Iraq (Judicial Inquiry)

– in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 22nd October 2003.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary 1:38 pm, 22nd October 2003

I beg to move,

That this House
is concerned at growing public confusion since the summer adjournment as a result of increasingly conflicting accounts of intelligence relating to and events leading up to the recent Iraq war and what has happened since;
and calls for the setting up of a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry into the Government's handling of the run-up to the war, of the war itself, and of its aftermath, and into the legal advice which it received.

The purpose of the motion is not to rehearse the arguments for and against the war in Iraq; nor can the debate clear up the confusion that has grown since the beginning of the summer recess about the Government's handling of the run-up to the war and its aftermath.The House has many strengths as both a legislature and a forum for debate, confronting, testing and holding to account. I am the staunchest of supporters of the parliamentary process, but are we, who are so closely involved in the events surrounding the war, credible arbiters of the truth about them? Let us be frank. In the six months since the end of the war, particularly since the House rose in July, there has been a constant stream of charges against the Government. I do not seek to add to them today—they are there, and they are growing. They relate to the Government's handling of intelligence before the war, the case that they made for the war, the lack of planning for post-war Iraq and the legal advice that they received. They are serious charges made by serious people. They are highly damaging, and they strike not only at the Government's reputation, which I can live with, but at the machinery of government and the integrity of our intelligence services themselves.

Those charges should be fully answered, but they are not being answered and they are not going away. For all their excellent work and reports, neither the Foreign Affairs Committee nor the Intelligence and Security Committee has managed to make them go away. Indeed, in some areas they have raised new questions that in turn need to be answered. The charges will not go away until we have a comprehensive, independent judicial inquiry with the legal power to get to the very bottom of the facts and make a clear assessment and judgment of the truth. That is what the motion seeks, and that is what we have been seeking since the end of May.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

For those of us, especially those on the Government Benches, who opposed the war and still feel that that was the right decision, is not the problem with the motion the fact that it abrogates our responsibility to establish the truth of what did or did not happen? I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's comments, but should we not table questions in Parliament, not give those responsibilities to an outside body? I fear that we have not learned a great deal from all the machinations of the past few months. It is for each and every one of us to keep making the case in the House, not outside it .

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I have nothing against Members tabling questions or asking the Government questions, but we need to institute a process that will satisfy the public that the truth has been established. Later, I shall refer briefly to the Falklands, about which allegations were made and questions asked, but as there was a full independent commission of inquiry the House and the British public were able to satisfy themselves that the truth had been fully examined and established.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I have a factual question. How long does the right hon. Gentleman think that such an inquiry would last? I gave evidence to the Franks committee on the Falklands, which lasted long enough. However, the Saville inquiry shows that these things can go on for a heck of a long time. What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the time that an inquiry on Iraq would take?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I accept the point made by the Father of the House, but a judicial inquiry can take evidence under oath and can establish the truth in a way that many other forms of inquiry cannot. It can be asked to report within a given time, which would obviously be a reasonable period. Three months ago, I stood at the Dispatch Box making the case for a public judicial inquiry, and was told that that was not needed because parliamentary Select Committees would deal with the issues in a way that would satisfy the public. However, that has not been the case. As I said, those Committees have raised other questions that have still to be answered.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook Labour, Livingston

Is it not true that the House can carry out its scrutiny function adequately when the Opposition oppose, and has difficulty carrying out that function when the Opposition act as the major cheerleader for the Government? If the right hon. Gentleman wants us to take seriously his call for a judicial inquiry into whether the Government got it wrong on going to war, should he not be consistent and admit that the Opposition were wrong to support the Government in that very same decision?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I shall come to that, but if the right hon. Gentleman reads the motion he will see that that is not why I am seeking to establish a public inquiry. A number of allegations have been made, including some by the right hon. Gentleman, about the way in which the Government conducted themselves in relation to intelligence that have not been fully answered—certainly, I gather, not to the right hon. Gentleman's satisfaction. Until they are, I suspect that he will continue to make them. I am proposing a means by which they can be answered satisfactorily, not only for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman but in the public interest. The longer the allegations stay unanswered, the more damaging it will be to the national interest.

I want to make it clear that in moving this motion I am not in any way resiling from our support for the Government's decision to go to war. The war in Iraq was justified, and we were right to support it. Saddam Hussein posed a recognised threat to international peace and security—17 United Nations resolutions under chapter VII of the UN charter over 12 years attested to that. Failure to comply with all those resolutions justified military action to remove that threat. Legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. I suggest that hon. Members read Professor Greenwood's article in The Times today, which makes it clear that the legal basis was there, and is still there.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

While the shadow Foreign Secretary is recommending reading to the House, he might also suggest that hon. Members read the opinion of Lord Alexander of Weedon, which is diametrically opposed to Professor Greenwood's opinion.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I think I would prefer, because he is an old friend, to read the legal opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself. On 24 September last year, he said in the House:

"It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687."—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 43.]

He obviously agreed with Professor Greenwood, and I am not sure why he is disputing that now.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Surely we are not so much interested in opinions, which we can exchange and swap as much as we like, as in the facts? An inquiry is probably the best way of finding out the facts. Parliament is a very good place for political exchange, but not necessarily a good forum for finding facts.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend who, as usual, has put admirably succinctly the case that I am taking a little longer to make.

When considering the war, we should remember that, had we not taken action, Saddam Hussein, his sons and the whole vile regime would not have disappeared. They would have grown and armed themselves further until, inevitably, action would have had to be taken at far greater risk. I repeat that we were right to vote with the Government on 18 March.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made that point. Would we not have avoided all these charges if the Government had been honest from the outset and said, "This is a gangster regime holding its people in slavery. By the way, it is sitting on the world's second largest oil reserves. We are going to get rid of it and bring back peace and democracy"? They should have done that instead of raising the canard of weapons of mass destruction, which apparently were a threat to us. The Government are being assailed on all sides because they misled the public: why were they not honest in the first place?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall touch on his valid point later.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

If the right hon. Gentleman's case for a judicial inquiry is to be strong he must concede the possibility that it may find that he and his colleagues were misled on the reasons for war, so they may want to reconsider their position.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

Obviously, one cannot predict the outcome of a judicial inquiry, but that did not stop Lady Thatcher, after the Falklands war, setting up a commission of inquiry. She wanted to make sure that the truth was established. She was not afraid of the truth, so she called for a commission, and I am suggesting that the present Government do the same.

I have made it clear that in backing the Prime Minister's decision to go to war we were not signing up either to everything that had gone before or to everything that was to come after. We backed the Prime Minister because what he was seeking to do was right. Equally, I made it clear that we would not hesitate to criticise him when we believed that what he was doing was not right. The failure to plan adequately for the foreseeable problems of post-war Iraq was culpable. Whenever my hon. Friend Mrs. Spelman and I raised that before the war we were told that it was in hand. The Prime Minister assured the House on 3 February that

"We are well aware that we must have a humanitarian plan that is every bit as viable and well worked out as a military plan"—[Hansard, 3 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 36.]

As we now know, there was no plan. I saw for myself in Iraq in July the vacuum of civilian reconstruction four months after the war ended. Clare Short, who was involved in drawing up those plans, admitted in June this year:

"The preparations for post-conflict were poor".

So what went wrong? Why did the Government fall down on that? I believe that we will find the answer only through an independent judicial inquiry.

I am mystified by the Government's opposition to an inquiry. If they were confident of their position, they would support the motion tonight. An independent judicial inquiry would end the confusion and the rumours. Their rejection of such an inquiry can only suggest that they are less than confident in their case. The Prime Minister does not seem to understand the very real damage that the continuing allegations are doing to the reputation of this country abroad or to the reputation of our intelligence services at home. This should be a matter not of the Government's interest, but of the public interest, which would be best upheld by the sort of inquiry that we seek. It is still not too late for the Government to follow the example of Lady Thatcher.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Labour, Walthamstow

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

No. I shall make some progress.

The charges that are causing public confusion and concern fall broadly into four categories: first, the Government's failure to plan for the aftermath of war, which I have touched on already; secondly, the manipulation of intelligence and misrepresentation of what was intelligence and what was not; thirdly, questionable information and statements about weapons of mass destruction, both before and after the war; and, lastly, the basis of the Attorney-General's legal advice on matters pertinent to the war.

The most serious of those charges, to my mind, relates to the handling of intelligence. Parliament, particularly at a time of military threat, has a right to be able to trust the Government on that, and manipulation of intelligence is therefore an extremely grave charge. It is what the Prime Minister himself referred to on 28 August as a resigning matter. It is the charge that has been made in relation to the dossier of 24 September last year. What is unresolved and highly damaging is whether the evidence in that dossier amounted to evidence of a "current and serious" threat to this country. That was the claim made by the Prime Minister in his foreword to the dossier, against the advice of his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.

There is evidence that the dossier was, at the very least and at the instigation of non-intelligence sources, considerably toughened up or, to use the word of one defence intelligence official, "over-egged". We need to ask why it was "over-egged". How could it be that a last-minute change to the dossier was made following an e-mail to John Scarlett of the Joint Intelligence Committee from Jonathan Powell? Should we believe that the JIC had "ownership", as was claimed by Mr. Scarlett, of the September dossier, when at the last minute a "problem" passage was replaced with a more helpful version, again at the behest of Jonathan Powell, apparently without the JIC even seeing the amendment?

