Iraq (Judicial Inquiry)

– in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 22nd October 2003.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 335
    A majority of MPs voted against a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry into the Iraq war.
  • Division number 336
    A majority of MPs voted against a further inquiry into the war in Iraq.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle 3:41 pm, 22nd October 2003

The seriousness of the allegations that the Prime Minister in particular and the Government as a whole would have to answer at a judicial inquiry is beyond doubt. Only a judicial inquiry will reveal the truth. Our constituents and the House are entitled to know whether we went to war because of an honest mistake or on a pretext designed to disguise a conspiracy.

This was never a national war; it was a ministerial war. However, did Ministers mislead the House and the country about the reasons that they gave to take us to war? Without clarification of that, a dark cloud of suspicion will always hang over the reputation of those in the Government and the intelligence services who led this country into an invasion of Iraq in which more than 50 British servicemen have already lost their lives, including my brave constituent Captain David Jones, who has left behind a newly married widow and heartbroken relatives.

The fundamental accusation could not be more grave morally, legally and in its constitutional implications. To trick the House of Commons and the country into making war on false pretences would be one of the most scandalous and wicked things that any Prime Minister could do. Yet that is the crime with which our present Prime Minister is widely charged. The majority of my constituents believe that to be the case.

It is no adequate defence of that charge to argue that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and a mass murderer. The Prime Minister repeatedly assured us that regime change was not the purpose of, or justification for, the war. In his speech to the House on 18 March asking for parliamentary support for war, he specifically said:

"I have never put the justification for action as regime change."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 772.]

He always knew that he was unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority for war on those grounds. So instead he relied emphatically and emotionally on the pretext of an alleged serious threat to Britain from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. At no time did the Prime Minister ever admit to any possible doubt about their continued existence or the seriousness of the threat that they immediately posed. As late as 30 April in reply to me at Prime Minister's questions, he said:

"I am absolutely convinced and confident about the case on weapons of mass destruction."—[Hansard, 30 April 2003; Vol. 404, c. 296.]

He predicted that I would have to eat my words. When is he going to eat his words?

The Prime Minister's only possible defence would be to claim that he was misled by the intelligence services, but even that would be a resigning matter. Prime Ministers who allow themselves to be misled on great national issues are not fit to hold their office. I do not believe that the Prime Minister was misled. We were misled; the country was misled. The Government reverted to an old trick that was often used in the past by disreputable foreign politicians who were looking for a casus belli. The so-called dodgy dossier was a rather clumsy update of Bismarck's doctoring of the Ems telegram. Both wanted to persuade Europe of the unavoidability of war that they had planned to wage for other reasons.

It cannot be argued—not that it would affect the issue in this debate—that critics of the Prime Minister are simply being wise after the event about the absence of weapons of mass destruction. As the Prime Minister said to me on 4 June:

"I do not think that I ever persuaded the hon. Gentleman of the case for action".—[Hansard, 4 June 2003; Vol. 406, c. 168.]

Nor did he, which was why I voted on 26 February for the amendment that included the words

"but finds the case for military action against Iraq as yet unproven".

The reason why I voted for the amendment was not that I was relying on my undoubted psychic powers or even my long personal knowledge of Iraq and the middle east. Everyone with great knowledge of Iraq and the area whom I consulted in the run-up to the war, including professional Arabists of distinction and seniority, and former members of the Joint Intelligence Committee, told me most emphatically that they did not believe that Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to Britain. Several, including former British ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus and Riyadh, wrote letters to the national press to say that. It is inconceivable that those doubts were unknown to the Prime Minister, yet in his war speech to the House on 18 March he made no reference to any possibility of uncertainty about the reality of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He brushed aside warnings about the non-discovery of the weapons from Dr. Blix and the United Nations inspectors in Iraq. Indeed, a deliberate undercover campaign was mounted to try to discredit Dr. Blix as ineffectual and unreliable.

As long ago as 25 November 2002, which was four months before the start of shock and awe—words that were characteristic of the manic hysteria of the time—I said:

"It seems to me that we shall get into difficulties if the inspectors are given a free and unfettered right to search for weapons of mass destruction, if that continues without interference, and if they are unable to find any such weapons. Surely we could not, at that point, say that, because we believe that those weapons were there last September, a nil return would justify an attack on Iraq. That would be difficult to explain to the British people.—[Hansard, 25 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 70.]

Well, it is difficult to explain it to the British people—indeed, it has become well nigh impossible. That is why we must have an independent judicial inquiry to give us the explanation. If that is denied, many of us will assume that the explanation is that, as part of our Prime Minister's vainglorious strutting of the international stage, he entered into a secret agreement with President George W. Bush at some time in 2002 to attack Iraq in the cool season and then cooked the intelligence books to justify the war to the House of Commons and the British people.

Photo of Mr Kerry Pollard Mr Kerry Pollard Labour, St Albans 3:49 pm, 22nd October 2003

I visited Iraq twice just before the war and am perhaps one of only two or three hon. Members to have been there at that time. I opposed the war and voted against it. Indeed, I led the march against the war alongside Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger, both heroes of mine. The war was wrong then and I have not changed my mind on that. I am sure that the Prime Minister was sincere in his belief that he was right, but I believe that he was wrong. However, it is now time to stop picking the scab of the sore of Iraq and to move forward by rebuilding the country and establishing democracy. We must return prosperity and peace to that benighted country.

When I was in Basra 18 months ago, there was little clean drinking water. I visited a hospital where there was little medicine. Children were regularly dying from dysentery because of the lack of clean water. I visited a school that had raw sewage in the playground, although that was a result of Saddam Hussein's activities and had nothing to do with the war. I have contacts in Iraq. They tell me that things in Basra are much improved. The people are pleased that the British, not the Americans, are there. They would like British administration throughout the country rather than just in Basra because they have more confidence in the British.

We have to rebuild the economy. The region is the cradle of civilisation. Iraqi civilisation is older than British civilisation. We need to bring security and prosperity back to that country.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence) 3:51 pm, 22nd October 2003

Ironically, the motion tabled by Her Majesty's Opposition is partly a result of the failure of Her Majesty's Opposition to scrutinise the situation before the attack on Iraq and subsequently. Even now, after all that we have heard and seen over the past few months, Mr. Ancram said that he still believed the war was right. With respect, a competent official Opposition could and should elicit answers to many of the questions posited for the tribunal.

I also take issue with the Foreign Secretary who referred to the high court of Parliament. That may or may not be true, but those are merely words because we are not able to see the Attorney-General's legal advice, which is crucial. It should have been made available to magistrates courts, let alone the high court of Parliament. I feel strongly about that. It made me a bit wobbly to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to Iran as the next contestant in this ghastly game.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on what he just said? Nothing that the Foreign Secretary said indicated that there was an intention to move towards Iran. Quite the opposite. The work that he has been doing in Iran in the past day underlines that.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has had a humour bypass. The Foreign Secretary mentioned it in passing. It was a slip of the tongue and meant to be taken in a flippant way.

Several hon. Members mentioned Lord Alexander's opinion. Whether one accepts it or not, he is a legal heavyweight. In his interesting article, he refers to every conceivable argument being deployed to justify the war. One month it was self-defence; a little later it had become humanitarian intervention; in the end, it was apparently to bring democracy and freedom to the people of Iraq. Yet none of those political arguments could be used to justify invasion under international law.

