for MI6. So it is all right as long as one does not know.
It is all right, perhaps, for those of us who have no reason to know, but the people who did not know are not ordinary people or Back Benchers—they are the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Are we really to believe that they did not know? It beggars belief. They run the Government. They are supposed to be running the country. Why did they not know? Why were they not told by Alastair Campbell? In any event, what on earth was he doing chairing an intelligence assessment committee? The arch-manipulator of the truth was in charge of assessing the truth of intelligence. There is an irony in that. We can only assume that Mr. Campbell was operating on a need-to-know basis and that, in his view, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary did not need to know.
"I am afraid that I do not accept that Parliament was misled in any way at all."—[Hansard, 9 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 1151.]?
He tried to embroil the Leader of the Opposition in his argument by asking him if any of the intelligence in that dossier was untrue. But that was not the misleading; the misleading lay in the presentation of a dossier to Parliament as if it were primarily intelligence-based when it was primarily not intelligence-based. So the Prime Minister, in denying that Parliament was misled previously, was actually misleading Parliament deliberately on that later occasion.
Order. The hon. Member must withdraw that remark. "Deliberately" and "misleading" are not what I expect to hear from him.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have listened to the Prime Minister and I think that he believes that an inadvertent misrepresentation of status to the House of Commons is not misleading. I am not accusing him of deliberately misleading, but if one says something that is wrong and people believe it, one has misled. I am prepared to accept, as I said, that he did not know that he was misleading. My charge against him is why on earth did he not know? If he were doing his job properly, he would have known. If this were fiction, our review of the book would be that it was unbelievable.
Some will ask whether the dodgy dossier really matters. The fact that the Prime Minister misrepresented its provenance goes to the heart of the trust that Parliament can put in what he tells it is, or is not, intelligence. His failure to acknowledge that leaves an enormous question mark hanging over anything that he in future tells the House is, or is not, intelligence. He has squandered his trustworthiness and is doing little to retrieve it.
The erosion of public confidence is gathering pace and beginning to damage the national interest. Opposition Members do not believe that the issue should be allowed to drift on into the autumn. If Labour Members think that the coming recess is a beach to a drowning man, they will find when they get there that the beach is a mirage.
There is an urgent unanswerable case for the Government to set up an independent judicial inquiry into what is now a matter of urgent public importance. It could be asked to report within six months, require the attendance of witnesses who could be examined on oath and compel the production of documents. It could get to the bottom of this murky pool, establish the truth and re-establish public confidence.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the matter should not be allowed to drag on into the autumn. I remind him that the Scott inquiry took 18 months. I can imagine the shouts of horror if an artificial timetable of six months were imposed on a judge, who would say that he could not complete it within that time.
If the Government acknowledge the public concern and set up a judicial inquiry to reassure them, they could bring the discussion to an end. It may be against my party political interests to do that, but at least it would be in the national interest.
I hope that it would not. We backed the Prime Minister on
If the Government complain about six months for an inquiry, may I remind my right hon. Friend of what Mr. Michael Foot said about setting up an inquiry? He stated:
"If there is any difference in emphasis between me and the right hon. Lady about the way in which" the matter should be presented to the House
"it is on timing. I do not believe that the inquiry need take six months. I believe that" it could complete its work
"considerably more speedily".—[Hansard, 8 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 477.]
That inquiry also had two former Labour Cabinet Ministers on it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information. I was not aware of it and he makes a useful point.
The real problem is that the matter is a mess. It is a mess of the Government's own making. Through incomplete information, unattributable briefings, half-truths and pathetic smokescreens, they have brought about a failure of confidence, a collapse of trust in the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Government, and a serious undermining of public confidence in British intelligence.
I will not lose sleep over the loss of trust in the Prime Minister and his Government. In my book, that was never high, but failure of confidence in intelligence is serious. Lack of trust when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary bring intelligence material to the House is serious, too. The situation cannot be allowed to drift. An independent judicial inquiry should be set up now. That would be the right thing for the Government to do. It is the responsible thing for the Government to do. It is in the public interest. I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
"welcomes the Ninth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Decision to go to War in Iraq, Session 2002–03, HC 813;
notes that substantial oral and written evidence, by and on behalf of the Government, was provided to the Committee;
believes that the Intelligence and Security Committee, established by Parliament by statute, is the appropriate body to consider the intelligence relating to Iraq;
and notes that this Committee has already begun its inquiry."
The Opposition's motion raises two central questions: whether an independent judicial inquiry in respect of intelligence relating to Iraq would be the most appropriate form of inquiry; or whether the membership, powers and practices of the Intelligence and Security Committee are sufficient to give this House and the general public an objective and informed picture of the role of intelligence in the run-up to military action.
The demand for a judicial inquiry stems from accusations that the Government may have misrepresented or exaggerated intelligence. I think that that was the point that Mr. Ancram made, although it was not always clear. Let me reiterate that the Government stand by the judgments reached in the dossier published on
We welcomed the Foreign Affairs Committee's decision on
We will of course respond in writing to the FAC's report and recommendations within the standard two-month period, as well as meeting much earlier deadlines set by the FAC for further and better information. However, I hope that some of the FAC's conclusions will lend perspective to today's debate. Although Committee members split 6–4 on the last part of recommendation 14, repeated in paragraph 86, that
"allegations of politically inspired meddling cannot credibly be established", they were unanimous in their central conclusions that although they had concerns about the emphasis given to some of the intelligence, the claims made in the September dossier
"were in all probability well founded on the basis of the intelligence then available".
I have said on the record that in our judgment the FAC is not the appropriate body to see all the intelligence. That job, the House and Parliament have decided, is for the Intelligence and Security Committee. That is a matter of fact, and I do not want get involved in another matter of fact—the gentle tussle between the FAC and the ISC. However, I would tell the hon. and learned Gentleman—I am happy to be corrected, but I think that this is true—that I have gone further in seeking to provide evidence directly from intelligence than most Ministers have gone in the past. I shall continue to do so, and I regard it as my duty to be responsible to the House and its Select Committees—as I am—as well as to the Intelligence and Security Committee.
I shall now deal with the key issue of a judicial inquiry raised by the right hon. Member for Devizes. The original motion tabled in the middle of June by the Leader of the Opposition called for a judicial inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. An inquiry under the 1921 Act is established to investigate a
"definite matter . . . of urgent importance."
Given the wide judicial powers of any such inquiry, a key feature is the protection afforded to witnesses, now in accordance with the so-called Salmon procedures. Those procedures, introduced to
"minimise the risk of injustice to individuals", mean that all persons called before an inquiry held under the 1921 Act are entitled to legal protection. Of course that is admirable, but it means that inquiries can be frustrating for the public because of the duration and the costs involved. The Salmon procedures are not confined to inquiries formally established under the 1921 Act, and apply to any other judicial inquiry. The Scott inquiry was not formally a 1921 Act inquiry—one of the demands by my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, with the full support of the Opposition, was that it should be a 1921 Act inquiry—but even though it was not, in practice, as the report makes clear, it had to take full account of the rules of evidence, provide for legal representation and follow the Salmon procedures.
The motion tabled by the Leader of the Opposition in June called for an inquiry to be completed in six months. The right hon. Member for Devizes referred to that today, but I have to tell the House and him—and he should know this—that if a senior member of the judiciary is asked to conduct an independent inquiry, he will exercise independence on timing as much as on content. If he is not allowed sufficient time, justice cannot be done or be seen to be done. I should like to correct a point made by my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson, who underestimated the time taken by the Scott inquiry. That inquiry was established in
Moreover, it is quite wrong to assume that independent judicial inquiries, whether established under the 1921 Act or not, automatically bring the issues to a close. Sometimes they do not, and I ask the House to take full note of that. In 1972, an independent judicial inquiry into Bloody Sunday was set up under the 1921 Act by the then Prime Minister Edward Heath, under a most distinguished senior member of the judiciary at the time, Lord Chief Justice Widgery. However, his report did not close the issue to the satisfaction of all the parties. There was continuing criticism of his independence and judiciousness, notwithstanding his distinguished reputation, which led many years later to the establishment of the latest independent judicial inquiry into Bloody Sunday, the length of which has far exceeded the length of the Scott inquiry. It is now in its fifth year and has cost £100 million.
My lips are sealed on the setting up of the first one. However, as I said, it is now in its fifth year, and some people who were evangelical in their support for it may now be questioning its utility.
If the Foreign Secretary is to have credibility, can he explain to the House why, when the Government were first elected, they were so keen to set up not just the Bloody Sunday inquiry but a number of inquiries into the actions of the previous Government, whereas they are now reluctant to have any inquiries into their own actions?
I was just about to come to that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point.
I set up a judicial inquiry, chaired by Sir William Macpherson, into the events surrounding the death of Stephen Lawrence. I hoped—and this was the family's wish—that the previous Government would set up such an inquiry, and we urged them to do so for five years. There was no reason for them not to do so, as plainly they were not to blame for what happened in Eltham that terrible April day. However, they failed to do so. When I made my decision, I was rightly supported by the then shadow Home Secretary and the House as a whole. I am grateful to Mr. McLoughlin for prompting me, because if he looks at the 24 1921 Act inquiries carried out over the past 82 years, he will see that almost all of them have involved serious allegations of misconduct flowing from, or leading to, criminal investigations. Before it comes to conclusions about the utility of the Opposition's motion, the House needs to weigh up the fact that those inquiries have on average taken two years to publish their findings.
May I chide the Foreign Secretary a little for referring to evangelical requests? There may have been evangelistic pressure, but if it was evangelical it would be seeking truth. Instead, it was actually yielding to the terrorists who wanted to get at the British Army and security services in Northern Ireland.
Before the Foreign Secretary gets bogged down in the details of the inquiry, can he address the central objection to relying on two internal parliamentary Committees, whatever their merits? That objection concerns their independence. Every member of those two Committees took part in the vote on going to war—a new experience for us. They cannot therefore be judged to be independent when they are asked to make a judgment on their own decisions. That is the main reason why the country will not be satisfied—there must be a group of people outside the House who are free of accusations about making that original decision.
That is an ingenious argument, using something that was welcomed across the House—the introduction of substantive motions for the decision to go to war—against the position that I am recommending to the House. The answer is clear. If that is the case, every single Select Committee will be disabled in every single inquiry that it ever undertakes. Moreover, my hon. Friend may not know members of the judiciary as well as some of us do. To my certain knowledge, the idea that a wide range of members of the judiciary did not have clear opinions about the decision to go to war is nonsense. I spoke to many of them in the run-up to the war. It was a matter of great controversy and interest. Some were in favour, others were against; none was indifferent.
The usual argument about the control and scrutiny of the intelligence and security services has been that there ought to be stronger parliamentary scrutiny of them through the establishment of a Select Committee, rather than by the ISC. My hon. Friend seems to be arguing that we should not have confidence in our own ability to scrutinise the work of Ministers. Finally, if my hon. Friend looks at those who sit on the ISC—I shall deal with the ISC in more detail in a moment—he will see that the distinguished members of that body cover a fairly wide range of opinion on military action. I am clear that they are capable, as their record shows, of reaching decisions that are independent and judicious.
I must make progress. I apologise.
That brings me to my second question: whether the membership, powers and practice of the Intelligence and Security Committee are sufficient to give the House and the general public an objective and informed picture of the role of intelligence in the run-up to military action. My answer is yes. The ISC was established by the Intelligence Services Act 1994 after years of concern that Parliament was not able to play a proper role in holding to account the intelligence and security agencies or the Ministers responsible for them. One of the concerns that I recall was that where there were serious questions about the agencies and the use of intelligence, Government had to resort to establishing one-off inquiries—as they had to with Franks inquiry on the Falklands, and to a degree, although there were also allegations of criminality, in respect of the Scott inquiry on arms to Iraq—because there was no standing machinery to do this, as there is in countries such as the United States and in other parliamentary democracies.