What was the justification for that over-egging? In summary, was the September dossier a genuine intelligence resumé of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, as it was claimed to be, or was it a propaganda device to bring doubting Labour Members onside? These are serious questions, and they are surely best answered in the ordered environment of a judicial inquiry.

Photo of Mr Alan Howarth Mr Alan Howarth Labour, Newport East

The right hon. Gentleman said that one should not prejudge the outcome of any inquiry. Will he therefore take the opportunity to repudiate the criticism of Mr. Scarlett's integrity reported to have been made by the Leader of the Opposition in The Mail on Sunday on 12 October? Will he acknowledge that if the Leader of the Opposition did indeed speak in those terms, he perpetrated an odious slur on a public servant of complete integrity and outstanding ability, honourably endeavouring to perform exceptionally difficult duties? If the Leader of the Opposition did say what he is reported to have said, the slur was as odious in its substance as it was in its language.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, after his many years of political experience, has learned not to believe everything he reads in the press.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

But is the right hon. Gentleman repudiating that report?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I do not remember whether the report was in the Daily Mail or The Mail on Sunday. I read reports about things that I am supposed to have said. I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers, and I do not believe that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We are not talking about whether the right hon. Gentleman believes everything he reads in the newspapers. Did he or did he not believe this thing that he read in the newspaper?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I say again what I said earlier. John Scarlett chairs an important Committee. That Committee has been called into question by the allegations that have been made in relation to the lead-up to the war. It is vital that any judgment is made not on the basis of speculation or press reports, but on the basis of a public inquiry that can properly assess the facts.

The charges relating to the second so-called dodgy dossier are, if anything, even more grave. The document was described by the Prime Minister in the House as "further intelligence". Those were his words. Two days later it was prayed in evidence by the United States Secretary of State in the United Nations Security Council, where he described the detail as "exquisite". We were all led to believe that it was an intelligence-based document. Certainly, nothing said by the Government suggested that it was anything less. The Foreign Secretary, astonishingly, confirmed to me at the end of July that he was not aware until three days after its publication that it was not an intelligence document. That was after the Prime Minister and Colin Powell had referred to it as such.

That raises extraordinary questions. Was the Prime Minister aware that the document was not "further intelligence", as he set it out to be, when, as the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded, he misrepresented to the House that it was? Did Alastair Campbell mislead the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the origins of the document? Why, anyway, was a spin doctor in charge of putting together such a sensitive document? Was the JIC equally in the dark about the dossier? In short, is this another tale of propaganda, or a saga of unutterable incompetence and chaos on a most serious matter at a most serious time? Either way, it is gravely disturbing, highly damaging to the credibility of the Government and another urgent reason for the inquiry that we seek.

Then there are the charges of questionable information about weapons of mass destruction. We must be honest with ourselves. There was generally before the war

"a valid assumption that Saddam Hussein had continued with the biological and the chemical weapons programmes and a reasonable assumption that he was trying for a nuclear capability".

Those were the words of Mr. Campbell on the Frost programme on 11 August last year, and that view was widely shared.

However, the Prime Minister went much further. On 8 July he told the Liaison Committee that he had

"no doubt at all that we will find WMD programmes".

To have "no doubt" suggests that he had actual evidence, yet that evidence has not been forthcoming. The next day his official spokesman went even further and said:

"The Prime Minister is also absolutely confident that we will find evidence not only of his WMD programmes but concrete evidence of the product of those programmes as well".

Three months later there is not only no concrete evidence of programmes or products, but no concrete evidence at all.

Why, then, did the Prime Minister on 31 May tell Sky News that he was waiting to publish what he described as a "complete picture" of both intelligence gained before the war and "what we've actually found"? He went on to say in that interview:

"What we are going to do is assemble that evidence and present it properly".

That was four months ago. Where is the "complete picture"? What had actually been found at the time when he made those remarks? When will it be presented properly? It is clear that if nothing is found the conclusion will inevitably and understandably be drawn that at the time of the war there was no concrete evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

We would all have a right to feel let down on a matter on which Parliament and the nation as a whole had the right to rely on the word of the Prime Minister on matters of intelligence. More seriously, it would suggest either that the Prime Minister received wrong intelligence from the intelligence services, or that he—if I may put it politely—grossly enlarged upon the information that he had received in order to back up the case that he so passionately made to Parliament. Each of these possibilities would raise the gravest of questions, the first about the credibility of our intelligence services, and the second about the credibility of the Prime Minister. Either would have the most serious implications.

Once again, the most effective way of clearing this up, setting to rest the suspicions and restoring credibility is for the Prime Minister to submit the evidence and information that he had before the war, and that which he has now, to be assessed once and for all by an independent judicial inquiry.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

The right hon. Gentleman referred to his beliefs at the beginning of the war, prior to the publication of the dossier. He said that he had good reason—he used some such phrase—to believe that there were weapons of mass destruction. Will he put on record the basis for his good reasons for believing that? If those were relevant, surely they are relevant to all of us in the House.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

My reasons include that to which the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife alluded last year—that we had heard over a long period, and in the course of several United Nations resolutions, that the UN Security Council believed that there were programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am sorry about my voice—I hope that my right hon. Friend can hear me. Does he agree that we can never get to the bottom of the matter unless we have access to the private communications between the Prime Minister and President Bush—in particular, the minutes of the various meetings that they had last year?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

My right hon. and learned Friend makes his point. I am keen that there should be a judicial inquiry that is able to call for the evidence that it believes it needs in order to establish the truth. If it is to be independent, it is important that we do not try to push it in a particular direction.

Photo of David Wright David Wright Labour, Telford

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

No, I want to make some progress.

Then there are the recent allegations of cover-up made against the Prime Minister and the Government. It is alleged that they concealed the extent to which the joint chiefs had reservations about our military capacity in the face of Government-induced overstretch; covered up the reservations of the JIC about the possible impact of military operations on the terrorist threat to the United Kingdom; and covered up the private minutes of reservations sent by the Foreign Secretary to the Prime Minister shortly before action began. Now that the war is over, it is surely in the public interest to explore those allegations and to test them against the actual outturn. What better way of doing that than through an independent judicial inquiry?

In the background to all this is the opaque figure of the Attorney-General. A number of allegations have been published about his role, particularly as regards the legal advice that he gave to the Government before the war. I accept that that is a sensitive area that might not necessarily benefit from the sharp spotlight of public scrutiny. I respect that, as does my hon. Friend the shadow Attorney-General, who will in due course deal in greater detail with the questions that need to be asked. Suffice it to say that the controlled and disciplined and, where necessary, discreet environment of a judicial inquiry might well be the best arena in which to respond to those questions. Clearly, it is vital that they be responded to in the interests of restoring the reputation and integrity of the office of the Attorney-General.

Then there are the extraordinary and tragic events of the summer and the Hutton inquiry. I do not intend to get involved in the intricacies of the complex evidence placed before the learned and noble judge, who will make his report in due course, but it is almost impossible to separate much of the evidence presented at the inquiry from the wider issues. In considering the case for a judicial inquiry, it is therefore pertinent to comment on one or two of the more amazing contradictions that have arisen.

The Prime Minister says that he was not involved in the process that led to the naming of Dr. Kelly; the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence says that the Prime Minister was. Who is right? It cannot be both, so the credibility of one or the other is critically at stake. No Minister seems prepared to accept responsibility for either the first or the second dossier. It must have been somebody, so who was it?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The Foreign Secretary wants to speak. Was he responsible for either of those dossiers; and were they published in the name of the Foreign Office?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The point that I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this: does he not accept that the issues that were properly raised before Lord Hutton, and on which he has taken evidence, are matters for him?

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

As I said, Lord Hutton will report in due course. However, the issues that I am raising are pertinent to a wider inquiry, and should be put before such an inquiry as part of the whole picture.

I ask again: who was responsible for the dossiers? This is the Government all over. Whenever there is a problem, no one accepts the blame—they all point at each other. This Government, who were elected on a slogan of trust, are now showing in technicolour that they do not even trust each other. Is it any wonder that the country no longer trusts them?

In normal circumstances, I would not be concerned at the current discomfiture of the Government over the confusion and suspicion that surrounds them—I might even take some quiet pleasure in it—but when it affects the national interest, it affects us all. It is damaging to the national interest when there is a major and continuing question mark hanging over the credibility of the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Government as a whole. It is damaging to the national interest when there is a serious question mark hanging over the effectiveness and accuracy of our intelligence services; when there is a question mark hanging over the basis and reasons why we went to war in Iraq; and when confusion reigns and the truth appears increasingly to be the victim of spin and counter-spin. The confusion must be ended, the truth must be established, and the Government must be held to account. We need a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry to answer these questions, and we need it now.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 2:05 pm, 22nd October 2003

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

"notes that the Intelligence and Security Committee, established by Parliament by statute, and the appropriate body to consider the intelligence relating to Iraq, and the Foreign Affairs Committee have both carried out inquiries into matters relating to the decision to go to war in Iraq;
further notes that substantial oral and written evidence, by and on behalf of the Government, was provided to both inquiries;
believes that there is no case for a further inquiry, including a judicial inquiry;
and further believes that, following the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1511 on 17th October 2003, attention should now be focused on building a better future for Iraq and its people, and on offering full support to the coalition, including British military and civilian personnel, and the United Nations in this endeavour."