Article 51 is the important article on self-defence. It clearly states that there has to be an immediate specific threat to a specific country. That did not happen. The idea of a pre-emptive strike, which has been mentioned, is a grey area and does not have the force of international law. Nor should it, because it is often based on subjective material such as intelligence material and so on and may give carte blanche to rogue states that wish to attack others.

Turning to the resolutions that form part of this debate, my reading of resolution 678 is that it authorised force against Iraq specifically to eject it from Kuwait. Resolution 687 imposed on Iraq obligations to continue to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction to restore international peace and security. Speaking on behalf of my party, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National party, I, like many others, believe that resolution 1441 did not sanction belligerent action. Since the very beginning, we have consistently believed that there is no threat. Indeed, containment appeared to be working at the time.

Apart from Lord Alexander, several other people have declared that resolution 1441 did not provide a mandate for war. On 6 March 2003, a group of distinguished international lawyers sent a letter to the Prime Minister, which was published in The Guardian:

"There are currently no grounds for a claim to use such force in self-defence. The doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence against an attack that might arise at some hypothetical future time has no basis in international law. Neither security council resolution 1441 nor any prior resolution authorises the proposed use of force in the present circumstances."

The letter was signed by professors at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Paris as well as the London School of Economics.

I agree with many people that resolution 1441 did not authorise war. It stopped short of doing so, and that is acknowledged in the central role proposed for the United Nations. The US and the UK tacitly recognised that in their promotion of a second resolution in March. However, when they realised that they would not obtain a majority on the Security Council, in wild west fashion, they decided to ignore the United Nations altogether. Clare Short said on 1 June:

"I have concluded that the PM had decided to go to war in August and he duped us all along. He had decided for reasons that he alone knows to go to war over Iraq and to create this sense of urgency and drive it: the way the intelligence was spun was part of that drive . . . We were misled: I think we were deceived in the way it was done".

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said of the alleged sale of yellowcake by Niger:

"It turned out to be untrue; that happens a lot in the intelligence business".

The dossier said that aluminium tubes that Iraq had tried to buy could be used for nuclear weapons, but the US Energy and State Departments dismissed the claim. That very month, the US Defence Intelligence Agency concluded:

"There is no reasonable information on whether Iraq is producing or stockpiling chemical weapons."

As for the UN inspectors, former inspector Bernd Birkicht said that he believed that the CIA had made up intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to provide the legal basis for the war. He told The Guardian that supposedly top-secret, high-quality intelligence had led the inspectors into an absurd wild goose chase. He said:

"We received information about a site giving the exact geographical co-ordinates, and when we got there we found nothing. Nothing on the ground. Nothing under the ground. Just desert."

Mr. Birkicht said that the so-called decontamination trucks in satellite photographs were, in fact, fire engines.

The Government believe that resolutions 687, 678 and 1441 together authorised the use of force, but many of us continue to believe that that is wrong. I shall not labour the point, as I have made it repeatedly. Any reliance on resolution 678 was restricted to what was strictly necessary to enforce the disarmament provisions of resolutions 687 and 1441 with the objective of restoring international peace and security to the area. An assessment of the quality, reliability and strength of the evidence that was made available to the Government, and in particular to the Attorney-General, is therefore essential to establish whether there was any lawful basis for the invasion of Iraq on the Attorney-General's legal advice.

The current position is that there are occupying powers. Articles 43 and 64 of the Geneva convention are clear. Order must be maintained, life must be respected and the occupying powers are a policing power until their role is taken over by the United Nations. The regulations and the convention thus recognise that occupation may occur, and they recognise the right of an occupying power to make changes to existing institutions in the occupied territory. However, the right to make changes is not unconditional. In the main, it is available in order to allow the occupying power to uphold its duties under regulations and the convention in respect of the maintenance of public order and safety, orderly government and its own security. It follows that civilians are entitled to protection.

In a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend Adam Price, the Secretary of State for Defence stated on 7 October that the Government had no idea how many non-combatants in Iraq had been killed since the forces of occupation took over. That is unacceptable. It appears to fly in the face of the fourth Geneva convention. We must ensure that the people are properly respected and protected. Such a cavalier response is not good enough, and perpetuates the idea held by some people that a Muslim life is somehow worth less than a Christian or a western life. That is nonsense, but if we say in answer to a reasonable question that we have no idea how many have been killed, we give that impression. It is the wrong impression. None of us in the Chamber, no member of the Government and no sane person would adhere to the view that one life was worth less than another, but that is the impression that is given. That is part of the reason for the great vacuum between east and west.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction was a justification for the war. We were told that they were there, but they have not come to light, as we know. There are many questions that need to be answered. I support the idea of a judicial inquiry somewhat reluctantly, even though I am a practising barrister. It will take some time to set up and to publish its findings. However, I, like others, am impressed by the way that the Hutton inquiry was set up and is proceeding. That could well be a model.

It grieves me that the Foreign Secretary speaks of the high court of Parliament, yet we are not allowed to see the evidence. One wonders whether a Hutton-type inquiry would be able to do so. I still say that we are entitled to see the Attorney-General's full opinion and the factual basis upon which he received his instructions.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for an inquiry to be set up under the 1921 Act, there would have to be a resolution of both Houses of Parliament? Presumably, Labour Members who are not inclined to go down the route of judicial inquiry because they say they want to move forward would effectively be contradicting what they did when they voted against the war in the first place, when they decided to vote against the Government on a motion.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

That is one interpretation of the situation, and I can see the logic of the hon. Gentleman's contention.

Over the past nine months or so, I have had some pretty acrimonious exchanges with the Prime Minister over Iraq. I did so because I thought it was right; he did what he did because he thought it was right. I did not believe the war to be necessary, legal or moral. I am proud to proclaim on behalf of my party—Plaid Cymru—and the Scottish National party that we remain firmly of that opinion. If a judicial inquiry does not bring out the truth, the International Criminal Court might have to do it in future.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 4:04 pm, 22nd October 2003

I do not want to rehearse the substantive arguments about Iraq, on which we have already heard some important and, in some respects, devastating contributions, particularly from Mr. Clarke, who is no longer in his place. In a sense, he undercut the Opposition motion, because his analysis told us precisely what we wanted to know about why we had the war—in a nutshell, because the United States had decided upon a policy of regime change to which, for a variety of reasons, we attached ourselves. Everything else flowed from that. Indeed, some of us felt that the United Nations process had become a charade because the essential political, strategic decision had already been taken. We do not need an inquiry to tell us that. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith said, we need to reflect on what was done and what now flows from it.

I want merely to say a few words about inquiries and about Parliament in that context. This morning, I happened to receive a communication from the Marconi Corporation inviting me to read its brochure explaining the benefits to my constituents of broadband. That took me immediately back to 1912 and the Marconi scandal, which occurred when the Liberal Government of the day decided to set up a series of radio stations across the empire. Using the information that they acquired, certain Government Members, including the Attorney-General and the Chief Whip, started to buy Marconi shares, from which they made a vast amount of money. The Chief Whip also bought them on behalf of the Liberal party.