The debate in 1994 shows that although there was some questioning about the composition and powers of the ISC, the whole House welcomed its establishment. There was no vote against it. Over the years, the ISC has shown that any initial concerns about it have been unfounded. With members drawn from both Houses and all main parties, the ISC has performed its function with distinction. Its reports on the Mitrokhin archive and the terrorist atrocity in Bali are models of their kind, and proof that the ISC is perfectly capable of independence of judgment. Its reports have included important recommendations that have helped the agencies and their supervising Ministers and Departments to improve their performance, and they have included strong criticisms of the Government. If the ISC finds fault with our performance during their current investigation, I expect to hear such criticism again.
The Foreign Secretary again uses the existence of the Intelligence and Security Committee, as he did in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee, as an excuse for not giving us access to documents and officials. Does he acknowledge that, when the ISC was set up, the then Foreign Secretary said that the existence of the Committee would not
"truncate in any way the existing responsibilities of existing committees"?
The right hon. Gentleman is now praying it in aid to do exactly that.
No—and nor has the ISC truncated those responsibilities. The point about the ISC was that it filled a vacuum. There was no Committee for Parliament to supervise the intelligence and security agencies. The hon. Gentleman knows that, although there is some overlap between the work of the agencies or their product and the role of the FAC, the FAC's role is in respect of my responsibilities for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not in respect of my responsibilities for the intelligence and security agencies. Parliament could have chosen to decide otherwise. As the Committee acknowledges, I am open to the argument that there should be a special Select Committee, but the current arrangements are those that Parliament decided.
Surely Mr. Maples is correct. The Government are cutting across the work of an existing Select Committee by their decision. I refer my right hon. Friend to paragraph 169 of the report, in which the Committee states:
"We recommend that the Government accept the principle that it should be prepared to accede to requests from the Foreign Affairs Committee for access to intelligence, when the Committee can demonstrate that it is of key importance to a specific inquiry it is conducting and unless there are genuine concerns for national security."
Precisely so. It was a specific inquiry. The Government hampered our inquiry by not allowing us full access to the relevant intelligence.
My right hon. Friend will acknowledge that I provided a considerable degree of relevant intelligence. Moreover—this is a matter for the House, not for me—my right hon. Friend must acknowledge that there is an issue here of the boundaries of responsibilities of the FAC and the ISC. I am glad to see Sir Patrick Cormack acknowledge that. It is true. It is wrong for my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and others to seek to embroil me or Ministers in what is essentially an issue for Parliament.
The crucial thing is that we are fully accountable in respect of foreign policy and the work of the agencies to those two bodies established by Parliament, one a Select Committee, the other established by statute. Furthermore, as I suggested to my right hon. Friend when I gave evidence, and as I believe is happening, there is a good case for the two Committees to work in co-operation—for example, as I know from my visit to the ISC yesterday, the FAC provided the ISC with the full transcript of the evidence that I gave in private to the FAC so that I could be further interrogated by that body.
The House may be wondering why no member of the ISC is present for this debate. The answer is that members of that Committee are in the middle of their inquiry, which they initiated on
The Conservatives established the ISC, and when it has suited the right hon. Member for Devizes, he has been fulsome in his praise for the Committee and its work, as he was in the case of Bali and as he was just two weeks ago in the debate on the ISC's annual report on
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.
Having given evidence before the ISC as both Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary over the past six years, I can personally testify to the integrity and rigour that former and current members of the Committee bring to their work. I have no doubt that they will pursue their investigation into the use of intelligence in respect of Iraq with the same degree of probity and concern for the public interest as they displayed during the Bali inquiry. We can expect them to deliver their conclusions swiftly, and the public can be sure that they will have arrived at their judgments on the basis of key intelligence material.
Does the Foreign Secretary think the Committee will look into the question of supplies of uranium from Africa? I tabled a question last week asking whether Iraq had sought the supply of uranium from Africa that had no civil nuclear application in Iraq. The right hon. Gentleman will recognise those words as being exactly the words in the September dossier. Judging by what the Prime Minister said at Question Time today, one would have thought that the answer would be yes, but instead, the Minister for Europe replied with some waffle about the civil nuclear programme being frozen and there being no civil application for the uranium sought. Why can we not have straight answers to such questions? The question was perfectly clear. It is obfuscation like that that requires committees to be set up to give the straight answers that we are after.
I am sorry, but I am going to make progress.
The right hon. Member for Devizes spoke about this matter drifting on into the autumn. He wants a judicial inquiry, but if such an inquiry were established, it would not drift into the autumn, but be kicked into the long grass for the next couple of years. The right hon. Gentleman needs to be aware of that, as there is no way that a judicial inquiry could take six months and do a proper job.
Mr. McLoughlin raised in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Devizes an issue that has also been raised in the press—the question whether a Franks-type inquiry should be held, as in respect of the Falklands. There have been some suggestions in the press that the Franks inquiry was a judicial inquiry, but it was not. Lord Franks was a distinguished public servant, but never a judge. He had been a diplomat, a United Kingdom ambassador in the US and permanent secretary to the Ministry of Supply at the end of the war. He was a distinguished business man, head of an Oxford college and a member of the House of Lords. A judge, however, he was not.
Three other members of the Franks committee—I make this point since we have heard Franks prayed in aid outside the House as the answer—were Members of the House of Lords. I shall read out their names so that people can weigh the degree of judiciousness and independence that they brought to the job—as, of course, they did. Lord Barber was a former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer; Lord Watkinson was a former Conservative transport Minister; and Lord Harold Lever, an entertaining friend of ours on the Labour Benches, was a former Paymaster General and Minister without Portfolio. The committee included one Member of this House, Merlyn Rees, the former Home Secretary, and Sir Patrick Nairn, a good man and a former permanent secretary of the Department of Health and Social Security, who had before his translation to that post spent the whole of his career in the Ministry of Defence. They were distinguished people, but no one can seriously claim that such a group was any more qualified or distinguished than the current ISC. I was in this House when the Franks committee was established.
I think that I am the only Member of the House of Commons to have been summoned by the Franks committee to give evidence. Frankly, however distinguished its members were, they were all round the shop in their questioning. Their questioning was absolutely loose, and I was not the only witness or judge who thought so. Franks was tired and too old to do the job, and it was a disaster.
My hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell was in good company at the time. Indeed, I have been reading the statements that were made in this House when Franks reported. My hon. Friend made an important point. If we are going to find a judge to do such work—I had to recognise that this was the case when I established entirely justified judicial inquiries into judicial matters—on the whole, we have to go for judges who are retired, as others will not be available for the indefinite period for which they will operate. Sometimes, they could be described as old and tired.
Frankly, when we are dealing with subjects that are so intrinsically political, the idea that simply because somebody has been adorned with a judge's wig, they will be devoid of political judgment or opinion, or that that will not seep through into what they say, is nonsense.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and I need to make progress.
Let us be clear: if there had been an ISC, there would have been no need for Franks. Neither the nature of the committee's membership nor its modus operandii removed it from controversy. As well as the criticism laid at its door by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, I remember, as I was in the House—I double-checked my memory earlier today—a wonderful put-down by my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes, who said that Franks was
"an establishment cover-up and a whitewash".—[Hansard, 18 January 1983; Vol. 35, c. 180.]
Such inquiries often do not lay such intense political issues to rest, but merely keep them as running sores.
Has the Foreign Secretary not even been tempted to set up an independent judicial inquiry? Such an inquiry has its attractions. I think that it would be convenient to him, as he could say to the Liberals, the Tories and even to some Labour Members, "I am not going to deal with these details, as they are being dealt with by a judicial inquiry." If such an inquiry were established, we would not have these debates and questions, and as he said, the report would not be published until after the general election. Surely, there is some temptation, as it is far more difficult for him to be constantly questioned and challenged by this House and by two Committees.
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is possessed of even more guile than me. Of course, there is an important truth in what he says. The Opposition tabled a motion calling for a judicial inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 in the middle of June, and when the ISC arose in the debate about Iraq two weeks ago, the right hon. Member for Devizes did not mention the idea of a judicial inquiry. However, he now thinks that, if he avoids the name of the 1921 Act, he can avoid all the complications that go with it. That shows what a shambles and how useless the Opposition are.
We were talking earlier about smokescreens, but the Foreign Secretary has now been speaking for half an hour and he has yet to get on to the merits of what the Select Committee looked at or indeed the allegations that I made. He has so far talked about nothing except the very last part of the motion. Unless he is going to speak for a very long time, he may be trying to avoid dealing with the issues that are of interest to the public. May I ask him one question: does he agree with Andrew Marr's senior sources at the top of Whitehall who said that the Government now accepted that they would not find weapons of mass destruction, or with The Herald's senior Foreign Office adviser, who said:
"We remain confident that weapons of mass destruction and products will be found"?
If he answers only that question, we may at least make a little progress.
That also shows just how useless this Opposition are. Yesterday we had questions lasting an hour and a quarter in which I was interrogated and during which he could have asked me those questions. I do not know whether he has noticed it, but the reason why I am concentrating on whether there should be a judicial inquiry is that that is in the terms of the motion. It is my experience that, if one strays beyond the terms of the motion, one can be pulled up. The right hon. Gentleman is not asking me to pre-judge these issues, as I have already made our assertions and made clear our confidence about the judgments in the
At the heart of the argument is the question whether we should kick this matter into the long grass for two, three or four years, at a cost of some £20 million or £30 million, or allow Members of this House to hold the inquiry. That is the central issue before us today. I know that some Members of the House challenge the method of appointment and reporting of the ISC. That does not lie well in the mouth of the Opposition or the right hon. Member for Devizes; the Intelligence Services Act 1994 was their Act. To make such claims because the ISC is appointed by the Prime Minister and reports to the House through him is outrageously to traduce the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of himself for not being able even to utter the words "Intelligence and Security Committee" when it was he and his Government who established it. It is representative and its members are not toadies.
The House knows that, because the ISC must have access to sensitive intelligence, there has to be a filter to ensure that the published contents of the report do not compromise national security. However, the 1994 Act spells out that any redactions have to be made clear; and there is no question of the Prime Minister or any Minister interfering with any of the Committee's conclusions, and neither would the Committee keep quiet if there were any attempt to do so.
Let me come to my last point on a judicial inquiry. Who would appoint that judicial inquiry? I have some news for the right hon. Member for Devizes. If it were outside the 1921 Act, I am sorry to have to tell him that I would have to make the appointments. If it were under the Act, by law the appointments would have to be made by the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman should think about that.
The dossiers of September and February set out the case for dealing with Iraq rather than ignoring Iraq, not the case for military action. In September and in February, all our efforts were devoted to finding a peaceful solution through the UN. When, in the end, we were faced on
"uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in Resolution 1441 and many Resolutions preceding it".
Let me repeat what is in the FAC report. The Committee agreed unanimously that the decision to take military action was based not on the Government's intelligence assessments, but on the need—I quote from paragraph 3 of its report—
"to enforce unanimous Resolutions of the UN Security Council".
For all the efforts to rewrite history, I remind the right hon. Member for Devizes that intelligence was not the issue for the Opposition. In the crucial debate of
"Saddam Hussein has lied to the UN for 12 years" and that
"it should be evident to everyone that he remains in breach of the obligations under 1441."
He then listed the agents and viruses that had been identified, not by us but by Hans Blix in his report of
"every Member of this House read"— that 173-page report—
"before passing judgment."
"There is a huge and powerful argument to act."
Indeed, he went on to say that
"if decisive action had been taken earlier, we would not now stand on the verge of war".
The Leader of the Opposition therefore concluded:
"There are matters at stake that rise above party politics. It is the duty of the Government to act in the national interest, and it is the duty of the Opposition to support them when they do so. The Prime Minister is acting in the national interest today. That is why he is entitled to our support in doing the right thing."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 775–79.]
No, I am about to close.
The Liberal Democrats' argument for a judicial inquiry is even more bizarre. They disagreed with the decision to take military action even on the basis of the intelligence that was made available. For them, intelligence was not an issue.
The decision to take military action is as justified today as it was on
"If we vote to give Saddam yet another chance, the moment will pass, our concentration will falter, our energy and our focus will disperse and our nerve will fail, with disastrous consequences for us all."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 779.]