Iran is a subject that should be a matter for vigorous debate in this House. [Hon. Members: "You said Iran."] If I said Iran, I must still be in an Iranian time zone. Iran, too, should be the subject of vigorous debate in this House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I want to make some progress first.

There will be a written ministerial statement on Iran in due course. If the shadow Leader of the House wishes to arrange for Opposition time to debate Iran, I shall be happy to give the House further information about it. In fact, most of the members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs are there at the moment.

Iraq should be subject of vigorous debate in the House. Indeed, there have been many such debates, including two before the summer break—on 4 June on a Liberal Democrat motion, and on 16 July on a Conservative motion.

There are many important and current questions relating to Iraq, including the steps that the Iraqi people are taking to establish a representative Government and the considerable efforts that the coalition provisional authority is making, not so much to put the country back on its feet, but to make it far better than ever it was under Saddam. Those questions are not just important for Iraq; they are surely among the most vital challenges facing Britain, the European Union, the United States and every country with an interest in peace and prosperity in the middle east.

That is the reason for the intense negotiations in recent weeks at the United Nations to agree a new Security Council resolution in respect of Iraq, culminating in the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 1511 on 16 October. That sets a deadline of 15 December by which the Iraqi interim governing council should provide a timeline and a programme leading to an Iraqi constitution and to democratic elections. It also confirms the central role of the UN in the reconstruction of Iraq and encourages UN member states and international bodies to support that process. The next step will be the Madrid donors conference that is being held tomorrow and on Friday, where Her Majesty's Government will be represented by three senior Ministers—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and my noble Friend Baroness Symons, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In Madrid, the United Kingdom will pledge a further £300 million of assistance over two years. Together with money already committed, that will bring UK assistance for the three years from April 2003 to £550 million. That is on top of the contribution that we are making through our commitment of British troops.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

The Foreign Secretary is setting out some important facts, and we are grateful to him for doing so. He says that Iraq, which is, I agree, a very important subject, has now been debated three times since June—twice on Conservative motions and once on a Liberal Democrat motion. If it is so important, why has it not been debated in Government time? We have not exactly been weighed down by Government business over the past four weeks.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I appreciate that the Opposition are in a state of terminal torpor, but I should have thought that even they would spot the improbability of our tabling, in Government time, a resolution calling for a judicial inquiry into the cause of the war. However, should lightning strike and a Conservative Government appear, perhaps we can look forward to such eccentricity.

On whether I have kept hon. Members informed about issues that relate to Iraq, even my worst enemy would accept that I have been assiduous in going to and from the House. I have made endless statements and I have not waited to be asked here. I have also appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Intelligence and Security Committee. Several debates on defence motions have taken place in Government time.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda

Before the Foreign Secretary was interrupted, he was setting out some of the ongoing issues in Iraq. I am sure that he has noticed that the Conservative motion refers to an inquiry into not only what has happened but into the aftermath of the war in Iraq. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the aftermath is over or has the process of bringing democracy only just begun? Is not the motion at least premature?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

An inquiry into the aftermath would be a huge diversion of effort. Whatever people's views on the causes of the war, there have already been two full inquiries into the background to the decision to go to war and there is also the Hutton inquiry into one aspect. There has therefore been more extensive investigation into the causes of the military action than into any other such action in our history, leaving aside large-scale wars such as the second world war.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

We should all like one central question answered, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary posed it in his few remarks. At the time of going to war, was evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction available to the Government? If so, will the Foreign Secretary share it with us?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall deal with that point later.

Photo of Lynne Jones Lynne Jones Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Has not the Hutton inquiry exposed the inadequacies of the parliamentary inquiries into the reasons for going to war? Would not a full inquiry establish what the Government knew or know about links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda? The Prime Minister said that there were unquestionably links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and the Secretary of State for Defence said that there were clear links although he did not know precisely what they were. Yet when the Minister for Trade and Investment was asked directly about that, he did not mention any links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport told the Press Gallery:

"Ordinary Americans made an inextricable link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We have never done that".

How can we find out the truth?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

We certainly do not need a judicial inquiry to establish a negative. I have been absolutely clear about that, and my hon. Friend can go though all the things that I have said in the House and elsewhere. I never saw—therefore neither did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—any evidence linking al-Qaeda with the events which took place on and before 9 September. There was tenuous evidence, at best, relating to possible links after that date.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I must make some progress.

We never suggested for a second that there were any links, particularly given what I have just said, remotely related to the case for war. As I shall show, that case was directly related—that was the heart of the issue—to Iraq's palpable failure to meet its obligations under international law in a string of United Nations Security Council resolutions over 12 years.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have already taken five interventions, and I want to make progress.

The issue of Iraq landed on my desk within two weeks of my arrival in my post in June 2001. Why? Because of its palpable failure to accede to its obligations under Security Council resolution 1284, which required the regime to readmit United Nations weapons inspectors. Their position had been made untenable and they had to withdraw at the end of 1998 because of the behaviour of the Saddam regime. In the first half of last year, our concern increased greatly and we wanted the international community to take Iraq more seriously and recognise that the policy of containment was not working.

Moreover, we wanted the matter to revert to the United Nations. The dossier that was issued on 24 September was published in response to many demands, not least from the Foreign Affairs Committee. It set out the case for dealing with the problem of Iraq, but neither purported to make nor made the justification for military action. The history of the period will show that, between the date of its publication and 29 May this year, the dossier was remarkable only for the lack of attention that it received.

Parliament debated Iraq at a recall sitting on 24 September 2002. During the following weeks, I worked hard to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Negotiations with my counterparts on the United Nations Security Council culminated in resolution 1441, which was passed unanimously on 8 November.

In that resolution, all 15 members of the Security Council, including Russia, China, France and Syria, recognised the

"threat posed to international peace and security" by Iraq. That was the essential trigger for the use of chapter VII, which may authorise military action under the UN charter. The resolution went on to say why members acknowledged the threat posed by Iraq's long-range missiles, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and non-compliance with 12 years of mandatory chapter VII UN Security Council resolutions.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I want to follow up the question that I asked the shadow Foreign Secretary. I presume that the evidence adduced in the resolution was based not on the whims of politicians but on proven facts provided by inspectors.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend makes my point. It was based on the experience and judgment of 15 sovereign member states of the United Nations. The entire membership, including Syria, concluded that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security. That conclusion was reached not as a result of American pressure or any insights from a British dossier but from members' experience of Iraq and their assessment of the threat from the regime.

Syria knows rather more about Iraq than any other member state of the United Nations because of its proximity to that country and its once close association, from which it has subsequently detached itself, with the Ba'athist regime. Those who know Syria and my counterpart there, Dr. ash-Shara, realise that he is no United States puppet, still less does he take orders from us. He knew what the resolution said and he decided that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security because of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I have been asked what the evidence was and I point out that Syria had sufficient evidence to reach that conclusion. It knew that the rest of the resolution declared that Iraq had remained in material breach of resolutions going back to 678 and 687. Resolution 678 authorised all necessary means and resolution 687 widened the scope of that. Syria's conclusion was based on its experience.

Moreover, the Security Council was clear in resolution 1441. It warned Iraq that it had a final opportunity to comply. It defined a further material breach, having already stated that Iraq remained in material breach. Operational paragraph 13 stated that "serious consequences" would follow if it failed to comply. Diplomatic parlance is often ambiguous, but on that occasion, every nation, including Syria, that voted for the resolution—and Iraq, the subject of it—was under no illusion about what "serious consequences" would entail.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman shortly, but I want to concentrate on the heart of the case that Mr. Ancram made. He argues that there should be an inquiry into the contents of the intelligence dossier. I shall show later that such inquiries have already taken place. They are more substantial and, I dare to say it, independent and systematic than the commission of inquiry—the Franks inquiry—that the right hon. Gentleman gave as Mrs. Thatcher's example that we should follow. Either that is the nature of the inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman wants, in which case we have already had inquiries, or he is saying that we should ask a British judge to hold an inquiry into why the United Nations came to a unanimous view that Iraq posed a threat—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says no, no, no, but the answer is yes, yes, yes. From that, there can be no resiling. Our point is simply that we shared a judgment with the international community. It was not based on an intelligence dossier. It was based on the facts as we knew them, which were published in report after report of the weapons inspectors, and on our own judgment of the conduct of the Saddam regime, going back over 25 years. That was the basis on which the United Nations came to its decision on 9 November 2002. It said that Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security.

When we came to debate this matter after weeks of the most intensive scrutiny in the House and efforts in the United Nations to gain a second resolution, the central case that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I made to the House—and which formed the core of the motion that we put before the House—was Iraq's breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions. The motion was there to uphold the authority of the United Nations as set out in resolution 1441 and many others preceding it. Indeed, paragraph 3 of the opening report of the Foreign Affairs Committee says—this much at least was unanimous—that the war was fought

"to enforce unanimous Resolutions of the Security Council."

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I will in a moment.