I raise that not only for the sordid reason that whenever the Liberals got near to power in the early part of the 20th century we had a series of scandals—whether to do with selling honours or sorting out contracts—but because the House decided as a result of the Marconi case to set up a Select Committee to inquire into what had happened. Of course, the Government ensured that they had a majority on that Committee, and when its report, which became known historically as the "whitewash report", came back to the House, Members divided on party lines. As a result, Parliament began to lose the ability to investigate issues of major public interest. Instead, as a consequence of a Member of Parliament making certain allegations about the behaviour of officials in the Ministry of Munitions, we passed the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, which is constantly referred to nowadays. At that significant moment, Parliament passed the responsibility for inquiries away from itself and over to judges.

Given what has happened since, we should ask ourselves whether we are content for that to be so, because it means that even in a case such this, which essentially turns on a political judgment, all we can say is, "Let's ask the judges to have a look at it."

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Surely the hon. Gentleman's analysis is not quite right. It appears clear to me that judges and inquiries have one sort of capability and function and the House of Commons another. We should not criticise or denigrate the powers of an inquiry when compared with those of the House simply because the House of Commons is not the same as an inquiry and the latter can find facts that the former cannot. If we acknowledge our separate functions, we shall better understand the basis of the debate.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

I acknowledge the separate functions, but I am arguing that an essentially political judgment was made to go to war, and that Parliament is therefore obliged to interrogate the political decision and not tell judges, "You investigate it." That is an abdication of responsibility. Either we are content with that or we are not.

We have reached the stage where, as politicians, we are always demanding inquiries. Indeed, when we cannot think of what else to say, we demand an inquiry. We probably do that daily in relation to one subject or another. It usually means that we do not have an opinion, cannot make one up or do not want to reveal it. Sometimes we ask for a debate. If we genuinely cannot make up our minds, we say that we will have a great national debate. That is part of our daily rhetoric. However, we must do better than that.

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

The hon. Gentleman may be in danger of missing a substantial point, and that surprises me. An inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 has the overriding quality that it can provide for taking evidence on oath. That is why such an inquiry is used infrequently and for important subjects. The hon. Gentleman has only to look at the contradictions that have emerged from the Hutton inquiry and at Ministers contradicting each other on the Floor of the House and arguing, to realise that evidence must be given on oath to get to the bottom of questions that other Committees have failed to resolve.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

The hon. Gentleman takes us to an interesting subject. The Opposition motion does not ask for an inquiry under the 1921 Act; it simply requests a judicial inquiry, which could be a Hutton-style inquiry. There is a paradox about such inquiries. Hutton has no formal powers, only the authority that he has demanded for himself. Yet the House of Commons is equipped with all the powers to send for persons and papers. It could do that if it wished. It is therefore absurd but revealing to ask for a Hutton—a judge with no formal powers—to do something that we, with our formal constitutional powers, appear unable to do. I am grateful to Mr. Cash for raising that point.

As has been said, it is difficult to take seriously the proposition of Conservative Members who resolutely refused to ask the sort of questions that needed to be put at the time and might have made some difference to the course of events, but decided afterwards that there were questions to ask. Of course, we know how that happens. We all play a game. Perhaps it is time to tell the public about it. We rally round, do nothing that gives comfort to our opponents and support our side. Only any notion of public interest loses out. When I consider the evidence of the Hutton inquiry, my question is, "Who spoke for the public interest during all these events?" It is hard to find the answer.

Like some other hon. Members, I was a Member of Parliament during the Scott inquiry in the 1990s. It was huge and lasted two or three years. Scott found, among other things, that Ministers had behaved in ways that they should not. That produced a motion of censure on the Floor of the House. What happened? With only two honourable exceptions, hon. Members voted strictly on party lines because we were playing the usual game. Who was speaking and voting for the public interest on that occasion? We are back to Marconi, and the result of that is the passing of investigative power from Parliament to the judges. Either we are content with that, or we do something about it.

There are major questions to be asked about Iraq, and of course there are grounds for having further reflective inquiries of the kind to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury referred. The Intelligence and Security Committee has raised a variety of questions that need to be explored. The Hutton inquiry itself will raise questions that will need to be explored. The Public Administration Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, has already said that it will be looking at some of the implications for the machinery of government of what Hutton says. So, although I say what I say about judicial inquiries, I think that the Government would be ill advised to say that no further inquiries of any kind are required.

The Public Administration Committee has said that it wants to hold an inquiry into inquiries. We have them, we demand them, but do we really know what we are doing? Why do we have inquiries? There is a range of reasons. What kind of inquiries do we have? Why do we choose one model rather than another? What do we then do, systematically, to ensure that we learn the lessons of those inquiries? We need to take inquiries seriously if we are demanding them all the time.

The Foreign Secretary was quite right to say that the decision to go to war in Iraq was essentially a political decision. It was a political decision that we, as politicians in Parliament, must now reflect upon, explore and take further. That cannot be done for us by judges. Judges can find out certain facts forensically, but we have to interrogate the big strategic political judgments, and there is nothing to stop Parliament doing that. We could set up an inquiry under the 1921 Act—it would require a resolution of both Houses—if we wanted to. We could set up a Select Committee to take further the inquiry into the events surrounding the Iraq war, if we wanted to. There is nothing to stop Select Committees taking on counsel if they feel that that would help them in their inquiries. We could insist on our rights—which we formally possess anyway—to send for persons and papers.

One of the great indictments of this place during the whole Iraq inquiry period has been the way in which the Select Committees have been shown to be so dependent on the Executive in relation to seeing material, calling witnesses and so on. But that is for us to put right. We do not require anyone else to do it. We do not require Governments or judges to do it for us. We can do it, if we want to. We are terribly good at saying what other people should do, but we are charged with exercising these powers. If we do not exercise them, the fault is ours, and nobody else's. From now on, whenever an issue arises, the cry will go up, "Send for Hutton!", but the more we say that, the more we acknowledge our own deficiencies here.

I have come to the conclusion that we have a choice, and it is a very important one. We must either equip ourselves to hold the sort of inquiries that need to be held, or abandon the field altogether and leave it to the Lord Huttons of this world. That is the decision before the House of Commons, and it turns on issues such as these. The Opposition have clearly decided on one option, which is to send for Lord Hutton, as it were. I would like the House to take the other option, which is to do in practice the things that in theory we are charged with doing. Let us try to find mechanisms that will keep the notion of the public interest alive, even as we play the party battle that we necessarily play. It is not enough to demand inquiries; we must put in place the machinery to get things done.

It was essential for the reputation of Parliament that we pressed against prerogative power to ensure that Parliament could vote before war was committed to, and it was good for Parliament that that happened. However, it is essential now to have the means at our disposal to investigate the background to the war, and to have the will to employ those means. Simply to ask for a judicial inquiry about an essentially political decision is not an assumption of parliamentary responsibility, but an abnegation of it.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden 4:20 pm, 22nd October 2003

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and other Conservative Front Benchers on bringing forward today's motion. In so doing, they are performing a valuable service. I also pay tribute to Tony Wright, who raised many salient points about the powers of the House. Personally, I would not mind if the objectives of the motion were achieved by a parliamentary Committee of similar power and authority to that invoked in the motion.

The reason why the Government reject the motion is clear—they are afraid of the outcome of any inquiry, and they probably have good reason to be. However, I submit that, in the long term, they might have more to fear from not having an inquiry and allowing the distrust that has been sown among the British people—by the failure to find the weapons that were held to be the cause and justification of war—to spread from the issue of Iraq to the whole range of their responsibilities, from the Government to politicians in general, and from politicians to the institutions of this country. That will be the consequence if we do not bring light to bear on the inquiry. Distrust is like dry rot: it continues to spread unless and until it is exposed to sunlight. Unless the light of inquiry is brought to bear on the issues underlying the debate, distrust will continue to spread.