As for the Opposition's motion, what they describe as the "facts of the matter" now form the very heart of and backdrop to the investigations of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which was set up by Parliament. I know that the ISC will be rigorous with its witnesses, scrupulous with the intelligence material and, if necessary, unsparing in its criticism. I know, too, that—unlike a judicial inquiry—it will be able to deliver its conclusions in a timely manner, not months or years down the line when public interest has waned. A vote for the Opposition's motion would be a vote of no confidence in the Intelligence and Security Committee—[Interruption.] Conservative Members did not mention it once: they could not utter the words. It would also be a vote of no confidence in the ability of this Parliament to have effective oversight of agencies and Ministers on intelligence matters. I urge the House to reject the motion and to accept our amendment.
As the right hon. Gentleman came to the end of his speech, I thought that I had strayed into Blackburn on a Saturday morning and he was on his well-known soap box.
As the Foreign Secretary rightly said, the whole House is grateful to the Foreign Affairs Committee for its report. I do not doubt for a moment that the Committee has done its best in the time available and with the information that was made available to it, but I hope that its Chairman will not think it churlish of me to say that in this context, its best is not enough. Indeed, the Committee itself implies in paragraph 29 of its recommendations, on page 5, that because it had to operate within the envelope of restriction imposed by the Government, it did not see everything or everyone.
The Foreign Secretary set great store by the Intelligence and Security Committee. No hon. Member would argue that the independence of that Committee was in doubt, nor could we argue about the fact that its access to documents and to individuals may be rather wider than that afforded to the Foreign Affairs Committee. But we cannot ignore the fact that the final contents of any report produced by that Committee may well depend upon the judgment of No. 10 Downing street as to what information about what occurred in No. 10, which has inevitably been a source of controversy, should be allowed to reach the public domain. That is why I do not shrink from saying that we need an inquiry—
I shall give way in a moment.
We need an inquiry that is independent of the House and of any role for the Prime Minister or any other Minister. We need an inquiry that will satisfy public opinion, which was reflected very unusually to the extent that here in London more than 1 million people took to the streets to express their anxiety, which was mirrored up and down the country on the same day.
I hope that on reflection, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not pursue the point that there can be, or has been, any censorship of the reports and conclusions of the ISC. The Intelligence Services Act 1994 is very specific. Section 10(5), (6) and (7) make it clear that where any issues are redacted—as they sometimes have to be from FAC reports too—that has to be made patent in the report. There is no question of any of its conclusions ever being interfered with. I pray in aid the remarks of Lord King, formerly Tom King, whom we all knew, and who was Chairman of the ISC before my right hon. Friend Ann Taylor. He said:
"The reports cannot be censored."
I accept all that. The Foreign Secretary will remember, however, that we had a debate on the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee only a fortnight or so ago, when Mr. Ancram and I were at pains to point out that substantial parts of that report were subject to asterisks. Mr. Mates described as an improvement the inclusion of a table that in previous years the Committee had been persuaded should not be inserted, but when I pointed out that the table was not particularly illuminating because large parts of its columns comprised asterisks, he had to agree.
What took place in No. 10 Downing street is undoubtedly a matter of controversy. The ISC is a different kind of Committee from a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It is not, in the sense in which the public would understand it, a Committee that is independent of the House of Commons. To those who argue that the House of Commons should never give up its jurisdiction over such matters, and that Committees of the House are the only competent means of investigation, I would say that they do not understand the extent to which we are disregarded by the public. This is an issue of enormous public importance that requires an inquiry of a different kind. Such an inquiry would go much further towards restoring confidence in this institution and the way in which it operates than an investigation confined to instruments of the House of Commons.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman seriously believe that a judicial inquiry would publish sensitive national security information for everybody to read? Surely he is not suggesting that it would behave any differently from the Intelligence and Security Committee in that regard?
Of course I do not suggest that—but introducing independent scrutiny from outside the system is much more likely to command public support than proceeding with our current method. As the Foreign Secretary said, the Intelligence and Security Committee is well able to conduct the annual scrutiny and monitoring of the activities of the three security services. However, going to war is not normal; having a million people on the streets is not normal. It is not normal to go to war when, shortly after the momentous decision—as the Foreign Secretary rightly describes it—substantial and controversial issues arise about the basis for doing so. We therefore need a solution in the form of an inquiry that does not follow the normal course.
Why should there be an inquiry? We have to be careful and not allow ourselves to be blown off course by the tempest that rages between Mr. Campbell and the BBC. When the vote was taken on
The Government, and, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, now place great reliance on the passage that the Foreign Secretary read out earlier about the fact that some 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions had been breached, and especially that resolution 1441 authorised force. Many PhDs will be written about whether resolution 1441 authorised force, and whether the precise language in which it was couched was designed more to achieve unanimity than clarity when it passed through the Security Council.
However, there is no doubt that although clear and obvious breaches of resolutions may authorise military action, they would not make it legitimate under the normal rules of international law unless it could be demonstrated that all other diplomatic and political options had failed. Let us consider the Government's case at its best. Resolution 1441 did not absolve them of their obligation to explore alternatives or to use only force proportionate to the resolution's objectives. If, as the Prime Minister said on 25 or
I make that analysis to point out that the centrality of the Government's case was that weapons of mass destruction that posed a clear and present danger existed, and that, although the words "immediate" and "imminent" were not used, it was essential for the protection of our interests—political and otherwise—and those of the region, to use military force at the time.
We are hearing a skilful analysis by a persuasive advocate. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not mentioned the unanimous acceptance by all members of the Security Council, in resolution 1441 of
"the threat Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security".
That recognises the threat, but there is dispute about whether the remainder of the terms of the resolution authorise military action. Indeed, as Mr. Cook pointed out in his resignation speech, the Government went to great lengths to obtain a second resolution but subsequently claimed that the importance of securing it was not especially great. However, their efforts to obtain a second resolution suggested that it was important.
The right hon. Member for Devizes cited a passage from resolution 1441, but we must be careful about making an assumption that the United Nations Security Council is the only fount of international law, which somehow did not exist until the charter of the United Nations appeared in San Francisco in 1947. The rules of conflict have existed for a long time; they preceded the United Nations. Proportionality, and using military force as a last resort, have been part of the code of international law for a long time. They were not undermined, and could not be swept aside, by the Security Council's passing resolution 1441. In the view of at least 13 members, it was ambiguous, certainly on whether it specifically authorised military force.
"What we are talking about here is trying to put the best gloss on your case to ensure people accept it."
Members of Parliament do that all the time; barristers and advocates are well paid for doing it. However, the legality of war, with the political, economic and social consequences, is much too important a topic on which to put a gloss to ensure that people accept it.
The question that remains is not whether Mr. Campbell had too much to do with intelligence matters in No. 10, but whether the United Kingdom went to war on a flawed prospectus. Was that flaw in the intelligence or the way in which it was handled once it reached the Government? The Prime Minister and other Ministers have been skilful at denying guilt of a charge that was not made against them. It is said that those who raise such issues are somehow accusing the Prime Minister of lying. I am not doing that. However, there may be issues not of truth but of judgment and competence. I therefore believe that an inquiry is necessary. What if similar circumstances arise in the course of this Parliament? What if a further perceived threat arises? Where will the Government find the credibility to persuade the House and the country that military action is required?
I agreed with the Foreign Secretary in some of his criticisms about the form of inquiry that would be appropriate, and I shall deal with that subject shortly.
I caution the Government, and the House, about campaigns against the BBC. I suspect that a shoot-out between the BBC and politicians about which is the more reliable is unlikely to be resolved in our favour.
Dr. Kelly has fallen on his sword but his emergence, blinking into the sunlight, like the chorus of prisoners in "Fidelio", underlines the fact that he did not believe in the 45-minutes claim—members of the Foreign Affairs Committee who heard him yesterday will doubtless correct me if I am wrong about that. He made it clear, and the Committee accepted it, that whatever sort of contact he constituted for Mr. Gilligan, he was not his source for the broadcast on
These questions certainly will not go away. That is why I believe that the case for an independent inquiry is irresistible—a point that I made to the Foreign Secretary yesterday. I do not think that he challenged me when I suggested that if he were sitting on this side of the House rather than on the Treasury Bench in a debate of this kind, he would be putting many of the same arguments that we are putting today.
Let me deal with some of the points that the Foreign Secretary has raised this afternoon. First, the Scott inquiry was not the first investigation of the issue of arms to Iraq. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry carried out an investigation right at the end of the 1987 to 1992 Parliament. It did so under the sanction of the fact that that Parliament was coming to an end and that an election was inevitable. It also did so in the face of great obstacles and considerable hindrance. At least one Minister who appeared before the Committee declined to answer questions on his role in the matter, although when he eventually had to face Mr. Geoffrey Robertson, QC, in the witness box, he was rather more forthcoming. There was also a Member of Parliament who declined to give evidence to the Committee when it was engaged on what came to be known as the Iraqi supergun inquiry, and there were certainly officials whose evidence to the inquiry was later proved to be, shall we say, neither whole nor complete.
As for getting a busy judge to conduct the inquiry, let me remind the Foreign Secretary that Lord Cullen was a full-time judge when he was asked to conduct the inquiry into Piper Alpha, which many people regarded as a model of its kind. He was also a full-time judge when he was asked to conduct the inquiry into the Dunblane shooting tragedy. So the objection that it might be difficult to find someone who is currently exercising judicial responsibility is not necessarily one that would stand up in all circumstances.
I also believe that it is perfectly feasible to say that the inquiry would have to be completed within a prescribed time. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that from the point of view of a judge heading up an independent inquiry, there might need to be some qualification of that, and that in special or difficult circumstances, an extension might be granted. It is not beyond our wit to create an independent inquiry, headed by a senior figure from the judiciary, with a time limit within which he and his inquiry are expected to report.
The Foreign Secretary is right to say that an inquiry set up under the terms of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, with all the statutory implications that that would involve, might not fit the bill because of the length of time that it might take. If the Government were willing to allow the independent and impartial scrutiny that I believe to be necessary in this case, however, we should not have much difficulty in arriving at a form of inquiry that would be adequate to meet public anxiety and appropriate to get to the bottom of these questions.
In spite of the Foreign Secretary's vigour today, nothing that he has said has persuaded me other than that independent and impartial scrutiny is required here, as much for sake of the reputation of the House as for that of the Government. That is why my colleagues and I will be supporting the Opposition in the Lobby tonight.
I begin on a happy note of consensus. I note that both the mover of the motion and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary welcomed the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Committee. From that point on, however, the divergence began.
The key points of the report are set out in the summary of the conclusions and recommendations, and I need hardly go through them, save to point out that, on a great swathe of the recommendations, the all-party Committee was united. There were, of course, certain differences, but we concluded that Ministers did not mislead Parliament. The two dossiers were the focus of the report. On the allegation that the first dossier of September 2002 had been embellished or exaggerated, the Committee concluded on the basis of the evidence before it that that had not happened. There was a divergence of opinion on the role of Mr. Campbell, but the majority—with a casting vote—agreed effectively to exonerate him. The minority was agnostic and concluded that, on the basis of the evidence available, it was unable to make a decision. That was a wholly principled view. There was no part of the Committee saying that Mr. Campbell was guilty of any particular crime. Although the Committee was therefore not unanimous, there was a substantial degree of agreement.
I am confident—I think that members of the Committee would join me in this—that the Government believed that there was a real threat of the Iraqi regime using weapons of mass destruction. What other reason could one give for the issuing of protective anti-chemical warfare uniforms to our troops? It would require a conspiratorial mind of great magnitude to imagine that our Government would have gone through the charade of equipping our forces in that way if they did not believe that the threat was real.
I was not aware of that fact, and I shall have to reflect on it. I know for certain, however, that our troops were equipped in the way that I have just described, and that chemical weapon kits were also found among the Iraqi soldiers. On the face of it, therefore, they too were being equipped for such a war. It is also clear from the part of resolution 1441 that I cited earlier that the United Nations Security Council accepted that the Saddam Hussein regime posed a real threat to international peace and security.