On the question of a wider inquiry that covers areas other than those that we have already inquired into, I think that the lament of the right hon. Member for Devizes is that those inquiries have failed to come up with the right answer. Let him be clear that the scope of such an inquiry would have to cover why the other 14 members of the Security Council came to the same conclusion as us, namely that there was a threat from Iraq because of its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That is at the heart of the matter. I give way to the former Chancellor.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

I am astonished to hear the Foreign Secretary using language worthy of George Orwell to describe how we went to war at a time when we knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction posing a threat to anybody. The background to the United Nations discussions was surely that the threat of war had been looming throughout the last year, with the United States talking about the need for regime change and threatening to intervene. The other nations voted for the Security Council resolution, as did most Members of this House, as an alternative to war—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Hon. Members know very well the view that Mr. Speaker takes about electronic devices going off in the middle of important debates. May I also remind Mr. Clarke that he is making an intervention?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

Resolution 1441 was voted for by this House, in support of most of the nations in the Security Council, as a possible alternative to war, so that we could put inspectors back in by coercion in the belief that they would demonstrate conclusively whether there was any threat from weapons of mass destruction. The issue became one of whether Mr. Blix, who had been working there for only a few months, could find any evidence of any threat emerging. We went to war because the Government said that there was an imminent threat and that they were not prepared to wait for Mr. Blix any longer. That was not the position of the Syrian Government, nor of many Members of this House.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

It was also not the position of the British Government, because we never, ever said that there was an imminent threat. Never, ever did we say that. Neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor I ever, ever said that.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I wish to make some progress.

I would say to the former Chancellor that there was convincing intelligence that Iraq had active chemical, biological and nuclear programmes, and the capability to produce chemical and biological weapons. Iraq was also continuing to develop ballistic missiles. That was the judgment reached by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which carried out the most thorough of investigations—I am witness to that, because I gave evidence before it—over a great many weeks.

The issue before the United Nations and this House was, in the end, to what degree Iraq was in clear further material breach of its obligations under resolution 1441, and if it was, whether we should still allow the weapons inspectors more time to do their work, or whether we should take military action. That is essentially a political judgment. Never once did I come to this House and say that I believed that we should not give the weapons inspectors more time because I did not think that they were going to get any more co-operation than they had had in the past. The judgment was based not on any intelligence but on what I could see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears in respect of what was happening in Iraq. The idea that we should now find a judge who is willing to second-guess the most explicit of political judgments is absurd, and, frankly, only illustrates the turmoil at the heart of the Tory party.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

Knowing what we know now, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House directly whether he now believes that the Iraqi regime did represent a clear and present danger to this country?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Yes, I do. I regret the fact that the Iraq survey group—[Interruption.] It has done a great deal of work and found a good deal of evidence. I regret that, because of the environment in which it has been working, it has not so far been able to find more. However, nothing that it has found so far has diminished my view of the threat. While opinion has differed within the Security Council—as we well know—about whether it was appropriate to take military action at the time, I have heard no member of the Security Council who was there when resolution 1441 was passed, and who signed up to it, saying subsequently, "Oh, by the way, we did not happen to think that Iraq was a threat." Of course, Mr. Clarke was right to say that this was an issue, partly for the reasons that he suggested. Each member of the Security Council was capable of making their own judgment. It does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. and learned Gentleman or anyone else to claim that that they were under pressure in November, and that that was the only reason that they came to that decision, when, palpably, in March, they were under even greater pressure, and most members came to a different decision, which is why we were unable to get a second resolution.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I shall not give way. I want to make some progress.

Listening to what the shadow Foreign Secretary had to say just now, one might think that the only reason why military action was supported was that there was some secret intelligence briefing that has now turned out to be wrong. If that is the case, it is remarkable that neither his speech nor that made by the Leader of the Opposition on 18 March mention the word "intelligence" once. The shadow Foreign Secretary's whole gravamen was about Saddam's publicly known conduct. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said that Saddam had

"lied to the UN for 12 years" and that

"it should be evident to everyone that he remains in breach of his obligations under 1441."

He was absolutely right about that. He then listed the deadly materials identified not in an intelligence dossier but by Hans Blix in his report of 7 March, and recommended that

"every Member of this House read"— that report—

"before passing judgment."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 775.]

It is also worth reading the conclusion of that speech by the Leader of the Opposition, if only to highlight how far and how quickly the Opposition have since fallen. He said:

"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. 779.]

The scale of the official Opposition's subsequent opportunism was captured eloquently by Sir Patrick Cormack in the debate in the House on 16 July. He has written to me to apologise for his absence, for reasons that I fully understand, this afternoon. This is what he said in July:

"It grieves me deeply that my party . . . 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 . . . are wondering whether we have lost our marbles in this place."

He was referring to his own side. He went on:

"We spend our time looking at these silly accusations, which have no substance, and I am ashamed of my party for doing it . . . Let us move on." —[Hansard, 16 July 2003; Vol. 409, c. 328.]

Sadly, so many of his pleas have been in vain.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Opposition Whip (Commons)

On the very eve of war, the Foreign Secretary was extremely clear about the reasons for committing British troops. He said that

"the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom's participation in military operations, should they be necessary, with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction".—[Hansard, 17 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 704.]

That was it. No broader case was made; the object was to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's WMD. Given that not a single weapon of mass destruction has been found six months later, can the Foreign Secretary not understand why the British public are demanding a judicial inquiry?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

That shows again how detached the Conservative party is. I do not deny that one or two people have adopted a completely honourable position in respect of the war. They, including many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and some Opposition Members, opposed it in the first place. It seems to me that they are entitled to say that they were right and they wish to find further and better particulars as to why they were right. But I find the official Opposition's position extraordinary. Far from being reluctant supporters of military action, about 18 months before the war they were trying to entice us to take military action without going anywhere near the United Nations, yet they now complain about finding no WMD. If the hon. Gentleman believes that Iraq was not a threat, I suggest that he examines not just Dr. Blix's last report, but all those before it and all the United Nations Special Commission reports before that. He should hear what President Khatami said to me and then said at a press conference held yesterday in association with Dominique de Villepin and Joschka Fischer in Tehran. He said, "We have every reason to know about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction: they have been used on our people." The British people understand that truth, even if the right hon. Gentleman and Conservative Front Benchers no longer understand it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Scottish National Party, Banff and Buchan

Surely the Foreign Secretary does not want to be judged on his commitment to the United Nations by the standards of the Conservative party. If he describes the terminal torpor of the Tory party as a problem for the Tory party, is it not also a problem for democracy? I do not believe that the Foreign Secretary could get away with the convoluted nonsense about the reasons for war if there were an Opposition vigorously questioning and opposing the Government's underlying assumptions. Would not a judicial inquiry answer questions such as who forged the documents on uranium imports from Niger? Or is the Foreign Secretary pursuing that matter through other means?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I doubt very much whether an inquiry could get to that, and we already know that the documents were forged—[Interruption.] Let me tell the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that he is not speaking very well of his own attempts at opposition when he says that it was so lousy.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I am going to make two final points, the first of which, as it has become current, is the issue of the legal basis for military action, which was raised by Lord Alexander of Weedon. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Devizes at least detached himself from Lord Alexander's profoundly weak argument. It is important for me to put on the record the Government's position on what Lord Alexander said. He claimed that the Government were scraping the legal barrel in relying on the legal authorisation for military action given by Security Council resolution 678. That authorisation was, however, revived by the failure of Iraq to comply with its obligations imposed under resolution 687, in respect of which the Security Council, when it passed resolution 1441, found Iraq to be in material breach.

To describe that as "scraping the legal barrel" and "risible" is extraordinary when successive Conservative and Labour Governments have taken the position that the authority of resolution 678 had only been suspended by the Gulf war ceasefire, and could be revived. That was the position when the Government of the day supported military action in Iraq in January 1993 and it was also the position when the Government of day—my Government—supported military action in December 1998.

It is for the Opposition to make their own judgment about the rightness or otherwise of military action pursued by Governments. As it happens, I sat for 18 years in opposition, and on most occasions—certainly in respect of the Falklands and the Gulf war—our Front Benchers decided to support military action. It was contentious in my own party, but I believe that it was right to do so, and I have never resiled from that view. I have never gone through the contortions that the right hon. Member for Devizes has gone through today in calling for a further public inquiry.

As to the legal basis for taking military action in the recent war, the Attorney-General answered a question in the House of Lords on 17 March 2003. Alongside that, in an official letter to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I gave more detail of our view of the legal position than has ever before been given in the run-up to military action. That shows very clearly the basis on which we took the decision to start military action. It was based on resolutions 678, 687 and subsequent resolutions, and on 1441, which confirmed that those earlier resolutions remained in force. Resolution 1441 also referred in operational paragraph 4 to circumstances in which further material breaches would occur: a failure to provide a full disclosure—which for sure there was, and no one ever disputed that—and any other failures wholly, completely and promptly to comply with the obligations of the United Nations. Again, that applied. Under operational paragraph 12, the matter had to go back to the Security Council for consideration, but not for decision. There was never a requirement for a second resolution.

Conservative Members should recall that, from the moment when I reported to the House on resolution 1441 on 24 November 2002, I made it clear that we did not believe we had to have a second resolution. We said that we wanted one, but that we did not believe we needed one. That was why we spent two months arguing with the French, among others, because we were not willing to sign up to a resolution that required it. Operational paragraph 13 made it clear that serious consequences would follow.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I need to make progress, but I shall give way in a moment. I have already referred to the fact that there have already been two clear and very substantial inquiries into aspects of the war. The Foreign Affairs Committee had an inquiry into the decision to go to war and the Intelligence and Security Committee had a related inquiry into the intelligence and assessments. As I have already said, the ISC inquiry went into the intelligence background—it saw all the raw material on intelligence reports that it needed—in huge detail.