I recall that Lenin once said that the key question in politics was "Who? Whom?". At first sight, the key issue here is who misled whom. Did Ministers mislead the public, or were Ministers themselves misled by erroneous intelligence? That is clearly one of the central issues that any inquiry would have to examine.

I suspect that the Government would like to cast off responsibility for the failure to find the weapons that they so confidently asserted were there and stress the misleading and erroneous intelligence. The Government are developing a doctrine of ministerial responsibility to the effect that if advice is wrong, the officials are to blame; if it works out all right, Ministers take the credit. However, the traditional doctrine of ministerial responsibility in this country is that Ministers are responsible full stop. They are responsible for the advice that they take. They are not passive recipients of advice because it is their job to probe, question and evaluate it, and then to bring it to the House and act on it. In doing that task, they should be aware of the bias that may be present—we all have biases and prejudices—and of the vested interests of the institutions and departments that may be advising them. Again, all institutions have vested interests and in-house views. The intelligence services are no different from others in that respect.

There is a sort of law to the effect that no institution whose original purpose declines in importance volunteers to fade away or diminish its responsibilities. Anyone briefed by the intelligence services, as I was as soon as I became a Minister—I imagine that it still goes on—will soon get a whiff of their inherent biases. The briefing took the form of, "Well, Minister, with the decline of communism, you have to be aware that the world has not become less risky, but more, as new threats have replaced old threats. The Soviets may no longer be threatening to bury us, but there are threats from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, instability and so forth." It was manifest that here was an organisation which, like all organisations, had to talk up the threats for which it had responsibility. I am not over-assessing, and nor am I suggesting that those threats do not exist. I do not suggest that officials ever falsify or distort the information and intelligence they give to Ministers, but it is ultimately for Ministers to evaluate those threats. They must probe and question, and see how well founded is any intelligence that they receive.

Could Ministers have known at the time from the intelligence that they received that the Iraqi Government probably did not possess any weapons of mass destruction? We know that Mr. Cook, the former Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House, reached that judgment on the intelligence that he received. I submit that not only could Ministers have reached that judgment, but the House—on the basis of the intelligence information that the Government put forward—could have reached a similar conclusion. An inquiry could examine that issue, but we should think about it carefully to see whether we fulfilled our role of scrutiny and holding to account.

Although institutions such as the intelligence services will lean towards not understating the risks and the threats that faced us in Iraq, we can be certain that they would not have told untruths. Officials love to tell the truth, but they do not have an obligation to tell the whole truth or to disabuse people of convenient misunderstandings. So what was important when reading the documents the Government published, including the summary of the UN briefing, was what people did not say. It struck me at the time that none of those documents included any claim that the Government, or any other Government, were in possession of current, direct intelligence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. That may surprise right hon. and hon. Members because the Government talked in those terms, but the documents did not make the claim—or anything that resembled such a claim—that they had intelligence direct from an agent or through wire tapping or any other means that showed first hand the continuing existence of such weapons.

Instead, the documents talked about "capabilities". On biological weapons, for example, the September dossier gave its conclusions in one succinct sentence. It said:

"The JIC concluded that Iraq had sufficient expertise, equipment and material to produce biological warfare agents within weeks using its legitimate bio-technology facilities."

I cannot recall anybody else—I certainly did not at the time—noticing the word "legitimate". The conclusion was that the Iraqis possessed legitimate equipment that would enable them to produce biochemical agents within weeks. I suspect that that is true of every OECD country in the world. On chemicals, the dossier said that

"the JIC assessed that Iraq retained some chemical warfare agents, precursors . . . These stocks would enable Iraq to produce significant quantities of mustard gas within weeks and of nerve agent within months."

Overall, the JIC concluded:

"These chemical and biological capabilities represented the most immediate threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."

So the most immediate threat was from something that would take weeks or months to manufacture.

The embarrassing conclusion is that Iraq probably did not possess currently usable weapons of mass destruction. That is why the Government made so much of the 45-minute claim. We know now, but did not know then, that that claim was inserted quite late into the dossier. It was inserted at four different points, and it distracted attention away from the fact that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and could not make them for weeks or months. It did that by implying that Iraq must have the weapons if it could deploy them in 45 minutes. In fact, deployment would have taken weeks or months, because that is how long it would have taken to make the weapons.

The House possessed information that made it clear that the Government did not have real evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Any suggestion otherwise was merely the result of inference and deduction. Why were hon. Members so poor at analysing the situation? The answer is that the Government were quite good at preventing us from examining complex material, and the House's procedures are bad at letting us examine such material. Often, we get such material after a statement about it has been made or, at best, coincidentally with such a statement. For example, the Foreign Secretary deployed Hans Blix's final report to allay the scepticism that was widespread in the House about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. He told the House that the report set out in

"173 pages of painstaking detail the terrible nature of the weapons that Saddam has sought with such determination to develop."

The Foreign Secretary urged us to read the document and promised to put copies in the Library. He gave one illustration of what it contained when he said that

"the inspectors found evidence of anthrax where Iraq had declared there was none."—[Hansard, 10 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 21.]

The clear impression was created that the UNMOVIC inspectors had found this evidence hot off the press. I went to the Library and found that there were no documents that we could take away. I had to raise a point of order before we could take a document away. I finally got one, and discovered that the reference was to traces of anthrax found in 1986 or before that date by the previous set of inspectors.

We were all led to believe that there was new evidence, when the truth was that old evidence was being recycled. We had neither the time nor the opportunity to examine it. Once again, the document contained no evidence as to the current intelligence or other information that the weapons existed.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I hate to disagree with my right hon. Friend, as I agree with him on so many other matters, but he seems to be saying that the House would have come to a different decision in respect of military action against Iraq if hon. Members had examined matters more carefully and had had access to more documents. I do not believe that that was the case. There was an overwhelming majority in the House for military action, and nothing that we could have been shown before 18 March would have changed that.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

In a sense, I agree with my hon. Friend. I must draw my remarks to a close, but the one conclusion to be drawn from the documents made available was that Saddam Hussein had the past form, the current intent and the future capability to use the weapons and destabilise his neighbours. I therefore voted—in the full supposition that there were no actual or current weapons of mass destruction—for pre-emptive military action to change the regime. That was the real reason for the war, but the Government could not admit as much because they could not risk alienating Labour Members.

Another reason for the Government's action was, I suspect, that they were bound by the advice of Law Officers. Such advice is always taken as binding, and it stated that a pre-emptive war to secure regime change was not legitimate. We need better ways to hold the Law Officers to account over their advice, because the law is highly subjective when it comes to matters of national defence. It is very unwise, therefore, to ask for advice which, once given, is taken as definitive and cannot be counteracted by the Government.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North 4:34 pm, 22nd October 2003

In my view, the establishment of a judicial inquiry would be an abrogation of our responsibilities. It is not the role of a judge to second-guess political judgments of this nature, and in that sense I agree with my hon. Friend Tony Wright.