I turn briefly to the points raised in the Opposition motion. In regard to the Select Committee having had insufficient time to conduct its inquiry, the schedule for the report was set unanimously by the Committee itself. It was wholly self-imposed, and for good reasons. One reason for the admittedly tight timetable was that we wanted the report to be published in time for the issues arising from it to be discussed at the meeting of the Liaison Committee with the Prime Minister on
So far as our having had insufficient access to crucial documents in concerned, I wholly concur with what Mr. Ancram has said. We stated in our report that the lack of access to such documents hampered our work. In particular, we sought interviews with the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. In my judgment, it would have been good for the Committee—and, indeed, to the advantage of the Government—had the chairman been able to endorse orally what he had stated in writing in respect of the various letters involving Mr. Campbell, and so on.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why he thinks that the Government did not trust his Committee to interview the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee?
I believe that it was not a question of trust but of the Government relying—wrongly, I think—on the jurisdictional point that that was within the province of the Intelligence and Security Committee rather than the Foreign Affairs Committee. Hence, in paragraph 169 of our report, we recommended that the Government
"accede to requests from the Foreign Affairs Committee for access to intelligence, when the Committee can demonstrate that it is of key importance to a specific inquiry".
Manifestly, the request to meet the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee was not a general fishing expedition. It was wholly related to our specific inquiry and, in my judgment and that of the Committee, it should have been acceded to. I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary looks at the recommendation—within two months, he has said—he will give careful consideration to the point that we have made, and be prepared to trust us in such matters.
The right hon. Member for Devizes made an important point in suggesting that it was now the Opposition's policy to grant the Foreign Affairs Committee access to such documents, and that they would pursue that policy if and when they were elected to govern. May I have an assurance that any future Chairman of the Committee will be able to rely wholly on the integrity of Opposition Front Benchers in that regard?
For the sake of accuracy, let me explain what I meant to say. I think that the Committee's inability to gain access to the documents is a very good reason for instituting an independent judicial inquiry.
I am not entirely satisfied with that response. The right hon. Gentleman has accused Mr. Campbell and others of not always answering the question, and I hope that, on reflection, he will look carefully at his own answer. Mine was a very simple question: am I to assume from the right hon. Gentleman's clear statement that the Opposition now believe that the Foreign Affairs Committee should be granted access to such intelligence material in the terms of recommendation 169 of our report?
That was a pregnant pause. I think that the silence of the Opposition spokesmen will be noted, for it was eloquent in its own way.
The only certainty about the judicial inquiry was that it would drag on for years. Even Mr. Campbell, with all his persuasive powers, could not surmount the point about timing, and the fact that, if some artificial time limit were set, by definition, the inquiry would not be independent.
I am reminded of a wonderful story told by Lord Weatherill. An elderly Jewish tailor to whom he was apprenticed, when given work to do on a suit, asked the customer, "Do you want it good or do you want it quick?" That may be part of the answer in this case; but all that we know about the judicial inquiry, given the precedents of Franks and Scott, is that it will take a very long time, and at the end of the day may deliver no more than can be delivered by the combination of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee.
We are almost certainly reaching a time when it is not just a question of looking at what Mr. Campbell did or did not say, but of focusing on the future. There has been a media circus, sometimes using the theme "Get Campbell". Yesterday, I met UK officials returning from Baghdad, who painted a very different picture from the one conveyed to us by the press. Positive things are happening on the ground in Iraq. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that 98 per cent. of schools there were back at work. Alas, our press will concentrate on the 2 per cent. that are not.
As a sort of historian myself, I believe that when historians examine these events they will not look at the Campbell-Gilligan spat; they will look at the big picture. Of course the prospectus on which we went to war is important, but they will look at the effect on the middle east peace process, and the reconstruction of Iraq. The new governing council may have its limitations, but at a press conference on
"Why do you say its powers are limited? The BBC always tries to distort Iraq's news . . . the council enjoys a relatively good number of powers"— and he went on to list them. I believe that that, and the broad support given by a representative group of Iraqis, will be judged to be the key in the longer term.
Let me return to the Committee's report, and the welcome that it has been given on both sides. I trust that it will be agreed that our report has fully justified the decision of our all-party Committee to conduct the inquiry, and that the fact of its having been conducted largely in public will be seen as a valuable contribution to what is an important debate on the subject of going to war in Iraq.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Anderson. He has chaired the Committee during a difficult and contentious inquiry that has involved a huge amount of work in a short time with his customary skill and patience.
Yesterday, and again today, the Foreign Secretary made what I considered an extraordinary statement, suggesting that the Government did not consider the intelligence assessment that was made before the war in Iraq to be central to the issue of whether we should go to war. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that had the Government's motion of
I think that I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman will be allowed an extra minute in injury time.
With respect, the right hon. Gentleman has parodied what I said. The point about the September dossier—which, I may say, was produced not least because the Foreign Affairs Committee had clamoured it for in the past and at the time—is that it made the case for action against Iraq, rather than inaction. It did not make a case for military action. The strategy followed by the Government was to get the matter into the United Nations, and to seek to resolve it peacefully. It was only as a result of Iraq's failure to comply that we then brought the matter to the House.
As for the issue of the 45 minutes, which was mentioned earlier by another Conservative Member, as far as I know it was not mentioned by a single Member on
The Foreign Secretary says that I parodied his words. Yesterday, he said:
"the intelligence assessments that were provided formed part of the background, but they were not the heart of the argument and never were."—[Hansard, 15 July 2003; Vol. 129, c. 162.]
For a great many of us who voted on
As for our armed forces in Iraq, who had to put their lives on the line for the war, let me draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to a paper placed in the House of Commons Library at the time: the Government's own paper entitled "Iraq: the Military Campaign Objectives". The very first paragraph states:
"The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles, as set out in the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions".
That was the first and overriding military objective: to rid Saddam Hussein of the weapons of mass destruction that were the basis of the intelligence assessments put before the House.
I want to say something about those assessments, and, in particular, the key assessment placed before the House in the dossier of September last year. I start with the issue of uranium from Africa. That was no minor issue but a central plank of the Government's assessment that Saddam Hussein's regime was attempting to recommence its nuclear weapons programme. What we know about the uranium from Africa story is that Mr. el-Baradei revealed to the UN in February this year that the Niger allegations were based on forged documents. We now know, from the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee—it is mentioned in the Committee's report—that the insertion of the story about uranium from Africa was, like the 45-minute claim, a suspiciously last-minute insertion into the document.
Significantly, and remarkably, we learned last Friday for the first time, from the letter that the Foreign Secretary released to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East, that the CIA had expressed reservations to the British Government at the time that the September dossier was published about the inclusion of the claim about uranium from Africa. The Committee has taken evidence from the Foreign Secretary on that point and on the source behind the statement in the dossier. All that I can say in this public forum is that we await with great interest the views of the Intelligence and Security Committee on the adequacy, or otherwise, of the source for that information.
The 45-minute claim is of huge significance, not because of the Campbell allegations, which—as my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram said—have been a smokescreen and a diversion. It is important because the Government highlighted that claim in the September 2002 dossier. It appeared no less than four times—in the Prime Minister's foreword, in the executive summary and in two other places. That 45-minute claim underpinned completely the Government's claim for the immediacy of the need to take military action. Those who voted on
The Foreign Affairs Committee took evidence in public and in private, and of course I cannot reveal what was told to us in private. However, I am entitled, as an individual member of the Committee, to offer my own personal conclusions on the validity of the 45-minute claim. My conclusions are, first, that the intelligence base for the claim was very narrow and, secondly, that the accuracy of that intelligence base could not be guaranteed.
It remains to be seen whether that intelligence will be validated on the ground. I do not rule out the possibility that the Iraq survey group may discover, hidden in some clever and fiendish way, chemical or biological weapons ready to use and located within 45 minutes of the appropriate delivery systems in place in Iraq at the relevant time. However, if no such discoveries were made, that would not surprise me in the least.
That is an issue on which we took public evidence. The published volume of evidence contains some interesting evidence from an expert witness who worked at Porton Down and has great experience on the issue.
The third question is the biggest: the key issue of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, especially chemical and biological weapons, irrespective of whether or not they were within 45 minutes of being ready to use. On that issue, the Committee concluded that the jury is out. I was amazed that the Prime Minister, before the Liaison Committee and in answer to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East, said that the jury was not out. I do not understand on what basis the Prime Minister made that statement. The jury is clearly out, because no chemical or biological munitions have been found, and that is a key issue.
As of today, nearly four months after we invaded Iraq, none of the central intelligence assessment claims in the September 2002 dossier has been validated on the ground. No evidence has been uncovered that Saddam Hussein was restarting his nuclear weapons programme. We have no evidence of imports of uranium from Africa or of continued production of chemical and biological weapons. We have no evidence of up to 20 longer-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching British bases in Cyprus or of chemical and biological weapons that could be deployed within 45 minutes. We have no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction at all so far. Perhaps that will change with some dramatic discovery by the Iraq survey group, but if by the time it has completed its work we are in the same position as today, it will raise serious personal issues for the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister.
Before I decided to take part in this debate, I thought that I would read what I had said in the debate on
It was obvious that things had to change in Iraq. As hon. Members said, children were dying in Iraq and people were suffering under Saddam Hussein. Getting rid of Saddam was desirable, but it had to be done in a legitimate way that was consistent with international law. At the same time, however, contradictions existed in respect of international law, Iraq, and this House.
As I said, I refreshed my memory of my previous speech, in which I made the point that
"if we do not get the United Nations resolution, and if we do not get the inspectors back and the removal of the weapons of mass destruction, in my judgment regime change would indeed be justified—if necessary, by military means."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 85.]
Why was I thinking that way? I think that it was not so much because I was impressed by any particular dossier, but because the Americans were prepared to go back to the UN to get resolution 1441. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made the commitment that we would work for a specific resolution. That caused me to support the Government in that period.
Towards the end of my speech on
If we learned one thing about Saddam Hussein, it was that he was a complete Stalinist and a unilateralist. He signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the chemical weapons convention, but flouted them immediately. He agreed to the UN ceasefire in 1991, under which he was to give up nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but then spent a decade lying, cheating, and hiding. He deliberately denied the inspectors access and did not allow them to do their job. He attempted to conceal weapons in all sorts of places, and put pressure on scientists to deny that weapons programmes were going on.
We had to bring Saddam Hussein to account. The House had debated the question of sanctions and their impact on the people of Iraq, but we had never really been able to deal with the subject. The closed nature of Iraqi society led some of us to believe that we could use the mosque system in the Muslim community to get aid to people and children in Iraq. However, that proved to be impossible. The Stalinist running Iraq was clearly capable of taking anyone on. The fear that he instilled made certain that people would never attempt to undermine anything that he did.
The Ba'ath party and Saddam Hussein exploited the oil-for-food programme for their own benefit. They denied food and essential medical supplies and material to the people and children of Iraq, including the Marsh Arabs, at great, ongoing and deadly cost. The Iraqi elite, however, were not denied food. They lived in Saddam's palaces and enjoyed a lifestyle that was revealed by the coalition forces to have been way beyond anything imaginable.
The no-fly zones were another reason why I said that I would be happy to support regime change. The zones, in both the north and south of Iraq, were highly dubious and were not legitimate under international law. I recall their being debated in this House when I was a member of the Opposition, on the other side of the Chamber. I told the then Foreign Secretary—now Lord Hurd—that there was no international law that allowed us to put the no-fly zones in place. I know that the Foreign Office considered that it could find a suitable framework in international law, but the legality of the no-fly zones is still the subject of argument.
Nevertheless, the no-fly zones saved the Marsh Arabs and allowed them to survive. Saddam was able to drain the marshes, but the Marsh Arabs survived. By the same token, the northern no-fly zones allowed the Kurds to develop a society. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said in his statement yesterday, the coalition forces are now feeding 26 million people. He said:
"Preliminary figures for June show that food rations were distributed to about 26 million Iraqis in a target population of 27 million. Food distribution is being extended to the Marsh Arabs, a people who I understand received no food at all under Saddam Hussein."—[Hansard, 15 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 153.]
The no-fly zones allowed people to survive, and we are now feeding those people.