The House is part of the high court of Parliament. It is Parliament's job—not that of Ministers, but of every Member in the House—to hold Ministers to account. Of course there are occasions when it is right to set up judicial inquiries, as, for example, in the specific case of the death of Dr. David Kelly. However, in terms of holding us to account for what are palpably and essentially political decisions, the House is the right body. There has been a greater degree of scrutiny of our decision—and the background to it—than there has ever been before in similar circumstances.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I want to make an important point.

The right hon. Member for Devizes shifted away from calling for a judicial inquiry and somehow elided that with saying—I took down his exact words—that we should have a commission of inquiry following the example of Lady Thatcher. I do not believe that any High Court judge or Law Lord would be an appropriate individual for holding an inquiry into what is essentially a political issue. It would be bound to involve questions as to why the United Nations came to the decision that it reached in November. Without that decision, no military action in my judgment would have been right or appropriate.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Franks inquiry, so let me tell him who was on that commission of inquiry. In my judgment, the Intelligence and Security Committee was both better qualified and more up-to-date, and its methods were better than those of Franks. The Franks commission comprised Lord Franks, of whom my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell said in a debate on 16 July that he was frankly—no pun intended—rather old by that stage. It included other individuals of known impartiality, such as the noble Lord Barber, a former Conservative Chancellor better known to some of us for his boom of the early 1970s. There was the noble Lord Watkinson, once—though not for long, which is why Mr. Bercow is furrowing his brow—a transport Minister, though less well known than one of his immediate predecessors, Ernie Marples.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall give way in moment.

There was Lord Merlyn Rees, a great friend of ours, but who never claimed to be a judicial figure. Another member was Patrick Nairn, a personal friend of mine, who was the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, but before that had spent his working life at the Ministry of Defence. The members of the Franks inquiry were fine upstanding individuals, but my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, who had some experience of it, complained in the House about its methods, which were not forensic. There was much criticism of its report, and the inquiry was accused of a whitewash by my right hon. Friend Mr. Foulkes. The ISC has done a far more thorough job than such an inquiry could ever do.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Shadow Foreign Secretary

I mentioned the Franks inquiry because it showed that when we were responsible for military action we were prepared to have an inquiry into its outcome as well as the reasons for it. If the Foreign Secretary reads the Order Paper, he will know that every day since our motion earlier in the summer we have tabled a motion calling for a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. That is the type of inquiry that we have sought all along.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I dealt with that point comprehensively last time. Such an inquiry would see us well past the next general election, so the idea that a conclusion could be reached on which the British public could come to a view in advance of the election is spurious.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Well, the scope of the comprehensive inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman seeks would go far beyond the Hutton inquiry, and even that has taken longer—

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I agree, and that is my point. The Hutton inquiry is very narrow in scope, but it will take at least six months. The right hon. Gentleman wants a comprehensive inquiry, but that would take years. The Bloody Sunday inquiry—on, I suggest, a rather less complicated issue, given the fact that it does not involve other sovereign states—has now been sitting for five years.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Well, one of the reasons why the Saville inquiry has taken so long is that the rights of individuals under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. All of us would have those rights. The Scott report, on which my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook did so brilliantly at the Dispatch Box, took three and a half years to do its work, and it stretched across a general election. It is extraordinary for the right hon. Member for Devizes to argue for a comprehensive judicial inquiry on the basis that it is the way to hold the Government to account, when the certain result of an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 into the causes of war in Iraq would be to kick the issue into the long grass until well beyond the general election.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

The Foreign Secretary started the present section of his speech by rubbishing the legal opinion of Lord Alexander of Weedon, a former chairman of the Bar, who said that resolution 1441, taken together with previous resolutions, did not provide a justification for war. That is why France, Germany and Russia did not support it at the United Nations. As the Foreign Secretary knows very well, resolution 1441 said that there would be "serious consequences" if Iraq did not comply. It did not say that the United Nations would go to war without a second resolution, and the Government failed to get that second resolution. That is the legal position and that is why the Attorney-General has been discredited.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The hon. Gentleman should calm down. Lord Alexander, whether he was chairman of the Bar or not, was wrong on this issue. The factual basis of what he said was wrong. He claimed on the radio that resolution 1441 required that the matter went back to the United Nations Security Council for decision, but that was not the case. He was wrong about that, and the hon. Gentleman should at least have the good grace to agree with that. Lord Alexander has many merits—I know and like him—but that was not the most impressive work that he has done.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

Curiously, I find it difficult to get worked up either way about the arguments for or against a judicial inquiry. I see no reason to disagree with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he said:

"Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to pose a direct threat to our national security."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 775.]

I believe that statesmanship was required, statesmanship was delivered and statesmanship was welcome, so I have no regrets about voting for military action.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I am glad to hear that, and I know that the Leader of Opposition will take that intervention as a declaration of loyalty to him.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

It may be my fault, but I have not heard an answer to the question posed about half an hour ago by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. It would be greatly helpful to the House if we knew the date on which the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister first knew that the reference to 45 minutes and weapons of mass destruction referred to battlefield weapons.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I cannot give my hon. Friend the exact date off the top of my head. I saw the JIC intelligence assessment, which we received in September, so I guess that it was around that date—but I will check that. Although the 45-minute claim became a huge issue following the Gilligan interview on 29 May, it was not an issue before that. Indeed, as I said at the beginning of my speech, in the whole period from the publication of the dossier until 29 May—my hon. Friend David Wright got the Library to analyse it—the issue was scarcely, if ever, mentioned in the House, and only once or twice outside it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have given way a great deal and I must now come to a conclusion. The House established the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee was established by parliamentary legislation. Both Committees made thorough reports, and those reports and the manner of the Committees' inquiries undermine the case now being made for a further judicial inquiry. The Committees were rigorous with their witnesses—some might say, too rigorous. The ISC was patently scrupulous with the intelligence material; and, where they felt it was warranted, both Committees were unsparing in their criticism of the Government. Let me remind the Opposition that both Committees also reached the same conclusion: that the claims made in the Government's September dossier were well-founded on the basis of the intelligence then available.

Given the fact that we have now had the ISC report, the case for a judicial inquiry is even weaker than it was on 16 July when the right hon. Member for Devizes last made the same speech as he made this afternoon. He made it then with rather more conviction. It is time for the House to move on. It is time that we devoted our time to the vital issue of building a secure, prosperous Iraq from the ashes of Saddam's dictatorship. That is the issue that has preoccupied the United Nations in recent weeks. It is also at the forefront of the minds of all Iraqi people, irrespective of their religious denomination or political leanings. They would, I am certain, find the Conservative motion somewhat bewildering and entirely irrelevant. We surely owe them better than that. I urge the House to reject the motion and to support the amendment.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 2:48 pm, 22nd October 2003

The Foreign Secretary referred, I think in error, to Iran, which allows me the opportunity to express—it may be the only matter on which we agree this afternoon—relief and pleasure at the apparent outcome of his visit there with his French and German counterparts. The Liberal Democrats have consistently supported the principle of engagement, and we are aware that he has invested much time and effort in maintaining the opening with Iran. We hope that that continues to prove profitable.

I hope that the Foreign Secretary will recollect that on one of our Opposition days we tabled a motion relating to the United Nations and we discussed the topic of how best the reconstruction of Iraq, and the imposition of stability on the country, could be effected.

We propose to support the Conservative motion, although not necessarily for the reasons put forward by Mr. Ancram. He quoted from my speech of 24 September, and I stand by what I said wholly and completely, because—entirely inadvertently, I am sure—the right hon. Gentleman found himself guilty of selective quotation.

The point that I made in the House both then and subsequently is that the Security Council and its resolutions are not the only source of international law. Many people have argued correctly that resolutions 678 and 687 contained an authority for the use of military force, but in what other way was the bombing campaign—which began immediately after Richard Butler withdrew the UN inspectors in, I think, 1998—justified?

UN Security Council resolutions must be seen against the background of customary international law. It is illegitimate to use military force, except as a last resort when all other diplomatic and political resources have been exhausted. The Foreign Secretary and others may remember that the amendment moved and voted on on 18 March would have allowed the inspectors further time to complete their inspections. That is, it would have met Dr. Blix's request for some additional time to fulfil his mandate.

In my view, therefore, we had not reached the position of last resort. A further principle of international law, to which Lord Alexander refers, holds that the use of military force must be proportionate. As he points out, there is no justification for regime change. In particular, article 2.4 of the UN charter expressly forbids that. The military force proportionate to making a country fulfil its disarmament obligations may be—and in my judgment in this case was—significantly different from the military force expressly designed to achieve regime change. That was the avowed purpose in Washington, and the Government inevitably hitched themselves to it—albeit, after 18 March, with the authority of the House of Commons.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Clearly, the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not agree with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's assessment of the position in respect of international law, but why should we apologise for overthrowing what was one of the most murderous of tyrannies? Is it not a fact that most people in Iraq—whatever their reservations about the occupation and the need for elections as soon as possible—welcome their country's liberation from Saddam's tyranny?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The Iraqi people do indeed, but is the hon. Gentleman positing the principle that the end justifies the means in all circumstances, and that that principle is apposite in international relations? If so, I ask him to consider the position between India and Pakistan. The view across the line of control is that a pre-emptive strike might be the better way of ensuring the protection of one or other of those countries. Establishing a precedent of the sort created on the occasion of the war against Iraq means that a pattern would be established that others would follow and which it would be extremely difficult to criticise.