Mr. Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, mentioned Franks, although he resiled from citing that inquiry as a model. Franks was not a judicial inquiry. It was not a public inquiry. It was set up to provide a narrative of what led up to the Falklands conflict.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

On that subject, in the context of this House abrogating its powers, if those powers were used as David Wright suggested, would not an essential concomitant of that be to have the Law Officers here and answerable on matters known to them, to give us their advice? The hon. and learned Gentleman is a former Law Officer.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

I do not agree. I will deal with that matter in a moment because I think the Law Officers' advice on the matter was clear. Also, the convention is that candour is encouraged by the confidentiality of the advice. There is also the problem we are getting into here the Law Officers are being blamed for judgments made by other Ministers. For that reason, I do not think that it will advance the argument in any way to have access to the Attorney-General's advice.

Franks was a specific inquiry, designed to answer two questions: could the conflict have been foreseen, to which the answer was no, and could the invasion have been prevented, to which the answer was also no. The Privy Councillors who made up that inquiry took issue with certain decisions that had been made, but on the whole approved of what the Government had done.

We were reminded this morning of what a judicial inquiry would involve. The Saville inquiry is just about to leave Central Methodist hall and go back to Londonderry—five years, 842 witnesses and £120 million later. Ultimately, it will cost £150 million and the lawyers have made £62 million out of it. The BSE inquiry received 12,000 items of correspondence, looked at 1,200 witness statements, heard 333 witnesses, cost £27 million and took three years. The Scott inquiry took three years to investigate Matrix Churchill.

I am not criticising the length of time taken by those inquiries as they were looking into complex matters, but let us consider what an inquiry of the nature proposed in this motion would involve. The House will appreciate that it is not a practical suggestion. On constitutional grounds, the idea would not attract support. It is dangerous for judges to get involved in high matters of state. Our system relies heavily on the mutual trust and respect between members of the Executive and judges. There has to be a comity between the two branches of government—a self-denying ordinance and self-restraint on both sides. If judges become involved in these high matters of state, that mutual trust and respect could well break down.

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

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that one feature of this whole saga was illustrated well when Clare Short made her resignation statement, in which it was crystal clear that she felt that she had been misled by the Prime Minister, and said so? To resolve those very questions it seems to me that relying on the vagaries of the parliamentary system is simply not sufficient. The fact is that we need a judicial inquiry on oath to get to the bottom of this matter—for example the differences between what Sir Kevin Tebbit and the Prime Minister said in respect of the Kelly inquiry.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

Whether my right hon. Friend Clare Short thought that she was misled is not a matter for a judicial inquiry; it is a political issue and it should be dealt with at a political level.

I do not want to say a great deal about the legal justification, but I utterly reject the attacks on the integrity of the Attorney-General or his office in this matter. As I said before, the advice given in answer to the question on 17 March is clear. The Attorney-General refers to resolution 1441, which stated that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations, that it had a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations and that serious consequences would follow if it did not do so. The preamble to 1441 refers to the ceasefire resolution—687—and to resolution 678, which authorised action against Iraq. The Attorney-General makes it plain in the advice that 678 was suspended but not terminated by 687, the ceasefire resolution. He goes on to say that if Iraq continues to be in material breach of 1441, the authority to take action under 678 is revived.

I concede that international lawyers dispute these issues, but in important legal matters there are always disputes between lawyers as to the right approach. However, the Attorney-General's approach is the better one. Critics such as Lord Alexander of Weedon ask how a resolution that is more than 10 years old can be revived. Unfortunately, Lord Alexander, in a long lecture, failed to address what happened between the passing of resolution 687 in 1981 and resolution 1441 in November 2002. He treats that period as a legal desert, but it was not. Depending on when one starts to count, there were 17 or 18 resolutions condemning Iraq. As early as August 1991, when Iraq was dragging its feet, resolution 707 stated that it was in breach of its disarmament obligations. Resolutions 1060, 1134 and 1205 all said that Iraq was in flagrant breach or violation of its obligations to disarm.

The second argument advanced by Lord Alexander—it was referred to by Mr. Llwyd—was that action must be grounded in the UN charter, which allows armed force only in self-defence or if there is specific authorisation from the Security Council, and that this was not a case of self-defence. That absolutist view was taken by the international lawyers who signed the letter to The Guardian, but it cannot account for a range of actions taken in the 50 or more years since the charter was agreed. It cannot justify the US blockade of Soviet missiles to Cuba in 1961. It cannot justify the Tanzanian ousting of Idi Amin from Uganda in 1979. It cannot justify the actions taken by the West African states in the Liberian civil war in 1990. It cannot justify the humanitarian intervention in Kosovo in 1998. It cannot justify what the Conservative Government did in 1991—which I supported—when they set up no-fly zones to protect the Kurds and the Shi'as in Iraq. That absolutist view of international law cannot accommodate those and many other actions. That view of the charter is frozen in time and I do not accept it.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

I am sorry but I must decline; I have already taken two interventions and a third will eat into my time.

Much has been made of the presence or absence of weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Kay's inquiry is still under way. However, to focus on the presence or absence of WMD is to misunderstand Iraq's obligations under international law. From the time of Security Council resolution 687 until resolution 1441, the obligation was that Iraq must demonstrate that it had disarmed. Whether Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction was not the major issue; it had to demonstrate that it did not have them.

The onus was on Iraq, as 1441 made clear. Of course, UNSCOM was obstructed and it left Iraq in 1998. Resolution 1441 gave the unanimous judgment of the international community that Iraq was in material breach; it had not disarmed. In fact, even after the conflict, in May 2003, in Security Council resolution 1483, the international community again reaffirms the importance of Iraq's disarming itself of weapons of mass destruction and confirming that to the international community.

Much has also been made of the September dossier. Mr. Campbell used the phrase he has used on a number of occasions about going to war on a false prospectus. Mr. Clarke got very heated about the issue. Mr. Lilley also majored on it.

However, in my view, this is a very Anglo-centric view of the world. It is also seeing the world through the eyes of hindsight. It is misconceived because it assumes that we became involved on that basis and that basis alone. As the Foreign Secretary asked, are we suggesting that when France signed up to 1441 it was using our dossier? Are we suggesting that Russia, China or Syria were using our dossier? Of course not. One only has to state the proposition to realise how ridiculous that notion is.

Apart from 1441—there has been some discussion about the factual basis of the Attorney-General's opinion—we had the Blix reports, which are available in Command Papers and on the UN website. I do not have time to go through them, but in the January report there was the famous phrase from Dr. Blix:

"Inspection is not a game of 'catch as catch can'".

He also spoke about co-operation involving substance as well as process. It was not enough to open doors. He said about the VX nerve agent:

"UNMOVIC however, has information that conflicts with this [the Iraqi account]."

He said about anthrax—this was a reference back to the history:

"There are strong indications that Iraq has produced more anthrax than it declared."

There was a February report, to which I shall not refer. In the March report, Dr. Blix again referred to 1441 and quoted the words about the requirement for

"immediate, unconditional and active cooperation".

He said that, yes, there might be now, after three or four months, active co-operation, but it

"cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance."

Details of the unresolved disarmament issues were attached to the report. Therefore, in my view, once we had 1441 and the Blix reports, the September dossier faded away. It was subsumed by the new evidence.