The Iraqi Kurds had been fighting among themselves, having been turned against each other by Saddam Hussein. Once they had resolved their issues, the northern no-fly zone allowed them to develop a society and infrastructure, one result of which was an improvement in the child mortality rate. When an administration was established, the first thing that the Iraqi Kurds did was to affirm the territorial integrity of Iraq. They did not attempt to move towards breaking away from Iraq, but said that they wanted to form a government. They are now part of the provisional authority in Iraq.
The Iraqi Kurds have survived because of the no-fly zones, even though those zones were illegal. The British and Americans broke international law and, in so doing, allowed the survival of people in Iraq who would not have survived otherwise. It is clear that we were dealing with a person in such complete control of Iraq that we in this House could not have allowed the weapons inspectors to continue for much longer.
I shall not comment on the Foreign Affairs Committee report. I am not in a position to do so, and I do not want to disagree with Sir John Stanley. However, although he did not mean to, when he spoke about his own view of information that he had received he gave a clear indication as to what that information—to which we are not privy—might have been. Whether he intended to or not, people will be bound to look at his speech to try and ascertain what the information was.
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, but he had said earlier that the Committee had received a specific briefing. People are bound to draw an inference, and see an implication, when two such statements are made in the same paragraph. That is a danger for Select Committees; they need to work out how to handle the information that they are given.
The way ahead for the House is to welcome the report and to look forward to the Foreign Secretary's response. Much more important, however, is dealing with the more immediate problems of Iraq and the middle east. On 14 and
It seems that much of the past parliamentary year has been dominated by Iraq and the situation and circumstances leading up to our debate on
The changes in the Government's attitude are interesting. Like many Members, I received numerous letters in the run-up to the debate on
We had not held such a debate before, and it was with a heavy heart that I supported the war, because I was aware that people would lose their lives in conflict as a result of my using my vote. In conflict, lives are always lost. Sadly, that has been true for a number of families in this country, who have been devastated by the war—it will live with them for ever.
Sometimes, tough decisions have to be taken and the Prime Minister was courageous in the way that he persuaded the House. He spoke with a conviction that we have not heard from him before. As I said earlier, he took on public opinion, which, undoubtedly, was not with him.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, throughout the run-up to, and the entirety of, the conflict in Iraq, also showed a sense of duty. He showed the right way for an Opposition to conduct themselves on such major issues. Had there been a Labour Opposition at that time, would we have had a similar response from the leader of the Labour party?
Does the hon. Gentleman recall the support that the then leader of the Labour party, Neil Kinnock, gave the Conservative Government during the first Gulf war?
I accept that. But the first Gulf war was far easier to understand. There was an invasion, so it was easier to see the necessity for recapture. No vote was taken on that war, and most of the debates at that time were held on the Adjournment at the request of the then Opposition—[Interruption.] I was merely wondering whether, if there had been a substantive vote on such a matter, there would have been similar support from a Labour Opposition.
I want to explain why there should be a public inquiry and why this situation is different: I cannot recall a Cabinet Minister who had sat at the Cabinet table during the Falklands conflict and the first Gulf war, saying after those events that the Government's action had been wrong. On this occasion, that has happened. Clare Short was a long-serving member of the Cabinet and she voted for the war, but now she says:
"I have concluded that the PM had decided to go to war in August sometime and he duped us all along. He had decided for reasons that he alone knows to go to war over Iraq and to create this sense of urgency and drive it: the way the intelligence was spun was part of that drive. There was political spin put on the intelligence information to create a sense of urgency. It was a political decision that came from the Prime Minister. We were misled: I think we were deceived in the way it was done . . . The suggestion that there was a risk of chemical and biological weapons being weaponised and threatening us in a short time was spin...That didn't come from the security services."
That was a member of the Cabinet, someone who had access to information.
What did the former Leader of the House and the Foreign Secretary's predecessor say? Mr. Cook called for a public inquiry. The calls for a public inquiry are not coming merely from an opportunist Opposition; they reflect serious concern in the nation about our deploying our forces in war. I believe that the Government are committing a serious folly by not accepting that such an inquiry should take place. People are asking what the Government have to hide. If they have nothing to hide, why are they afraid of the inquiry?
I say sincerely to Members on the Treasury Bench that it comes a little rich from the Government when they tell us that the inquiry will take time, or when the Foreign Secretary told us, as he did a little while ago, of the huge cost of such a public inquiry, because the Labour Government have held more inquiries into the actions of the previous Government than ever before. We have had the Phillips inquiry, the Bloody Sunday inquiry and others that the Prime Minister has launched into the actions of the Conservative Government. Not so long ago, the Prime Minister used to accuse the Conservatives of being responsible for BSE, and he set up the Phillips inquiry. He can no longer make that charge, because the inquiry showed that his allegations were rubbish.
The Government have seriously mishandled Iraq since the war. That point cannot be made too strongly. They could have retained the unanimity of the parties as they moved forward. David Cairns mentioned Labour support for Baroness Thatcher when, as Prime Minister, she deployed her troops in the south Atlantic. Referring to the "awkward squad" in a response to Mr. Dalyell, the then leader of the Labour party said:
"I can assure him that, if he had been a member of the last Labour Cabinet, he would know that my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Lever qualifies for that appellation better than anyone else in the country, rising even to the high standards of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian".
In those days, Michael Foot was very content that the inquiry should go ahead. He went on to say,
"For the rest, I believe that what the right hon. Lady has proposed is right and that the House would be wise to support it. I emphasise what she said, and what we have always understood in our discussions, about the fullness of the report to be made to the House and to the country. That is an absolute requirement, but I do not believe that there has been any difference between us on that."—[Hansard, 8 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 477.]
What happened this year was right. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein has been a lesson to world order. I was immensely impressed, as I am sure were many of my hon. Friends, by the speech of Ann Clwyd during the many debates that we had in the lead-up to the decision. We certainly did not expect her to propose that course of action. She was clear in her own mind. She said that she would support the Government if it were only a case of regime change. She was in no doubt about that. However, that was not the assurance that the Government gave us—it was not what the Prime Minister assured us was the reason for doing it.
I cannot understand why the Government are now so reluctant—why the matter has been so mishandled. For example, Alastair Campbell was not going to appear before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, then he appeared before it and then we had that incredible outburst on the Channel 4 news of the same night and, all of a sudden, the Prime Minister's reputation has been put in grave jeopardy. If it has been put in jeopardy, it is because of the way he has run his Government in the past six years. They have become a Government almost created by spin and run by spin, but on a matter such as war we should get to the truth and that is why we should have an inquiry.
In the last few moments of his speech, Mr. McLoughlin let the cat out of the bag. He said that he agreed with the Government, he thought that what we did in Iraq was right and getting rid of Saddam Hussein was right. He just does not like the Government. He does not like the fact that we did that and he is going to find some reason to oppose it.
Earlier, the hon. Gentleman made a disgraceful slur against the patriotism of former Labour leaders by saying that they would not have supported military action. I think that I have to go back to George Lansbury to find a Labour leader who did not support British troops—[Interruption.]—other than Suez.
The hon. Gentleman has guessed wrongly. One thing that is worth remembering about the Falklands is that at the time there was a man who was about to become Labour leader—Neil Kinnock—who wholly opposed that expedition and said so publicly at a time when our troops were being deployed.
This really is the stuff of desperation. The Conservatives make an allegation that turns out to be complete nonsense and then they scan the Labour Back Benches for people who were about to become leader of the Labour party and might have supported it. They should think before they make those absurd allegations.
I join the long queue of people who are thanking and praising the Foreign Affairs Committee for its reports. The Chairman said, I think with a little irony, that everyone was standing up to praise the report but going on to say that it was inadequate because the Committee did not have access to the information, because there should be a further judicial inquiry or whatever.
For someone such as myself who is a new Member of Parliament and approaches these issues with trepidation in the presence of people who know far more about them, the report was an extraordinarily useful primer into the workings of the intelligence agencies and the way that intelligence is gathered, filtered and compiled. It is an excellent case study into how that happens. I am sure that everyone here has read it, but I commend it to people outside who have not done so. The Committee asked some specific questions of the Government and I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary assure the House that he would deal with those within the two-month period that he has to respond in full to the report. We will await his reply with interest.
In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend Mr. Ross did well to remind us of the broader context within which the decisions were taken. After all, the report is entitled "The Decision to go to War in Iraq", not "Finding out whether a dossier was dodgy", nor is it about a particular claim about 45 minutes. It was about the decision in the broadest sense and my hon. Friend did well to bring us back to what really matters.
The United Kingdom did not pluck Iraq out of thin air or stick a needle into an atlas and say, "There's a country that we do not like. We'll manufacture evidence to make up some sort of case for deposing a leader who is inconvenient to us." That simply did not happen. As my hon. Friend reminded us, we must remember the 17 UN resolutions on Iraq and the action that had been taken up to that date—the no-fly zones as well as the sanctions against Saddam Hussein's regime. It was not the UK's intelligence services alone that were making allegations about weapons of mass destruction—it was not only the United States intelligence services that were making those claims.
I am not one of those hon. Members who is in the habit of hanging out with members of the intelligence and security forces—at least, not that I am aware of—but I recently had an opportunity with some colleagues to meet a former head of the very well-known national security service of another country. I appreciate that this story is anecdotal and that there were no minutes, so hon. Members cannot challenge whether what I am saying is true, but I asked that gentlemen, who has many years' experience in the field, whether the weapons of mass destruction existed, whether we were duped, and if they did exist where they were. He told me in clear terms that I should be in no doubt that the entire world intelligence community had those doubts, knew that Saddam Hussein had been developing weapons of mass destruction and was continuing that programme with varying degrees of success. As we know, he had attempted to implement it in various ways with varying degrees of success.
Therefore, it was not a case of the UK acting alone or acting with a right-wing American President; it was the expression of the entire world community, which culminated in resolution 1441. That resolution was passed unanimously by countries including France, Russia and Syria, and it was acknowledged that there was a genuine threat from Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. That is important. This was not a huge propaganda exercise got up by Alastair Campbell—he is not that powerful or influential. The Conservative party is throwing up a smokescreen by pursuing that route.
At heart, we are all—Sir John Stanley, the hon. Member for West Derbyshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West—reflecting on why we voted to go to war. We are asking ourselves, "Why did I cast that vote? What was the evidence base upon which I cast it?" Two dossiers were uppermost in my mind when I cast my vote in support of military action. I read them very carefully and they swayed me. I regret to tell my hon. Friend the Minister that they were not the dossiers of September and February that the Government produced; they were two distinct dossiers. One was a Command Paper that put together all 17 of the UN resolutions against Saddam Hussein one after the other, with their 29 separate obligations on Iraq and Saddam Hussein, the majority of which had been unfulfilled to that point. Reading those resolutions consecutively brought home powerfully to me that the entire world community was concerned about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Of course, the resolutions culminated in 1441.
Mr. Campbell told us that he thought that the fact that the Government were attempting to secure a further resolution after 1441 demonstrated that they were not convinced of the legal basis given by 1441 for going to war. I refute that—that is not my understanding of why the Government were attempting to secure a second resolution. They openly said that it would be politically preferable to have that position explicitly set out in a new resolution. [Interruption.] I recommend that my hon. Friends who are dissenting from that view consider what was said at the time by my hon. Friend Paul Flynn, who argued very cogently that we were voting not to go to war, but to support resolution 1441. He said very clearly that he would not vote for that because resolution 1441 provided a basis for further military action. He was opposed to that then, and it was a very principled stand to take. I listened to him and argued with him at the time, but not about whether resolution 1441 provided a basis to go to war, as we agreed about that.
Does my hon. Friend not recall that the Prime Minister asserted very strongly that not only would he go for a second resolution, but that he intended to get one and that, after he failed to get one, he told the House in terms that we were going to war to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, which has so far proved—how shall I put it—difficult to justify?
I was agreeing with my hon. Friend right up until the last point that he made. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should be congratulated on trying to go for a second—or an 18th or 19th—resolution and on the way in which his influence on the American President brought him into the whole process at the United Nations in the first place, so I do not accept that resolution 1441 provided no legal basis for the military action that was taken.