Of course, everyone is relieved—even rejoices at the fact—that Saddam Hussein has gone, but that is not a justification for a breach of international law. If we claim that a benevolent outcome will always retrospectively justify military action, we are opening up a chapter in international law whose consequences are difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

As the right hon. Member for Devizes pointed out, a motion for an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 is still on the Order Paper, but the motion being debated today does not propose that sort of inquiry. Until I heard the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that that was a recognition of the innovative and far-reaching role of Lord Hutton's inquiry. I think that the Hutton inquiry has become the benchmark, and that it will remain so. Those who are aggrieved or who want some controversy resolved will want nothing less that a Hutton-style inquiry into the war.

The Hutton inquiry has been characterised by speed, independence and, as most would agree, rigour. It is important to note that, so far as we know, no one refused Lord Hutton's summons to give evidence, and no relevant or material documents were concealed from him—again, so far as we know. If a Hutton-style inquiry were to be launched, one would have to be satisfied that maximum co-operation would be available, that all relevant information would be put forward, and that all witnesses with relevant information would be prepared to appear and give evidence.

I do not intend to try to anticipate Lord Hutton's conclusions, but it is fair to say that he appeared to define and interpret his remit rather narrowly. In the nature of things, however, the trawl through Government and especially through No. 10 Downing street—where I imagine the e-mail has become a forbidden method of communication—has thrown up further information which, in my judgment, requires further investigation. It is legitimate to say that Hutton has shone a light into many dark corners of the Government machine.

The central question remains: did we go to war with Iraq on a prospectus that was flawed, either because the intelligence behind it was inadequate or because that intelligence was mishandled once it had been obtained? I shall set out some of the issues and facts that lead me and others to believe that that central question still has to be answered.

First, Mr. Jonathan Powell reportedly warned on 19 September that the dossier should avoid presenting Iraq as an imminent threat, either to its neighbours or others. That seems to contradict the warning in the foreword to the dossier published five days later, on 24 September, that Iraq posed a "current and serious threat". Exactly what were those words intended to convey to the ordinary reader? What was intended to be conveyed by the use of the expression "clear and present danger"? The provenance of the phrase is the US constitution, but it was used by Ministers here. What were they endeavouring to convey by the use of that expression?

In addition, a sentence omitted from the same foreword apparently stated that Iraq was not capable of launching a nuclear strike on the UK. Moreover, the word "programmes" was removed from the dossier's title, which gave the impression that weapons of mass destruction were present rather than that Iraq had the potential to produce them.

Another problem is the ambiguity of the 45-minute claim. We know now that it related to battlefield weapons and was based on hearsay evidence from a single, uncorroborated source. The claim gave rise to newspaper headlines such as the one that appeared in the Evening Standard, which stated "45 Minutes from Chemical Attack". That proposition was never denied by Ministers. Sir Richard Dearlove described the 45-minute claim as "misleading". Dr. Kelly apparently called it "risible", and the Intelligence and Security Committee employed its usual moderate language to call it "unhelpful".

In addition to those matters, the following facts need to be borne in mind—that no weapons were deployed at 45 minutes' notice, that no weapons capable of being deployed at 45 minutes' notice have been found, and that no deployable weapons of any kind have so far been found. I add to that the concerns about the contents of the dossier expressed by Dr. Brian Jones of the defence intelligence staff. Another official, known only as Mr. A., said that the Government were clearly "clutching at straws".

The circumstances of the decision to name Dr. Kelly are a matter for Lord Hutton, but the evidence of witnesses to the inquiry, and Lord Hutton's attitude towards them, may well raise substantial questions about the Government's credibility that are relevant to the wider issues.

Finally, I bring to the House's attention two other apparent contradictions. First, the provenance of the claim that Iraq sought to buy yellowcake from Niger was rejected by Dr. el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the UK Government apparently still insist that the claim is valid. Secondly, the intelligence assessment was not only that war would increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on the UK, but that an attack on Iraq would increase the likelihood of weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists.

Some of the matters that I have raised are matters of fact, others of inference. However, if they do not give rise to sufficient anxiety to justify an inquiry of the kind proposed in the motion, I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which such an inquiry would ever be thought to be necessary.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed Labour/Co-operative, Loughborough

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making the case that Parliament should discuss these matters rather well. As he knows, I agree with much of his assessment of the questions, but is it not the case that we should be holding the Government to account, not passing that duty on to some judicial inquiry? I can assure Opposition Members that on the basis of what I have heard today, I shall support the Government this evening, even though I opposed the war.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

I have not said this publicly before, but I imagine that it took a great deal of courage for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members who are normally loyal supporters of their Front Bench to take that decision on 18 March. I have two points to make. First, and I say this with some deference—with even more deference given that no members of the Foreign Affairs Committee are here—I doubt whether anyone would regard the Committee's performance in this matter as unimpeachable. Its inquiry was bedevilled by a lack of access to information. There was a great deal of division, although not always along party lines, and the conduct of its work was sadly disfigured by leaks. If the way in which that inquiry was carried out is to become some sort of paradigm, Lord Hutton may do one thing for us—he may prompt us to have a wholesale review of the way Select Committees operate in this place.

We need an inquiry of a public nature. That is why, I guess, the Prime Minister felt that Lord Hutton and the mechanism that he has employed were the way to deal with an issue of such public importance as the death of the unfortunate Dr. Kelly. For those two reasons—that our performance so far has hardly been brilliant and the fact that we are trying to deal with public confidence—an inquiry of the type being postulated is the way to proceed.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

Whether or not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's criticisms of the Foreign Affairs Committee are well founded, none of those criticisms can possibly apply to the Intelligence and Security Committee, which conducted its investigation very thoroughly, scrupulously and on an all-party basis. Does he accept that the ISC's report is well founded?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The report is a useful and effective contribution to the debate, but as I said a moment ago, we need something that is in the public arena. Given the necessary constraints on the way in which the Committee operates, a large part of its proceedings were conducted in private—indeed, on this occasion it was all of its proceedings. These are issues of such fundamental public importance that an inquiry that is accessible to the public, and shows them that we are not so precious about our responsibilities and performance in this place that we are unwilling to allow external scrutiny, is much more likely to command public confidence.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State

I am much impressed by the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is dealing with the question. I want to clarify one matter. He called in aid the opinion and lecture of Lord Alexander of Weedon. He will know that Lord Alexander suggested that this matter should go to the courts. I certainly would not agree, and I suspect that he will not do so either.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The fact that one recognises that Lord Alexander of Weedon has made a powerful contribution to the debate does not commit one to accepting every line of every part of the lecture and the article that he subsequently wrote.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I hope that I am not wasting the right hon. and learned Gentleman's time by asking him this question. Does he accept that this Chamber and this House—no matter how well motivated we are as individuals or collectively—do not have the procedures to embark on an examination of the facts that is required to reach a sound conclusion to allow us each to reach separate, different or agreed opinions about the rights or wrongs of the Government's conclusion?

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a sound point. I have served on Select Committees and I confess that exercising political judgment seems much easier than getting to the facts of, for example, the case of the Iraqi supergun, which arose while I was a member of the Trade and Industry Committee in the 1987–92 Parliament. Indeed, if anyone of a sufficiently historical bent wants to read that Committee's report on the issue, he will see that the problems of establishing the facts are well laid out. I am glad that I gave way to the hon. and learned Gentleman while we are still entitled, at least for the moment, to call each other Queen's Counsel.

Some people would argue that some of the issues that I have outlined are contentious. I shall now detail some that are uncontested—for example, Mr. Jonathan Powell's apparent reference to the lack of imminent threat; the fact that the intelligence related to battlefield weapons and that those weapons posed no threat to the UK or its forces; and the fact that the risk of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorists' hands was likely, on the assessments, to be increased by an attack on Iraq. I very much doubt whether, if those facts had been in the public domain, British public opinion would have been sympathetic to the case for going to war. If those facts had been in the public domain, I wonder how many more hon. Members would have taken the courageous decision of Mr. Reed and voted against war and in favour of more time for inspections.

We have to some extent anticipated the question of the Attorney-General. The Prime Minister was pretty dismissive of any arguments in relation to the Attorney-General based on Professor Greenwood's opinion, which I commend to those who are interested in these matters. It is important to realise that in the exercise of the giving of any legal opinion, it is essential to know the factual basis on which the opinion was given. That is why I want to know whether to any extent the opinion of the Attorney-General—partially published—was based on the dossier of September 2002. Did he take that dossier at its face value to any extent? Did he know, for example, that only battlefield weapons were involved? If he took it at its face value and did not know that such weapons were involved, does that not inevitably raise a substantial question about the validity of the opinion that he gave?