I want to speak briefly about what the Security Council has said about the post-war situation. I have mentioned resolution 1483 in May. There was then resolution 1500 and resolution 1511 last week. Resolution 1483 begins by recalling all the previous relevant resolutions: 1441 and the 17 resolutions including 678 and 687. These resolutions say two important things about the Saddam Hussein regime. First, they say clearly that the members of that regime must be made accountable for the crimes and atrocities committed while governing Iraq, that countries cannot provide them with a safe haven, and that countries must bring them to justice. Secondly, resolution 1511 condemns in the strongest possible terms—as terrorism and attacks on the Iraqi people, the international community and the UN—the various terrorist bombings which we know about so well. The international community is saying, in that unanimous resolution, that in carrying out those attacks the remnants of the previous regime are unequivocally in breach of international law and must be brought to justice.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:50 pm, 22nd October 2003

I played no speaking part in the debates leading up to the Iraq war—indeed, this is the first speech on foreign affairs that I have made for a very considerable number of years—so I owe it to the House at least to give some account of the thoughts that I suspect may have been going through the minds of many hon. Members leading up to that time and the balance of conflicting pressures that led us to the decisions that we individually took.

I should say at the outset that, along with my right hon. Friend Mr. Ancram and, of course, most Conservative Members, I voted for that war, and in no sense do I wish to resile from the decision that I took. I am glad that the war was brought to a broadly quick initial conclusion and that Saddam has gone, as I think we all are. I remain broadly optimistic that, although there are real, present difficulties, they can and will be overcome, with the good will of all interested parties in the international community and, of course, the United Nations, but aspects of the process, rather than the political conclusion, and the Government's conduct in bringing those decisions before the House worry me.

In rehearsing the different thoughts in my mind, I listed three aspects on both sides of the argument. The first aspect in a sense draws on my own experience as a Government Whip at the time of the first Gulf war. Perhaps what I learned from those days and still retain is a sense of how hon. Members, whatever their party affiliation, will stick to or break away from the establishment on what we might call a 50:50 ball, and one can form a fairly firm view of how people will react. I realise that I will probably go for the establishment if the issue is broadly not concluded otherwise.

The second aspect is that I understand, as many Conservative Members do instinctively, and appreciate that measures have to be taken from time to time that may be unpleasant or even distasteful—including, of course, the use of force—but that those measures may be, and occasionally must be, used in the interests of the state and its allies and those of the wider international community.

My third positive point is that I recognise the importance of our enduring alliance with the United States. I believe that it is a powerful influence for good in the world and that it is better to be broadly with it and influencing it than antagonistic to it. Alongside that, I wish to mention that, although the constitutional systems are clearly radically different, one of the interesting aspects of the United States is the way in which its people will rally behind its President on points of difficulty. There is a kind of compact that he, as the commander-in-chief and head of the executive branch, will rise above the party debate to discharge the national interest. That was very evident at the time, although there was not enough critical discussion internally about the motives that drove that country's decisions, but I pass from that at the moment and store it for later.

I come to the other three factors that I had in mind. First, I recognise—we all do; we need not go on about it—the real consequence of any decision to take military action: the loss of life not merely for British or indeed opposed service people, but, of course, the civilian population as well. We have to admit that that is a heavy price.

Secondly, I have a continuing suspicion of what used in the 19th century to be called forward policies for Government, particularly outside the traditional boundaries of British influence or interest, although, of course, Britain has been traditionally involved in Iraq. The fact that someone is behaving badly is not ipso facto a justification for intervention, although it may lead to conduct that does justify that intervention. However, we—I include the United States—need to understand that we cannot simply undertake to weed every garden in the world.

My third major reservation relates to the legal position. Not being a lawyer, I am perhaps unduly deferential to those great persons who give opinions on such matters. Again, I am jealous of the rights of sovereign states, and we must realise the consequences if we open ourselves to external scrutiny, which is often a matter of concern in relation, for example, to the European Union.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

I thought that my hon. Friend was being too self-effacing in saying that he was not a lawyer. Perhaps he will take it from me—I am a lawyer—that the great difference between the lawyer and the layman is that the lawyer knows the precise legal answer and the layman knows that it does not matter.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

That is a helpful insight. What I was going on to say was that good lawyers can always be found to argue on both sides of the case, and international law is a particularly opaque and controversial area. We know, of course, that the Attorney-General's powerful arguments were countered from the right as well as the left in this debate.

What we need to bear firmly in mind, especially when we are launching war across international frontiers, is that there must be the clearest possible case and justification for intervention. There must be some clear and present danger and the maximum prior effort to obtain or broker an agreement. I believed that that was the case, but some of the subsequent revelations have somewhat undermined my trust, especially in relation to the Government's over-justification for hostilities. I do not want to dwell on the much-rehearsed discussion of weapons of mass destruction, but I want to touch on two related issues.

The first issue is pre-emption. In principle, I do not like pre-emption. Appropriate deterrence is preferable to pre-emption, and pre-emption should not be used as the poor man's deterrence. In a world of rogue states and asymmetric warfare, however, I do not rule out the case for pre-emptive intervention. Clearly, it can be easier, and sometimes I suspect more principled, to stop something rather than let it run on to escalate, creating additional ill and oppression internally, raising the eventual costs of deterrence or even leading to the eventual failure of deterrence.

The burden of proof in this process, however, is higher than it would be for deterrence. An invading enemy, including Saddam in Kuwait in 1990, speaks for himself. The issue is patent and obvious—there has been an act of aggression. A potential invasion, however, is more difficult to identify and justify. As an example of pre-emption, a move on to Baghdad at the end of the first Gulf war might have been appropriate. Sadly, however, that did not happen. There must be a real and clear justification for pre-emptive action. We were told a great deal about Saddam Hussein, most of which sadly turned out to be true. His was a hateful regime, but hatefulness is not in itself a justification for intervention.

That leads me to the second issue on which I want to touch, which is trust in the Government.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

My hon. Friend has just said that hatefulness is not a cause to intervene. Is the killing of thousands of one's fellow citizens a reason to intervene?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

That is an interesting point. It is possible to justify the humanitarian case, and I was impressed by what Ann Clwyd said in the debates. We must think long and hard about such an intervention, however, before plunging into it.

What I wanted to concentrate on was the role of the Government, because that is the substance of our motion today. There is a necessary asymmetry of information between Government and Back Benchers and most Members of the House. Any support given by us, as it was in this case, arises from a readiness to believe what we have been told. Necessarily and properly, such material derives, through Government, from intelligence sources. Their findings need to be portrayed as fully, and certainly as fairly, as possible. Given that we are not all necessarily equipped with either the means or the time to carry out detailed pointillist scrutiny of, for example, Hans Blix's reports, we need to have a view from a Government who have clean hands. Once one starts publishing intelligence material, the danger is that it will be assumed to be authoritative. That inevitably takes the eye off the debate of all those but the experts. Inevitably, that raises the ante, and also requires a particularly high standard of proof.

To put it simply, if the Prime Minister metaphorically looks me or colleagues in the eye over a security-related matter, I am inclined in the first instance to believe him. If subsequent evidence suggests that, at the very least, there is some doubt about what I have been told by that Prime Minister, I am not likely to be as tractable on a future occasion.

I remember taking part in Prime Minister's questions when I said that, in the fraught circumstances a month before war, there was an absolute need for frankness and integrity. I asked the Prime Minister to issue a

"binding instruction that the spinning has to stop".—[Hansard, 12 February 2003; Vol. 399, c. 856.]

I fear that it has not stopped. We now know that the systematic changes in the dossier were all in one direction; they were not just drafting corrections one way or the other.