I mentioned two dossiers, and the Command Paper was uppermost in my mind at the time of going to war. The second dossier is the last report of the weapons inspectors, which was produced in early March and runs to 167 pages in the original version and 173 pages in the final version. Reading that document—page after page about the Iraqi regime's non-compliance with the weapons inspectors—helped to convince me that that regime would simply never comply with the weapons inspectors because it had no intention of ever doing so. That put the regime in clear contradiction of UN resolution 1441, which provided a basis for such action.
Either way, we cast our votes on whether or not to engage in military action on that fateful night, certainly in the knowledge that, as the hon. Member for West Derbyshire said, if we voted for war and war came, there would be casualties and deaths. I put it to him and to hon. Members who voted not to go to war that, if we had not gone to war and deposed Saddam Hussein, people would have died in any event, perhaps in even greater numbers than died in the short conflict. We must not forget that vital point.
Of course, the judicial inquiry issue is the gravamen of the motion. I found it extraordinary that Mr. Ancram complained that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spent so much time addressing that issue when that is what the motion calls for. The entire motion is one long preamble, with a specific call at the end for an independent inquiry. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary demolished that case in his very effective speech, but the right hon. Gentleman simply said in response that it was unfair that my right hon. Friend addressed the judicial inquiry issue.
The only time that Opposition Members mention judicial inquiries is when they are asking for them to be stopped, and the hon. Member for West Derbyshire complained about the cost of the Saville inquiry and the length of time that it has taken.
No, I will not give way; I have less than a minute left to speak.
I believe that we were right to go to war. I believe that history will show that that was the right thing to do. I believe that weapons of mass destruction will be found in that massive country, which is the size of France, when the inspectors go about their job unhindered by the Iraqi regime. I will await the outcome of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and I have confidence in its ability to get to the heart and truth of this matter.
I do not know whether weapons of mass destruction will be found. I believe that they probably will be, but I agree very much with David Cairns when he talked about being most influenced by the Command Paper that tabulated all the United Nations resolutions. On this occasion, if perhaps on no other, the hon. Gentleman and I are very much on the same side.
I am bound to say that when the House, very ill advisedly in my view, changed its hours, I hoped that there might be the compensating advantage that short debates early in the afternoon would at least be attended by the protagonists. Yet it is perhaps less than an hour before the winding-up speeches and there is no Foreign Secretary and no shadow Foreign Secretary. Mr. Campbell has, to his credit, returned to the Chamber, but where is Donald Anderson, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose report is central to the debate? He made his speech and off he went.
I have a great regard for the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but his place is above all in the Chamber while this matter is being debated. I am particularly sorry that he is not here because I want to talk a little bit about the Foreign Affairs Committee. I had the privilege of serving on it until a few weeks ago. I voted with the Government and against setting up a judicial inquiry when we last debated this issue. I made it plain that I was unhappy about the fact that the Foreign Affairs Committee had decided to embark on this road and I said then, and I have said since, that I believe that the Intelligence and Security Committee is the right Committee to investigate the matter. I still hold to that view.
The report, published after prodigious labour and a great deal of burning of midnight oil, has not taken us very much further forward, save to indicate that the one degree of unanimity appears to be that the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee do not believe that the House was deliberately misled. That at least is good, but I argued on the Foreign Affairs Committee that we should not have this inquiry. I did not leave the Foreign Affairs Committee specifically because of that. I do not want to mislead the House myself. I had already informed my hon. Friend the deputy Chief Whip and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that, for various reasons that they fully understood, I would not remain on the Committee beyond the end of the summer. I came to that conclusion very reluctantly.
When we came to discuss this issue, I argued—Mr. Pope knows this very well, as he is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee—very forcefully that we should not have the inquiry. I asked for my dissent to be minuted, and it was. When I then discovered that I could not, for very good reason, attend two crucial sittings, I felt that I should not put myself or my colleagues in the position where I would probably write a minority report not having heard all the evidence. No one should put his name to that report, for or against, without hearing every last bit of evidence.
So I brought forward my withdrawal and the House discharged me from the Committee, and my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway was appointed in my stead. I wish him happy years on the Committee, but he has not been able to begin on a very good note because one of the great defining characteristics of Select Committees is that they try to examine issues without being over-influenced by party prejudice. The Select Committee reports that have most effect in the House—I speak as someone who has been a Member for a very long time and been involved in a number of such reports—are those that are unanimous or near unanimous.
The Committee has done what I prophesied would happen if it embarked on the inquiry: it has divided more or less on party lines. On one or two occasions, Andrew Mackinlay voted with my right hon. and hon. Friends, but the Committee has divided more or less on party lines, and I believe that that is a very great pity indeed. It will undermine the effectiveness of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and it will take a long while to recover from that.
My right hon. Friend's intervention, frankly, in no way demolishes the point that I am making. If one looks at the significant Divisions, one finds that they were along party lines. One even finds that what was arguably the most significant Division of all was carried by the casting vote of the Chairman. That is a fact; it is there for everyone to read, and it does not reflect credit on the House when that sort of thing happens with one of its very senior Select Committees. I deeply regret that because I cherished my membership of that Committee. I tried to be an assiduous member, and I wish it every possible success in the future. That is totally genuine.
When we come to this particular issue, however, nothing has significantly changed apart from the attitude of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. I deeply regret that. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a brave and proper speech in support of the Prime Minister on
Of course, the so-called dodgy dossier incident was not particularly well handled. Does that seriously alter the material facts of the case, however? No, it does not. One is tempted to think that dodgy dossiers have had a place in the history of the Labour party—I am surprised that no one has yet resurrected the Zinoviev letter. The fact is, however, that although elements of the Government's handling could have been better, although the Prime Minister, as I have said before, has created difficulties for himself by his over-reliance on spin on many issues, and although he has my implacable opposition to many things that he has done and proposes to do—and will continue to have it—nevertheless, on this issue, he behaved as a proper national leader should. He had the support from my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary that he deserved. Nothing that has happened since has altered my opinion on that.
I must say this to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench: rehearsing the mantra, "Nobody will ever believe a word that he says," does no good to them, the political process or this place. Yes, Labour Members did it to us as our Government fell apart between 1992 and 1997. By visiting on them what they did to us, or seeking to do so, especially over a grave national issue, however, we serve only to increase public cynicism and dislike of the political process, on which the House should be united to allay and to answer.
I therefore beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to take heed of a quotation from Jonathan Swift:
"Lash the vice but spare the name".
Attack the judgment but do not impugn the sincerity.
On this issue above all, let us not undermine the honourable credibility of our position as the Opposition by nitpicking over these matters, which do not affect the material issues that we are discussing—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend Mr. Goodman says from a sedentary position that this is a question of weapons of mass destruction. No one who has studied the matter, who has taken part in the debates in the House, or who was here at the time of the first Gulf war, can doubt that we were dealing with one of the most evil tyrants to deface the world scene since the second world war. No one can doubt that not only did he have the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction but that he produced weapons of mass destruction. What was the state of those particular weapons at the time that we went to war in March I do not know, and I do not much care. I believe that the decision to go to war was entirely justified. All the UN resolutions, which were detailed in the Command Paper, and which showed this man thumbing his nose at the international community, gave sufficient justification for this country to go to war.
It grieves me deeply that my party, to which I am honoured to belong, should have started nitpicking when it was so right to give support on the principal issue. It also grieves me that those young men and women in Iraq at the moment—I have spoken to some of them, and we still have 11,000 out there—are wondering whether we have lost our marbles in this place. They are helping to bring to Iraq—a country that has been subjugated to an evil regime for the best part of half a century and that has never known democracy—an infrastructure, both physical and political, that will allow that nation to exploit properly in its own interests its indigenous oil wealth and to become a force for stability in the middle east and in the world beyond. What do we do? We spend our time looking at these silly accusations, which have no substance, and I am ashamed of my party for doing it. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will desist—certainly, if they do not, I will not.
Let us move on. Perhaps there is a paucity of attendance in the Chamber this afternoon because our colleagues think that we have said enough.
Sir Patrick Cormack, in his customary candid and robust way, has expressed many of the views that I hold. I have on many occasions argued for regime change. I believe that it was the right thing to do. I might have wished for a different approach to it, and I tried to argue many times in this House that it was possible to indict members of the regime in the same way that Milosevic was indicted while he was still head of state. It was unfortunate that despite INDICT—the organisation that I chair—taking evidence to the Governments of four countries, including this one, not one Government was prepared to act on the evidence that we had given them. That would have been my preferred option, as I am sure it would have been for many other Members of the House. I also thank Mr. McLoughlin for his kind words.
Clearly, when one has seen and been involved for such a long time in events in Iraq, one can describe them with some passion and conviction, and in the belief that something ought to have been done. I believed as far back as 1984 that something needed to be done. In 1987, I was chair of an organisation called CARDRI—the Campaign against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq—which was the only pressure group in this country that highlighted the excesses of Saddam Hussein's regime. The group wrote newsletters, published books and used every opportunity to try to make the world take notice of the atrocities that had taken place since the beginning of Saddam Hussein's regime. In 1987, I put out a newsletter on behalf of CARDRI that called for Saddam Hussein to be divested of his chemical and biological weapons.
In 1988, Halabja took place. No one took any notice of what we had said in 1987. This country continued to sell arms to the Iraqi regime and to deal with members of the regime as though they were honourable people—of course they were not. In 1988, I also took a group of women from the House of Commons to visit some of the survivors of Halabja in a London hospital.
At the beginning of this year—the last time that I spoke to the House about my visits to Iraq—the Kurds took me to the area of the country between Chamchamal and the road to Kirkuk, which was the dividing area between Saddam's Iraq and the Kurdish part of Iraq. The Kurds pointed to rockets on the hillside. They believed that chemical and biological warheads were to be fired in their direction. They were so convinced of that that they asked me to ask our Prime Minister to provide them with protective suits. I made that point to the Prime Minister and in the Chamber on my return. The Kurds contacted me several times during the following weeks to ask when they would receive the protection. They were close to everything that was going on and had their own intelligence. They sincerely believed that chemical and biological warheads existed, although I do not know whether they did or not.
I did not make an argument about weapons of mass destruction. I argued that we needed to take action in Iraq for humanitarian reasons. When I spoke in March about the plastic shredder that was used to kill in one of Saddam's prisons, I never imagined that only a month ago in Baghdad—after the war—I would read in a chillingly meticulous record that one of the methods of execution in Saddam's prisons was mincing—that was the translation from the Arabic. I had finished a press conference at the British embassy in Baghdad when a person from Fox television asked me to take a dossier that the company had been given that was an account of methods of execution. I read some of the methods outlined in the 56 pages—they were horrific.
The Abu Ghraib prison is the largest in Iraq. Since the early 1980s, I have read about executions that took place there and methods used by the regime to deal with its opponents in the prison. I visited the prison in the company of the Americans. When we reached the gate, it was locked, and the people inside refused to open it until they had received instructions from a higher military commander. We stood around for some time talking to children who were playing around the prison. The prison could house up to 75,000 people. The total prison population of this country is about 75,000, so those people could be contained in that prison alone. The 15 and 16-year-old boys who were playing around the prison had been guards there. They told us that only one day before the Americans arrived at the prison, the remaining prisoners had been killed. They had been stood in trenches up their waists and shot through the head.
There are murals of Saddam Hussein on the corridors of the prison, which is gruesome beyond imagination. The murals show Saddam with a hawk on his shoulder, Saddam with a rocket launcher with a dove in its barrel and Saddam in a silk shirt with a cigar. His victims were taken from dark and overcrowded cells to the execution block that had ceiling hooks and levers that catapulted them to a grizzly death in the pits below. Some remained alive, so the guards broke their necks by standing on them. The United Nations could have continued passing resolutions for the next 50 years and sending inspectors and rapporteurs into Iraq, but in the end, despite my reservations, there was no realistic alternative to war.
When I was in Iraq, the people on the streets to whom I talked were irritated because the debate on weapons of mass destruction was raging here at the time. When I asked them what they thought about the weapons, they were amazed that anyone was talking about them at all. They said, "Don't they care about us? Don't they care about the mass graves? Don't they care about the torture?" I assured them that we did care about all those things but that people were nevertheless worried about weapons of mass destruction.