We are entitled to see the whole opinion and the statement of facts upon which it was based. Lord Alexander argues powerfully that we are entitled to know if the Attorney-General considered the doctrine of necessity as his last resort, or indeed the principle of proportionality. He also argues that we are entitled to see the whole of the Attorney-General's opinion. I agree wholeheartedly for the reason that while we are told that by convention the Attorney-General's advice should not be published, conventions can be broken. Indeed, we broke one on 18 March in this House. In any event, that convention has already been broken because the Attorney-General published part of his opinion. When he did so he broke with the convention. Either the convention rules or it does not. If one abandons it partly, in my view one abandons it completely.

We are debating a Conservative motion and we shall support it because we believe that the inquiry for which it calls is essential. I hope that I may be forgiven for saying that Conservative indignation after the event would be a little more easily received if they had shown some more scepticism in advance of it. The House should consider this. Who said on 1 September 2002:

"We can choose to act pre-emptively or we can prevaricate."?

Who said:

"Those who genuinely seek evidence in support of potential military action in Iraq will find there is plenty of it: those who oppose intervention at all costs will never find enough."?

And who said:

"The only question remaining is will he choose to strike against Britain. I believe so."?

Those were the words written on Sunday 1 September in an article in the home news section of The Sunday Times by the leader of the Conservative party. He had made up his mind before the dossier was published and before the Attorney-General issued his partial opinion.

The reality is that this motion is intellectually and politically much more consistent with the position of the Liberal Democrats than with that of the Conservative party. It would be churlish in the extreme not to thank the Conservatives for their generosity in allowing us the opportunity to show that that is so. That is why the motion will have our support.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 12-minute limit on all Back-Bench speeches, which applies from now.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell Labour, Airdrie and Shotts 3:10 pm, 22nd October 2003

As the first non-lawyer to speak in the debate, may I break up the lawyer fest that has been going on for the past hour or so? If only we could import lawyers' job creation schemes into the wider economy, we should be even more successful than we are already.

I am rather disappointed that the Leader of the Opposition has tabled this motion. The reason for my disappointment is that, as my right hon. Friend Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, made clear, the Cabinet received the same briefings on intelligence matters as the Leader of the Opposition, so it is disingenuous of him now to question the nature of that material and to seek, as he did in an article published in The Mail on Sunday, to traduce the officials who were responsible for drawing the intelligence together.

I am also disappointed that Mr. Campbell should associate himself with the Conservative motion. He and I have discussed the subject on many occasions and I have the highest respect and admiration for him. However, I believe that this debate is about opportunism; its purpose is to give Conservative Members something around which they can at last unite. It gives them an opportunity to play to the gallery from the point of view, if I may mix my metaphors, of the lowest common denominator.

Whenever we consider the circumstances surrounding the background to our engagement in Iraq much is said about United States intelligence and about United Kingdom intelligence. What we must bear in mind, however, is that for 12 years, before resolution 1441, intelligence to most major countries indicated the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The clearest intelligence of all was the fact that Saddam Hussein had actually used weapons of mass destruction not only against his neighbours but against his own people.

Several right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the fact that, six months on, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. It is a pity that not all the Members who are currently in the Chamber were here an hour before the debate started, because we have been looking for weapons in Ireland for more than 30 years and discussions over the past two days have been mainly about whether adequate supplies of those weapons have been identified and whether they could have been used for the type of destruction described yesterday by General de Chastelain.

The weapons inspectors are not playing some form of geopolitical spot the ball. The difficulties of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are extremely significant and we should stop the hysteria of suggesting that within six months of the cessation of hostilities it will be easy to find such weapons. I should have liked answers to several questions that arose during previous debates. Saddam Hussein knew that coalition forces were at the door, so, if he had nothing to hide, why did he not say so? Why did he not welcome back the weapons inspectors, giving them the opportunity and the information that they required to determine whether the weapons had existed and whether they had been destroyed? Furthermore, where are the answers now—in October—to the questions that Hans Blix posed in March this year? There was a dossier of 173 pages, but we do not yet have those answers.

When I joined the Cabinet I did not think that I would have to take a decision that would send the sons and daughters of other people to war. One must not assume that only those who resign from the Government examine their conscience on such matters. Those of us who stayed also had to examine our conscience. The decisions were not easy; they had to be based not only on the information available at the time but on Saddam Hussein's previous behaviour.

I want to share with the House something that was a significant factor in my decision: the implications for the United Nations. For 12 years Saddam Hussein had, appallingly, ignored the UN. If, at the eleventh hour, we had walked away from a challenge to Saddam Hussein, the damage to the UN would have been irreversible and the message to dictators in other rogue states would have been considerable. That is the background against which the decisions were taken.

We are gathered here today to discuss whether there should be judicial review. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out that one has the sense that those who seek judicial review want review after review after review until they get the answer that they want. The Intelligence and Security Committee has conducted a full review and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, despite reservations expressed by some people with the benefit of hindsight, has also conducted a full review. Although it would be wrong to go into too much detail about the Hutton inquiry, the House should bear in mind the fact that it was set up by the Prime Minister. Never before have a Government made information available to such a degree, when they could comfortably have hidden behind the 30-year rule. As far as possible, the Government have been open, although I do not dispute that there are matters where they cannot be as open as they might want to be. After all, there are requirements to protect the safety and security of intelligence sources.

I recognise that there is a valid and genuine debate in the country about the circumstances of our going to war. It will continue for many generations, as it did after the first world war and the second world war. However, using those issues for party political purposes, as is happening increasingly, reduces the real sacrifices made by others than us—those who had to prosecute the war in Iraq.

Much has been said on the allegations about the availability of weaponry, be it battlefield or otherwise, within 45 minutes, so I do not want to delay the House unduly on the matter. I followed every debate in the House at the time of the publication of the dossier and, in my recollection, no one raised the 45-minute issue. It makes little difference whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed in 45 minutes or 45 days; people would be just as dead after 45 days as they would be after 45 minutes. We have to take that into account.

It is regrettable that we are holding this discussion. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary: we should be looking to the future. I share the view, too, that we should look to the achievements of our forces, especially in Basra, in bringing about a much better Iraq.

In conclusion, there is one point on which my conscience troubles me: it is that I and many others did not listen more closely to my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd whenever she brought to our attention the real consequences of what Saddam Hussein was doing to his people. We have deposed Saddam Hussein from power, but he is still around and he will continue to wreak his vengeance until we find him. We must give the people of Iraq confidence and courage that a true, safe and prosperous country can be rebuilt. Lawyers dancing on the head of a pin will not secure that; we have to move forward and we have to do it now.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee) 3:20 pm, 22nd October 2003

I think that the decision to go to war in Iraq was the worst military decision taken by this country since the Suez invasion, and history will judge that it poses several of the same issues: a bogus reason was given to the House of Commons for embarking on the war in the first place; no clear forethought had been given to what would happen in the event of our being militarily successful, which was strongly likely in both cases; and when we are sufficiently far from now and able to look back properly, it will pose quite big questions about what the role of this country is in the modern world. I think that most hon. Members are committed to the Atlantic alliance, but this issue poses the biggest questions yet about what kind of Atlantic alliance we are in and what is Britain's part in getting the balance right on both sides of the Atlantic and trying to exercise some influence on the formation of policy.

I shall not rehearse the arguments that I have advanced in the past because that is not the purpose of today's debate. I only briefly remind the House of the view that I always took from the first: I opposed the war because I was not persuaded—I had expressed strong doubts—that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, or biological or chemical weapons, that posed any current threat to his neighbours or to ourselves.

I also expressed strong reservations about the aftermath of warfare, which I think correctly anticipated that we would win with comparative ease and very little loss to our side. I doubted that it would be easy to put in place a stable new regime in Iraq. I feared that it would not add to the stability of the middle east or make it significantly easier to make much progress on the wider middle eastern problems. In addition, I thought it might set us back in the war against terrorism.

I hope that the forebodings I have always expressed about this matter prove to be wrong; I hope that my forecasts of difficulty are gainsaid by the facts, because I do not wish to see such cheerless conclusions unfold. However, as we are all agreed, the most important thing we should turn to in due course is the question of what happens next, and at the moment things are not going well. I believe that the world is a more dangerous place than it was before the invasion of Iraq and I am not satisfied that we are going in the right direction in Iraq, or in the middle east, or in the war against terrorism, as a result of what we have done.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend accept, however, that there is an opportunity for a democratic model to emerge in Iraq, based on the Kurdish democracy that has operated under the no-fly zone over the past 10 years, with a federal solution, and that that would give stability and a model for the whole of the rest of the middle east?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Tax Law Rewrite Bills (Joint Committee)

We must achieve the most stable and democratic regime possible in Iraq as quickly as we possibly can. I am not convinced that the conquering and occupying forces there now are able, without a change of policy, to achieve that very quickly. If I have time, I will return to the case that we must make for internationalising the process much more, giving the United Nations a bigger role, bringing in other countries and getting away from the policy of thinking that a largely Iraqi exile-dominated Government of very pro-western people can emerge, get elected and stay in power for long.

I would make a case for a judicial inquiry on the basis of the first argument that I advanced: that I still believe, and nothing that has happened since has persuaded me to the contrary, that we were given a bogus reason for the war. We certainly were not given the full reasons that had played a part in the making of the decision. It has been said that there have been inquiries into that, and the Hutton inquiry was mentioned.