The Government now seek to shut down debate by precluding a judicial inquiry for reasons that I can only think are about their potential embarrassment. In the light of what we know now and the conflicting reports that we have received and that have been drawn out painstakingly—for example, in the Hutton evidence—we need to ask what we as a House can do to restore trust in Government. In my view, only a judicial inquiry that is independent of all influence and that is untrammelled can investigate and justify the actions that the Government then took. Only then can we reflect on the historic discharge of their trust and, perhaps more important, re-establish a basis for Government credibility in any future situation should it arise.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney 5:02 pm, 22nd October 2003

On 18 March, at the end of an historic debate in the Chamber, I voted for a motion that said that the case for war had not yet been made. I then voted against the motion to authorise war against Iraq. To vote that way, I resigned my humble position as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

It was not an easy decision. I had supported the Government on every single vote for which I was able to be present since I was elected in 1997. I believed then, and I still believe, that the Government have a great record, and I am still behind virtually all the policies that they have on other issues. We have a Prime Minister who has not only transformed the Labour party, but has renewed and refreshed the country. He shows a quality of leadership that is rarely seen.

It was not too difficult, however, to vote as I did. The case had not been made. To fire the first shot in a war—something this country has very rarely done in modern times—one must be absolutely sure. War must be a last resort. I am not a pacifist. I supported action in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, and I supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I also support the more general war on terrorism. War is justified if we or our allies are being attacked or are about to be attacked or if we need to act to prevent genocide or a military assault that would destabilise the world order.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

The hon. Gentleman was suggesting that military intervention would be justified in the case of genocide. Does he not think that this was a case of genocide?

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Genocide was taking place 12 years earlier when the hon. Gentleman's party was in power but did nothing about it. I cannot understand why the world suddenly decided 10 or 12 years later that it had to act on the grounds of preventing genocide.

I put it to the House that none of the criteria that I outlined applied to Iraq. I made a judgment not to support the war and because I believed that one cannot compromise one's views on war, I voted accordingly. I made my judgment and other hon. Members made theirs—most of us made solemn judgments. The whole argument about Iraq is based on the fact that we made different judgments. The argument is not about what was or was not written in dossiers and how they were prepared, about who said what to whom or about the intelligence itself, but about the judgments that were made from the intelligence and those made after taking account of overall circumstances. I recently met a moderate Republican member of the United States Intelligence Committee. His view was the same because he said that even in his country the judgment made from the intelligence, rather than the intelligence itself, was looking increasingly suspect.

I could not see the immediate threat from Iraq to ourselves, our allies or Iraq's neighbours. Saddam Hussein was pinned down by the no-fly-zone air patrols. The weapons inspectors were actively engaged in Iraq and making progress. Some 70 al-Samoud missiles had been chopped up in the three weeks before the war. It seemed well worth giving Dr. Blix longer because he had not yet come back to say that he thought he was wasting his time.

As I said, I support the general war on terrorism. I spoke strongly in the Chamber in favour of the shoulder-to-shoulder policy with the United States after 9/11. However, attacking Iraq did not follow on as a logical step in the war on terrorism—in fact, I thought that it was a diversion from the war on al-Qaeda. There was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11 or that he gave any significant support to al-Qaeda. Iraq was a secular state, whereas al-Qaeda is a fundamentalist terrorist organisation that wants to destroy our whole way of life and certain ways of life that exist in Iraq.

Of course, Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush have publicly stated that Saddam Hussein was not involved in 9/11, although they had allowed up to 70 per cent. of US citizens to believe that for many months. The British people did not believe that, because the myth that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 was not really pushed here. For all the reasons that I suggested, the British people were strongly against the war by a margin of two to one right up until it started, and there was so little international support for the war at the United Nations for the same reasons. It was not only the French with the aid of the Germans who did not support the war: there was no support from Russia and China, and not even Mexico or Chile supported the proposals.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Would it not be true to say that there was undoubted support in Iraq itself? Despite the terrorism and all the difficulties that have occurred since the overthrow of Saddam, evidence shows that the majority of people in Iraq are glad that one of the worst tyrannies of all has been overthrown.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I do not think that there is anyone in the House who is not glad that the tyranny no longer exists, but the question is whether it was right to deal with it in such a way at that time, which is what this debate is about.

My hon. Friend's intervention is relevant to the fact that the decision to rush into the war on Iraq had a negative consequence on the war on terrorism because the international coalition that had been so strong and widespread after 9/11 was seriously damaged. Before the war, we were getting co-operation in the war on terrorism from generally unreliable countries in the middle east, but such co-operation is less forthcoming now.

Months later, I am even more sure that I made the right judgment. No weapons of mass destruction were used by Saddam Hussein during the war. I cannot believe that he would have held back if he had them even in a half-usable form. I asked about that several times on my recent visit to the US. I asked the Pentagon and the State Department why Saddam did not use weapons of mass destruction. All I got in reply was, "That is a good question." I never got a proper answer. As we know, we have found no weapons. The only conclusion can be that there was no immediate threat to make the war necessary.

There was one possible justification at the time: the possibility of Iraq feeding weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda. It is odd, however, that that scenario was not argued strongly or specifically before the war. Was that because the chance of that happening would increase if Iraq was invaded? Could an invasion motivate it to get rid of them by giving them to someone else? Would the ensuing chaos provide it with the capacity for doing that? The argument that that might be a good reason for war fell apart after Saddam's statue was toppled. We were told that the reconstruction of Iraq was the top priority, not the finding of weapons of mass destruction. If the war was all about stopping those weapons falling into the hands of al-Qaeda, surely that had to be the top priority after the war because of the possibility of that happening in a power vacuum.

Months on, in the recent Kay report, it is clear that the weapons have not been found. Either they were never there or they have fallen into the hands of al-Qaeda, and I genuinely hope that they have not. We can now ask: is Dr. Kay's report the same report that Dr. Blix would have produced had he been given more time? Increasingly, that was the mood that I found in Washington and other places in the US, especially as the American people faced the $87 billion additional bill and 100 American troops killed since the statue was toppled. The Pentagon admitted that it had made the wrong planning assumptions on what might happen in the war. Moderate Republicans were prepared to describe as "naive" the judgment to go to war and the expectations that it would be over and cleared up quickly.

My central argument is that we are talking about different judgments. I think that the Government made a monumental error of judgment. Saddam has fallen, but so have many of our troops, many US troops and many thousands of Iraqi civilians. No amount of argument or judicial inquiry can bring those people back. We had a summer of judicial inquiry into the personal tragedy of Dr. Kelly's death, and Hutton revealed much about how this Government—and, I suggest, all Governments—work. Further judicial inquiry will get us nowhere. The debate centres on judgments made at the time. We should move on. We have a country to run. We need to reconstruct Iraq for the Iraqis to run. I think that the British people want us to move on. They are switched off by endless arguments about who said what to whom. People have formed their views about which judgment on the war they thought was right. No end of judicial inquiry will alter the individual views of citizens as to which course of action they thought correct.

Let us remember something else. The Conservative party made a judgment. Its Front-Bench spokesmen and most of its Back Benchers thought that war was right. In debate after debate and in Prime Minister's Question Time after Prime Minister's Question Time, the noises from the Conservative Benches were more pro-war than those from the Prime Minister. In fact, they frequently challenged his caution and egged him on to act without UN support, before any dossiers were produced. The Conservatives were as gung-ho and hawkish as the neo-conservatives in Washington.