If that is the only side of the story, how does my hon. Friend explain the attacks on American troops in Baghdad, which happen day in, day out and are alas increasing? That is lamentable.
It is lamentable; my hon. Friend is right. But he must know some of the reasons for that. An Iraqi friend in this country, who had a brother in the Iraqi army for 35 years to whom he had spoken recently on the telephone, was told that people are being offered $600 a head for shooting at American soldiers. Of course, my hon. Friend must know that there are also the remnants of the regime—the remnants of the Ba'ath party who have so much to lose because the regime has gone, and the fedayeen who fought for Saddam. There are also extremists. For all those reasons, there is still insecurity in the country.
For people to feel secure in Iraq now, it is imperative that they know that Saddam Hussein is either dead or arrested. They need to know that his two terrible sons are either dead or arrested. That is necessary because people feel insecure. When I spoke to people on the streets, they said, and this is no exaggeration, "Thanks to Bush and Blair." That was said to me many times. Sometimes I would ask a man a question and he would turn his head away. When I asked why he was doing that, I was told, "He thinks that the Ba'athists are still watching him, and if they come back into power, he will get into trouble." That is the level of concern that the people still feel.
I say to my hon. Friend: stand at the mass grave at al-Hillah, where between 10,000 and 15,000 people are buried, hands tied behind their backs, bullets through their brains. Look at the pitiful possessions on the ground that the forensic scientists are going through—a watch, a faded ID card, a comb, a bit of cloth. Watch an old woman in her black chador, with tattoos on her hands, looking through the plastic bags on top of the unidentified bodies that have been placed back in the graves for something to help her to find her son. Stand at the mass grave near Kirkuk. Look at the skeletons now tenderly reburied in simple wooden coffins. Talk to Nasir al-Hussein, who was only 12 at the time of the 1991 mass arrests. He, his mother, uncle and cousins were piled on to buses, and then the executions started down a farm road in the middle of the country. People were thrown into a pit, machine-gunned and buried with a bulldozer. Nasir crawled out of the mass grave, leaving his dead relatives behind.
The killing fields of al-Hillah and Kirkuk are unremarkable, but here are some of the hundreds of thousands of the perhaps 1.5 million dead or missing in Iraq. Saddam's victims were the Shi'as, the Kurds and the communists—the people of Iraq. Now the secrets of that evil and despotic regime are being revealed. How much more killing might there have been? My hon. Friends may carry on about weapons of mass destruction, but I think that the action that we took was the right one, and I will always defend it.
I agree with what Ann Clwyd has said. She has a long and honourable record of reminding us what a dreadful regime that was, and if ever there was a case for regime change on humanitarian grounds, this was surely it. But of course that is not the basis on which the Government went to war.
Interestingly, the United States Government do not have the same problem, because they basically said what the hon. Lady said, "This is an extremely unpleasant individual, who is murdering millions of his own citizens and destabilising the region, and we are not going to put up with it any longer." If the Prime Minister had come here and said that, I would have supported that, but that is not what he said. What he did, at great length, was to construct a legal case for going to war. I do not know whether that is because he felt that that was necessary, or because he felt that it was necessary to carry the majority of Labour MPs with him, but he did it.
That surprises me to some extent because the House was very willing to go to war in Kosovo on the grounds of humanitarian intervention when 30 people had been killed in the so-called Racak massacre. That intervention was clearly illegal by any standards of international law. There was absolutely no justification for it. If there is a doctrine of humanitarian intervention, it would not have extended to that. It certainly would have extended to Iraq, but that is not the case that was made.
I rejoiced in the outcome. I believe that the policy that we and the United States are pursuing will result in great benefits in the region. Progress—albeit modest and slow—has started towards the rule of law and democracy. There have been more elections in the middle east in the past six months than for a very long time outside Israel. All that could, and I hope will, result in a much more stable region and cut off the finance and support for many terrorist movements. However, no one would deny that it is a high-risk policy. It may or may not result in that, but it is worth a try and I hope that it succeeds.
However, the issue is not whether we were right to go to war; the issue is the Government's credibility. So many question marks hang over the evidence presented to Parliament that it has become an issue all of its own. The crucial question is, "Did the Government misuse or misrepresent intelligence information?" There are so many possible indicators that they did that those questions have to be answered. We have tried to get them answered and, to a large extent, failed. They cannot remain unanswered for much longer.
The central allegation about the WMD dossier is that it was manipulated because the 45-minute claim did not justify inclusion. It was not just Andrew Gilligan who made that allegation. We set out in the report a series of newspaper articles that appeared around the same time. Many people within the machine were talking to journalists. Pauline Neville-Jones, a former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told us:
"There was clearly turbulence inside the machine".
We are not talking about some concoction got up by one journalist at the BBC.
Those of us who heard Andrew Gilligan could not simply dismiss his evidence. His source was right about two things: first, that the 45-minute allegation was a late entry into the field and, secondly, that it was single sourced. He said that before anyone else and the Government have since confirmed it. He clearly had a source who knew quite a lot about what was going on. Because his evidence could not be dismissed, the Committee had difficulty in reaching a conclusion on the matter, although I must tell my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack that it was virtually unanimous on everything else in the report.
I shall highlight one or two things that cast doubt in our mind. We were a bit mystified about what was the first draft of the report. It was presented to us by Mr. Campbell and the Foreign Secretary that the first draft appeared around 9 or
If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I shall not because Front-Bench spokesmen want to start the winding-up speeches.
We find that Alastair Campbell chaired the meeting at which the draft document was considered in September, even though John Scarlett, who chairs the JIC, was at the meeting. We were told that the document was produced by the JIC, yet its chairman only sits as a member of the committee. Pauline Neville-Jones told us, as did an Australian intelligence agent, that it did not read like a JIC document. It is much more certain than a JIC document. The 1998 document that the Foreign Office put out before Desert Fox is full of qualifications—"may be", "could be", "perhaps". Furthermore, if we compare the body of the text on the 45-minute claim and the chemical and biological weapons claims, it contains many more qualifications than the executive summary, which is more certain. We draw attention to that in our report.
The Government's behaviour has been bizarre in several respects, including Alastair Campbell deciding that he would, would not and then would appear before the Committee, and the huge smokescreen that was thrown up. The Government have two ways of dealing with the problem. One is to pretend it does not exist. The other is to throw up huge smokescreens by letting off explosions in adjacent areas to distract attention. Alastair Campbell's performance was impressive, but bizarre. This week, there has been the extraordinary episode with Dr. Kelly. Apparently, the Ministry of Defence knew that he had talked to Mr. Gilligan the week before the Foreign Affairs Committee published its report, so why did it delay identifying him and explaining that it knew who had talked to Gilligan until after we published the report? The cynics say that that was because on the Tuesday there was a vote on foundation hospitals, but I suspect that the real reason is that the MOD did not want us to talk to him. It knew that he was not Mr. Gilligan's source for the 45-minute claim—something that we found out in the first 10 minutes of his time with us. There may be paranoia, but such actions certainly feed it. If people suspect that someone is not telling them the truth, and then that person does all sorts of bizarre things, that tends to reinforce their position.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. The war with the BBC is an extraordinary and exaggerated distraction. The BBC has not accused the Prime Minister of lying—one of its correspondents has said that someone in the Government told him that they were unhappy about the document, which is a fundamentally different thing. The Committee was completely united in its view of the dodgy dossier, which is the most amateurish, irresponsible document that any Government have put out for 100 years or even longer. I am afraid that it has the fingerprints of the Prime Minister's director of communications all over it. It was produced at his request by a unit for which he is responsible. He has tried to lay the blame on a junior Foreign Office official for not including some footnotes, but it is inconceivable that the document would ever have been published if the person responsible for producing it were a senior Foreign Office official. It could only have been produced by an amateur or someone so irresponsible that they could not see that in pursuing the advantage of their political master they were damaging the Government's credibility.
People who do not have any doubts about the dossier on weapons of mass destruction—and I started off without very many—will wonder, once they realise what had happened with the dodgy dossier and the way in which it was produced, how the first one was produced. We know that Mr. Campbell was chairing the meetings on both. In one, apparently, he is a complete amateur and blithering idiot, but in the other he is an objective professional, which begs what the lawyers would call further and better particulars. The Government have undermined their own credibility with the dodgy dossier, which the Foreign Secretary himself described as a load of Horlicks; the way in which Dr. Kelly was used and abused; and the completely artificial row that Alastair Campbell has got up with the BBC, and that is now the issue.
I believed the WMD dossier when it was published because it was common sense, considering what UNSCOM and UNMOVIC found. As a witness told us, it would have been irresponsible to come to any conclusion other than that Iraq had a WMD capability. One has increasing doubts while such weapons are not found but, of course, if they are, that will be the end of the argument, and the Government's case will have been comprehensively proved. However, if they are not found, there are only two conclusions that one can come to—either our intelligence was comprehensively wrong or, alternatively, it was misrepresented by the Government.
The Government's credibility is now at stake. It is in their interests, if they want us to believe them on an issue like this in future, to let Parliament and the public get to the bottom of this. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that a judicial inquiry is an incredibly laborious and unsatisfactory way of doing that, but there is only one alternative. I put it to him that even now, at this late stage, he should let the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which I am a member—[Interruption.] No, he should let it see the draft of the document and the JIC reports going back to March, so we can see who said what before the final document was produced. We should also be allowed to interview the witnesses whom we wanted to see. If we could do that, we could get to the bottom of this. It would not take two years but a couple of months, and would be much more satisfactory than the alternative. If the Foreign Secretary will not let us do that, the only alternative is an independent inquiry of some sort.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Undoubtedly, the vote on
Order. The hon. Lady is criticising the Chair directly, but to do so she must table a substantive motion. I can certainly speak for the way in which these arrangements are made, and I can assure her that every possible consideration is taken into account. The Chair may not be perfect in the eyes of all Members in the arrangements that it makes, but it does try to do so fairly and impartially. If the hon. Lady does not think so, she should table an appropriate motion.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but on a different aspect of it. I am not making a personal complaint. I spoke for four minutes in the previous debate. Surely some consideration should be given not to rebellion, but to dissent. My particular point is that some of those who were lucky enough to be called have evaporated from the debate. Hon. Members who are lucky enough to be called in a short debate have some obligation to the rest of the House to remain.
The hon. Gentleman and I might share a view on the standard of courtesies currently observed in the House. Mr. Speaker has on occasion tried to remind hon. Members of the ways and practices of the House, and that it is customary to stay for debates. However, it is not a matter of order for the Chair. If the hon. Gentleman looked back on the record of contributions made to all the debates that have taken place on or about this subject, he would see that there has been an attempt by the Chair to ensure the widest possible participation.
This is a pretty sad and mucky day for the Government, following a pretty sad and mucky month. Historians will look back with astonishment at the way in which a decision that, as my hon. Friend Mr. McLoughlin said, seemed to be brave and courageous, and which was applauded and respected by many, has since deteriorated into a morass of suspicion and recrimination that has seen trust in the Government plummet to unforeseen depths. Perhaps I can say to my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack that the climate of concern that that has engendered cannot be denied or ignored.
In the context of that collapse of trust, the report, as far as it goes, matters. We welcome it, and the Committee's work. My right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram catalogued in great detail the confusion and inconsistency that have become the hallmark of the Government. He spoke of the September dossier, the February dossier, the weapons of mass destruction, the 45-minutes claim, the supposed uranium from Niger, and Dr. David Kelly's witness, but the Foreign Secretary failed to address any of those matters. We did not hear a single word about any detailed aspect of the report. We had 35 minutes of fog and distraction, and he dwelt only on the idea of setting up a judicial inquiry. That is only a part of the motion.
If I accused the right hon. Gentleman of taking 45 minutes to launch an argument, he would no doubt find a way of denying it. His tactic at the end was shameful. Saying that a vote for the motion would be a vote to criticise the intelligence services is the last refuge of the scoundrel. It is a disgrace.