The Hutton inquiry obviously turns on the tragic death of Dr. Kelly. I am not sure why the Prime Minister so promptly announced a judicial inquiry into that, when he has been resisting a judicial inquiry into the bigger questions of why we went to war, when we went to war and whether Parliament was told the truth about it. The Hutton inquiry, although important, is essentially about a footnote issue. I do not want to be too flippant about it, but it is essentially about the warfare between Alastair Campbell and the BBC and how far that affected the conduct of business inside the Government. What the Hutton inquiry has done is, first, to cast light on the way in which business was being transacted, which was not very attractive; I hope that those in Whitehall will address the way in which they conduct these things in future. It has also given us insights into what lay behind the veil of the intelligence and the arguments that were going on to make the case on weapons of mass destruction, and they merely add to my doubts that we were ever given the true reason, and my feeling that what was going on was an attempt to manufacture a case that this was all about weapons of mass destruction and United Nations resolutions and so on, to which people unfortunately lent themselves.

I listened to Mrs. Liddell, who still clings to the view that in the end we shall all find out that there really were programmes for weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat. I admire her sturdy confidence. I have not even heard the Prime Minister advance that view for the past month, and I thought he was the last person in the country who believed it. It is obvious now that no programmes had reached a stage where there was any likely deployment against anybody. We discover that intelligence officials were warning that if Saddam had already got them he would use them when we had an invasion. We crushed and overran the regime and there was no appearance of any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, because he had none that he could use in defence of the regime. So even those who believe that case must surely, eventually—I do not know when—come to accept that it was totally and utterly wrong, and that our forces conquered, indeed, massacred, an army that had only rather inadequate conventional equipment and was incapable of defending itself against the huge force that was deployed.

Therefore, the main issue is, why did we go to war? The more we look at what has just begun to emerge from Hutton and other inquiries, the less able we become to get rid of the idea that this war was never decided on in this country on the grounds of the threat from weapons of mass destruction anyway. I suspect that most of us in the House know American politicians of one kind or another. We all follow the debate on the senior side of the Atlantic, where the real power is held, and most of us have quite a lot of contact with people who hold positions of authority there, or who have held them in the past. The debate in this country about the war always ran in curious parallel to the debate in the United States, which has always been about slightly different things. The reason why the Foreign Secretary was engaging in these arguments in the United Nations at the end of last year, using convoluted language worthy of "Animal Farm" or "Nineteen Eighty-Four" to explain the history of the motions he was resolutely defending, is that the rumblings of warfare were already sounding. In my opinion, the real decisions to go to war had been taken in Washington months before, and the arguments there were quite openly about regime change. They were advancing what they regarded as a worthwhile case for regime change. To popularise it in America, they were linking it with the war against terrorism and al-Qaeda—they still do.

I can assure the House that a very senior American, favourable to the present Administration and in a position of great influence and control, once expressed exasperation to me, saying, "I do not understand why we are making all this fuss about weapons of mass destruction. We only raised them because our European friends wished us to do so."

The problem in the United States was that it had a clear policy. The Republican Administration believed that the Clinton Administration had been wet and useless, along with its European allies, on all these things and that they would strengthen America's forces. There was a case for the proactive use of force for good, and they thought that they could change the middle east by taking the opportunity to invade Iraq and putting in a more pro-western and democratic regime. They thought that they would do that easily because they would be greeted as liberators and that Mr. Chalabi, or someone like him, and his friends would take over, which would lead to a further succession of benign events throughout the middle east. They thought that they would be able to coerce Syria and that there would be an uprising in Iran, which would produce a more democratic regime there, and so the process would unfold. It did not work. There was no plan B when it did not work once they had conquered Baghdad, and we now need to turn to finding a plan B to see how we move on because those hopes were not realised.

I believe that that was the true background of the war, and it has never been debated in the House, so what we need a judicial inquiry to look at is not who drafted which sentence of the dossier, although I am a lawyer and although I am very attracted to the opinion of Lord Alexander, which I prefer to that of the Attorney-General. The unfortunate Attorney-General and the unfortunate intelligence community were doing their best to serve their colleagues and their masters when they drafted what they did. I do not think that even the legalities turn on that.

The key issue is whether we all feel confident that we know when the decision was made by our Prime Minister to support the President of the United States in warfare in Iraq. Do we believe that we have all been told exactly what policy was behind that? Do we believe that all the accounts given to the House were an accurate narrative of what led to the events that have since unfolded? I do not hold that view. I think that, if we do not hold a judicial inquiry into these matters, in due course, in the fullness of history, there will be an exposition of what really lay behind the whole escapade.

It was 10 or 20 years before we discovered from memoirs and such papers as have emerged that what most sensible people suspected in their bones about Suez was true. If we are not careful, we will wait another 10 or 20 years and we will probably discover that Mr. Cook and his colleagues were telling us the plain obvious, and that Parliament ignored it.

I conclude on this: I can address Mr. Reed and others who are worried about voting for what they see as an opportunist motion, although, of course, I find it easier to do so. I am absolutely delighted to hear that my colleagues, whose first reaction was to tell the Government that they had to make the case for the war—an injunction that Alastair Campbell took only too seriously—have now come round. They are now on our side, and Parliament will betray itself if, for party reasons of any kind, some Members suddenly decide—even people who have been as courageous as the hon. Member for Loughborough and others—to find some funny reason for not voting against their own side because those on the other side are asking for what they really want.

I voted with the hon. Member for Loughborough. I voted with the right hon. Member for Livingston, and I voted with the Liberal Democrats and quite a few Conservatives. The Conservative party is now offering itself up to ask what we should all be asking for: a judicial inquiry, so that Parliament, on which the hon. Gentleman places so much importance, can pave the way to discovering the truth behind this war, and it is important that we know that.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 3:32 pm, 22nd October 2003

Colleagues will know that I did not support the military action in Iraq at the time that it took place in the way that it happened for the reasons that were stated at the time and without proper international endorsement or support. I remain strongly of that view, but I cannot and will not support the Opposition motion in the Division Lobby tonight. I say that partly because it is a Tory motion, and I have never in my life been in the habit of supporting Tory motions. It is not just a Tory motion, but an entirely meretricious motion, coming from a party that offered slavish support for the military action in the first place. What is more, I am not sure that a further judicial inquiry is what we need.

We have had a thorough inquiry already, led by Lord Hutton, albeit one that examined a narrow point about the tragic circumstances surrounding David Kelly's death. In the process of examining that narrow point, Lord Hutton has unearthed a huge amount of revealing, sobering, illuminating and, at times, damning information about what went on in the run-up to war. What we need now is not a further inquiry, but a proper sifting, analysis and debate about what we know from the Hutton inquiry.

What we know is pretty clear. It pains me to say it, but we went to war—we were taken to war—on a deeply flawed basis. I do not doubt the bona fides of those who took those decisions. I even respect some of the underlying reasons, such as the passionate hatred of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, although I would argue that that was not the right way to go about removing it. The facts remain, however. The intelligence was flawed, the dossiers were incorrect or misleading, the reasons given in speech after speech were invalid, and the weapons of mass destruction are nowhere to be seen. Surely we must now acknowledge, after all that we have learned and all that we know, that mistakes were made. Decisions, however difficult, were wrongly taken, and things should have happened differently.

Recognising that, we must look to the future and not simply dwell on the past. That means learning some lessons. Lesson one is that we need to find the right relationship with our friends and colleagues in the United States. America is a great country. It has sacrificed much, over many decades, for the greater cause of a wider humanity. It deserves our friendship and our support in times of difficulty in return. However, that does not mean that we should endorse every decision taken by every American President. If my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook is right in his reporting of a Cabinet meeting early in 2002, it is very revealing. The desire to—I quote from his diaries—"stay close to America" to gain influence and keep it engaged with the world became the paramount factor determining policy. Surely the role of a candid friend, not always uncritical, would have been better than such a desire.

Lesson two is that the doctrine of pre-emptive action, supposedly to remove potential danger rather than actual, imminent or visible threat, must surely be reconsidered. Any such action will inevitably be based primarily on intelligence assessments, and we know a lot more now about their reliability than we did previously. Striking before one is struck may in some circumstances be the right course of action. Striking because one has been told by someone somewhere that at some unidentified future date one might be struck is surely more problematic.

Lesson three is that there may be times when a regime is so brutal, oppressive, genocidal or evil that its removal, even though it rules a sovereign state and poses no threat to other countries, may be a desirable objective. Any such decision, however, must be made under a proper framework of international law. It cannot be the province of one nation, however powerful, or even of two, to make such a decision and such an intervention. It can only be the international community as a whole, through its proper decision-making structures, that should make such a move.

That brings me to lesson four. There is now an urgent need for us to help to rebuild the shattered authority of the United Nations. We need the United Nations in this fractured world of ours. We need a body that establishes and sustains a framework of rules for international behaviour. That is especially true when world affairs are dominated so comprehensively by one superpower. It was not the French who broke the back of the United Nations before the war; it was the determination of the President of the United States to go to war whatever the United Nations decided. If we have any influence at all with that President as a result of all that has happened over the past eight months, now is the time to use it. Britain is in a unique position as a member of the Security Council to take a lead in the rebuilding of the United Nations, on which we all ultimately depend.

There should be no new inquiry but there are urgent lessons to be learned and followed from what we now know. Perhaps—just perhaps—there will be a recognition that we got some things wrong. That recognition is the starting point for understanding, for wisdom and, indeed, for moving on.