I did not say that, as the record will show. I said that the Opposition's motion represented a lack of confidence in the Intelligence and Security Committee. That is true. I also said that the fact that Mr. Ancram failed to mention the ISC in the motion or in his speech was an insult to members of that Committee from both sides of the House.
The record will show whether the right hon. Gentleman said "services" or "Committee". I thought I heard "services". However, it is not the Committee or the intelligence services that we are criticising. It is perhaps his conduct, and that of Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister and the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes said, the debate is about the nature of the information that the Government had and the way in which that information was handled.
I say again on the record that we supported the decision to take military action in Iraq. We still think it was right, but we took an enormous amount on trust. The Prime Minister's conduct is now under scrutiny. We have not changed, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire implies. The Prime Minister must be judged by the terms of his arguments and reasoning, and he must be judged against the arguments that he put and the methods that he adopted. That is why the anger is most heated on the Government Benches. Many there feel that the Prime Minister has engaged in chicanery in order to win them round. As Mrs. Mahon implied in her point of order, it was his own side that had to be persuaded.
I cannot rehearse all the arguments, but let me take one—the subsequent approach to weapons of mass destruction, which follows from the main argument that was put to justify going into Iraq in the first place. It appears from everything that the Government have done that they hoped that after the successful so-called liberation of Iraq, the question of weapons of mass destruction would go away. It was "so-called" in terms of the obvious jubilation and total agreement within Iraq that was predicted by many who went in—which I have to say that the Opposition questioned at the very beginning. The Prime Minister always said, "Oh, we'll definitely find them." In The Spectator, the Secretary of State for Defence said of WMD:
"Well, that was the reason we gave, which I stand by, for taking military action against Saddam . . . We're confident that weapons of mass destruction are there. We now have to find them."
Yet, within a few days, the newly appointed Secretary of State for International Development said that they were not a high priority. Of course, the Government are now saying that all that they need to show is that there were some kind of plans or programmes.
I think that the Committee has done its work very well. Clearly, its work has not finished, and some of the questioning has been very tough and will remain so. We have had a productive debate this afternoon. Mr. Campbell put his finger on the main question of whether the UK went to war on a flawed prospectus, and whether that prospectus was mishandled by the process of government at the highest level. It is that process that is now under investigation, and we welcome the Liberal Democrats' decision to join us in the Lobby tonight.
My right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley again questioned the 45-minute claim, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire spoke very thoughtfully about the coalition between the left-of-centre Prime Minister—or perhaps I should say the so-called left-of-centre Prime Minister—and a right-of-centre President.
In the speech that we heard at the very end of the debate, my hon. Friend Mr. Maples put his finger on the central issue. What is now of great concern to everybody is that this matter has gone to the heart of the credibility of the Government in so many areas. We took the Prime Minister on trust. Maybe we were ill advised to do so, and our eyes should have been wider open.
It is not as if we have not voiced our concerns in the past. Perhaps I may even, in a rare moment of self-indulgence, refer to a little-known pamphlet—guess who wrote it. It was published on the day that John Major announced the date of the 1997 election, so it is unique in being the most ignored and overshadowed document in British political history. Do not the Government just wish that their own dossiers were the same?
The pamphlet states:
"The evidence is that young people are already beginning to see through the slick imagery of Tony Blair. A recent opinion poll commissioned for . . . a . . . satellite youth channel, found that 56% of 18–25 year-olds regard Blair as 'untrustworthy'. They can sense that there is something not quite right about him."
Allow me a little more self-indulgence:
"What are his dominant qualities? The first is a seemingly insatiable vanity, touching on vainglory."—[Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there is far too much sedentary comment. He should be allowed to make his speech, and we will then hear a reply from the Minister.
Labour Members do not like hearing what I am saying. There is nothing dodgy about this:
"The second is a simplistic evangelism of the sort that believes that wanting a better world constitutes a serious policy. The third is a ruthlessness which is deployed only for power but never for principle. This is a potent cocktail for tragedy."
Sadly, it had no effect, for the reasons that I have explained, but it had another useful paragraph. It said that the Prime Minister's
"first act would be to appoint a political No. 10 press secretary in order to blur the conventional distinction between official government activity and party political matters."
It also said that he would
"extend the system of surrounding senior ministers with political appointees whose prime purpose would be to override the impartiality of civil servants."
That was a fitting prelude to the conclusions of the report. The ingredients of the tragedy that is unfolding have always been there. We have had the smiles to camera, the slogans, the negative politics, the crafting and the spin. I could live with that—as my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire urged—if it had stopped there, but the trouble with riding so high for so long on the back of those techniques is that the Prime Minister now finds it difficult to distinguish truth from falsity. That is what brings politics into disrepute; we would be fools to pretend otherwise. The effect of this sad episode is that the Prime Minister's credibility is crumbling. His party, rather like Baghdad, is teetering between order and security. The evident decency of most Labour Members has been sorely affronted, prompting two Cabinet resignations and no end of disquiet on the Prime Minister's side of the House. Instead of getting an honest account, we receive groundless rebuttals and a cheesy grin of deceit.
The question of trust is important enough even on the battleground of our own domestic politics, but as the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife said, it is of far graver significance in the context of potential global events. Institutions are under strain, and concepts and doctrines of military action are in turmoil. The crucial moral foundation needed by any country that might choose to exercise military authority over another is the decency of its own conduct and actions. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary would accept, as a principle for his future actions, that if a country is not trusted by its own people, it will not be trusted in the context of wider global events.
I urge Labour Members to consider what might happen in the event of a decision to take action against North Korea or Iran in relation to the nuclear programmes that we all believe that they are trying to build up. Given the Government's conduct in this case, and in the absence of any resolution of the concerns that have subsequently arisen, what credibility would they, or any coalition, have? Where would the world end up if a cloud of suspicion were to hang over such judgments in future?
We can address that problem now, and we can address it conclusively. I urge the House to vote for the motion and to take steps towards rebuilding the trust that befits this country, but which has been inexcusably sullied by the Prime Minister.
We have had a constructive and serious debate, and I am pleased that so many Members were able to contribute.
Let me start with the nub of the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition—that because of concerns raised over some elements of the intelligence material, there are doubts about the integrity of the Government's decision to take this country to war, and that there should therefore be an independent judicial inquiry. Yet the Foreign Affairs Committee, in a report and conclusions that every Member welcomed, specifically said: first, that Ministers did not mislead Parliament; secondly, that the claims made in the September dossier were in all probability well founded; thirdly, that the threat posed to UK forces was genuinely perceived as a real and present danger; and fourthly—and importantly, given that it is the Committee's response to the key accusation that has been running for weeks—that Alastair Campbell did not play any role in the inclusion of the 45-minute claim in the September dossier.
The Foreign Affairs Committee, after receiving much evidence and following exhaustive examination and deliberation, effectively rebutted the key allegations and arguments that have been presented today.
I am confident that the information the Government received and the judgment they made were correct.
Various hon. Members have commented on the allegations. In opening the debate, the shadow Foreign Secretary referred to the February dossier. I was interested to note that he said that the substance was not wrong but that the process for drawing up the dossier was flawed. The Government have accepted that the way in which it was drawn up was not perfect. However, not one word has been proven inaccurate. The right hon. Gentleman did not challenge the accuracy or the facts in the dossier.
No, I want to make progress.
I was interested in the intervention by my hon. Friend Paul Flynn, who expressed his anxiety about the lack of independence of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee. However, my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay, who supported the Government in the vote on going to war, voted against the Government at least once during the deliberations of the Foreign Affairs Committee. [Interruption.] Perhaps I do my hon. Friend an injustice; he voted against the Government more than once. However, my point is that the Select Committee process is independent, robust and capable of getting at the issues.
The actions of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock nevertheless demonstrate that the process is robust and independent. I stress that point to Mr. Campbell, the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who claimed that the Intelligence and Security Committee process is flawed because the Government will vet its report. I refer him again to the comments of Lord King, a former Conservative Cabinet Minister, who said that the reports cannot be censored and that the Government cannot delete anything simply because it is embarrassing for them.
Does not the Under-Secretary understand that we must satisfy not ourselves but public opinion? If the Government have nothing to fear, why not have an inquiry that is answerable to the public?
As the Foreign Secretary made clear, an independent judicial inquiry would take such a long time that the questions would not be tackled and answered.
The contribution of my right hon. Friend Donald Anderson, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was interesting. He had a fascinating exchange with the shadow Foreign Secretary. Given the comments of Conservative Front-Bench Members, he rightly asked whether the Conservative party would in future take the stance that the Foreign Affairs Committee should have full access to intelligence information and witnesses. The question was greeted with resounding silence from the shadow Foreign Secretary.
I was trying to make a simple point: if shadow Front-Bench Members criticise the Government for not doing something that they themselves refuse to do, that is pure opportunism.
No, I shall make progress.
My hon. Friends the Members for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) made significant contributions. However, the most impressive and courageous speech was that of Sir Patrick Cormack. With extraordinary prescience and courage, he pointed out, to put it at its politest, the official Opposition's errors. He rightly argued that, through their actions and tactics, the Conservatives were undermining their credibility by nit-picking—I use his phrase—over matters that do not affect the material issue. It is worth pointing out that he ended his contribution by saying that he was ashamed of his party for making the accusations that it is making today. That took courage, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
I will make some progress, if I may.
Two important claims that have been made against the Government are that in key respects, the intelligence material presented in the September dossier, and, by implication, the basis on which we went to war, were false. On behalf of the Government, I flatly reject that allegation. The 45-minute claim came from an established, reliable and long-standing source that the intelligence services judged to be credible.
Because of the shortage of time, I want to try to make some progress.
I flatly reject the allegation about the 45-minute claim.
Secondly, many hon. Members have referred to the issue of the yellow cake from Niger. We have consistently made it clear that, notwithstanding the information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, other information was available to us. The importance of this and the other accusation has been blown completely out of proportion, in relation to their relevance and importance in the debate that took place in the run-up to the passing of the resolution that committed our troops to action in March.
No, I want to make some progress.
The key issue that was consistently put forward at that time did not relate to this or that piece of intelligence information. The fundamental issue, then and now, is Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with UN Security Council resolution 1441. It was on the basis of that resolution, which was not based on specific intelligence materials, that we took the decision to commit ourselves to military action.
It is also worth recalling the comments of the Leader of the Opposition on
The hon. Gentleman keeps making that point, but did he not hear me making it absolutely clear when I opened this debate that we backed the Prime Minister on
With respect, the right hon. Gentleman has heard very clearly today from one of his own hon. Friends why that argument has no credibility whatever, because of the nit-picking and the Conservative party's attempt to play politics with this issue.
I want to deal briefly with the issue of the independent inquiry, which forms a key part of the motion tabled by the Conservative Opposition. If we were to go down that route, it would take at least two years—judging by previous experience—for such an inquiry to reach a conclusion. Is that really the mechanism that we want to use to get to the bottom of these issues? I do not believe that that is what the House wants.
No, I want to make some progress.
Let us consider the detail of the Opposition motion. They claim first that the Foreign Affairs Committee had insufficient time to complete its task. That was a matter for the Committee; it chose the time scale and the deadline. If the Conservative Opposition have a problem with that, they should refer it to the Select Committee.
Secondly, the Opposition claim that there are concerns about intelligence material. I believe that I have dealt with those concerns, and made it clear that we committed ourselves to the war not because of individual pieces of intelligence but because Saddam had failed to comply with resolution 1441. Nevertheless, there will be a robust and independent inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which will be able to get to the bottom of those issues.
Thirdly, the Opposition claim that we need an independent inquiry. As I have said, it would take two years to complete such an inquiry. The ISC could do the same job in an eighth of the time.
I do not consider the motion credible. It is not worthy of the official Opposition, and certainly not worthy of an Opposition who claim to aspire to government. I urge my colleagues to support the Government amendment and oppose the motion.
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 welcomes the Ninth Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Decision to go to War in Iraq, Session 2002–03, HC 813; notes that substantial oral and written evidence, by and on behalf of the Government, was provided to the Committee; believes that the Intelligence and Security Committee, established by Parliament by statute, is the appropriate body to consider the intelligence relating to Iraq; and notes that this Committee has already begun its inquiry.