The ultimate judgment—less of a judgment, perhaps, and more of an impulse—about going to war was made on a ranch in Crawford, Texas. We can only speculate why, but the decision was made to go for regime change pure and simple. Those were the words that were used—there was no regard for international law, United Nations weapons inspections or evidence about 9/11. Our Prime Minister, to his credit, tried hard to take George W. Bush down legitimate pathways, through the UN and so on, and tried to build an international consensus, travelling the world many times to do so. He got close to the President and got him to engage with the UN, but he paid a price—when George W. Bush decided that time was up, he had no choice but to go with him. All the arguments about intelligence and so on are therefore meaningless. The decision was about regime change, and we each have a view on what that meant and whether it was right.

Finally, I should like to go back to 18 March. It has been said that hon. Members were deceived, but I do not agree. Each hon. Member made a judgment and knew what was really going on. Many of us felt that we could not support the war. Some felt that it was the right move in the war on terrorism; some wanted Saddam to be removed to liberate the Iraqi people; some thought that the preservation of a North Atlantic alliance was paramount; some simply backed the Prime Minister out of loyalty, regardless of their views on Iraq. It was about making judgments. That is the nature of politics—we are here to make judgments, not to hand those judgments over to judges. I have said that the case for war was not made on 18 March. I do not think that the case for a judicial inquiry has been made this evening.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Liberal Democrat, Shrewsbury and Atcham 5:16 pm, 22nd October 2003

I am proud that the Liberal Democrats opposed the war on Iraq. There was a credible, peaceful and lawful alternative to war: pursuing the United Nations route to achieve more time for the inspectors to do their job of trying to ensure Iraq's compliance with the UN resolutions through disarmament of weapons that it was then believed to have. I do not want to rehearse the arguments for going to war. Weapons of mass destruction may well be found in future. There may be underground silos with vast arsenals of shiny missiles just waiting to be found but, strangely, after six months, an entire army of inspectors has so far failed to find anything.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Can the hon. Gentleman suggest a reasonable deadline for deciding whether or not there were weapons after all?

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Liberal Democrat, Shrewsbury and Atcham

It was not unreasonable for Dr. Hans Blix to say in his evidence in March 2003 that what was required was not years or weeks but months. We are now six months down the road. Dr. Hans Blix has as much expertise as anybody else to pontificate on how much time is required, but a line has to be drawn at some point. If those weapons are not found by then, it is highly unlikely that they ever will be, even if the search stretches years ahead.

Tonight's debate focuses on a judicial inquiry on Iraq, and what happened in the lead-up to war. I support that call, because we need to get to the bottom of whether intelligence was misused and whether Parliament was misled. If that is the case, war was clearly not a necessity and should not have been prosecuted. I believe that Parliament was misled in what was laid before it, and that the country was misled, particularly by the media, in what the Government said at the time. We should not overlook the fact that the resulting war took the lives of more than 370 United States and British armed service personnel. It has taken the lives of at least 7,000 Iraqi civilians, and injured and maimed possibly over 20,000 more. Ultimately, the events surrounding the build-up to the war and its aftermath took the life of Dr. David Kelly. We should never forget that human aspect. What the Government were telling the country and Parliament ultimately led to those deaths, which I believe were preventable.

What sort of Government do we want? We want an open, transparent and accountable Government who are perceived as such. The British people have clearly lost faith in the Prime Minister and in the Government because of the scandal, the sleaze and the spin that have been exposed through the Hutton inquiry. Tony Wright eloquently set out his concerns about inquiry-itis and argued that we should not have more and more inquiries. He suggested that Parliament could do the job as well as any judge. However, we have already had two inquiries, and the one by the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out the problems associated with such an inquiry. In the conclusions and recommendations in its July report, under point 15, it stated:

"We conclude that without access to the intelligence or to those who handled it, we cannot know if it was in any respect faulty or misinterpreted."

In point 29, the Committee went on to say:

"We conclude that continued refusal by Ministers to allow this committee access to intelligence papers and personnel, on this inquiry and more generally, is hampering it in the work which Parliament has asked it to carry out."

It is clear that Parliament cannot do the job. We need a judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of what has been going on.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman makes great play of the comments of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Does he accept that the Intelligence and Security Committee, which had access to the intelligence information, stated:

"we accept that there was convincing intelligence that Iraq had active chemical, biological and nuclear programmes and the capability to produce chemical and biological weapons"?

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Liberal Democrat, Shrewsbury and Atcham

The Minister has ably demonstrated the perceived weakness of the Government's position. That Committee meets in private. We want to get to the bottom of what has been going on in a clear and transparent manner that does not jeopardise national security but answers many of the questions arising from the two Committee inquiries. If it is true that Parliament has been misled, we cannot be satisfied with a Committee that sits in private being quoted to justify what has gone on.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

Is the hon. Gentleman impugning the honour of the hon. Members who sit on that Committee?

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Liberal Democrat, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I do not impugn the honour of the Prime Minister. I am setting out a series of questions and points to show that there are inconsistencies, that there appears to be a misunderstanding of intelligence, and that somebody is culpable. The question is who. Is it the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, or intelligence agencies that have misused the intelligence and raw data that they were given? Somebody somewhere has clearly made mistakes. That cannot be in dispute after what we have learned from the Hutton inquiry in particular, and we need to get to the bottom of it. If the House cannot do so, somebody else must.

There seem to be three main reasons why the Government said that they would go to war. The first was that there was a "current and serious threat" from weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, the United Nations resolutions, especially resolutions 678 and 687, had to be enforced to allow the UN inspectors unfettered access in Iraq. Thirdly, human rights abuses were going on in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Lest the Government try to argue that Iraq's contravention of the UN resolutions was the main reason for going to war, we should refer to the March 2003 document entitled "Iraq: Military Campaign Objectives". It said:

"The prime objective remains to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and their associated programmes and means of delivery, including prohibited ballistic missiles".

That was the Government's main reason for saying that the country had to go to war. Two weeks before the publication of the September dossier, the Prime Minister said:

"Let it be clear that he"— that is, Saddam Hussein—

"must be disarmed."

I remind hon. Members of the night of 18 March, when we all voted. Although I respect those who say that war was necessary, the motion before the House clearly stated:

"That this House . . . recognises . . . that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security".

It went on to authorise

"all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction".

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Falkirk East

Presumably, the hon. Gentleman had already reached a conclusion and voted against the war because he did not believe what he was told in the motion. Since, like me, he did not accept the Government's argument, why have a judicial inquiry?

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Liberal Democrat, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I do not think that many hon. Members would change their view, even with the benefit of hindsight, but that is not what this is about. The public need to be certain that they were not misled, that the facts were put before them as accurately as possible, and that no one in the Government actively tried to mislead them. We must give back to the public confidence in the way that Parliament works, particularly in relation to the intelligence services and how the intelligence was used.

In his winding-up speech on 18 March, the Foreign Secretary repeatedly said that disarmament by force was the only way forward and that active disarmament of the regime was required. Towards the end, minutes before the vote, he said:

"Saddam will not disarm peacefully."—[Hansard, 18 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 902.]

Anybody listening to that would have concluded that our prime motivation was to do what was required to end the regime.

Only eight of the 50 pages of the fateful September dossier are on human rights: its main thrust concerns weapons of mass destruction. As the Foreign Affairs Committee found, prominence was given to all sorts of claims that are now being discredited and backtracked. In the foreword, the Prime Minister writes:

"I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest . . . Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop WMD . . . What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons".

The policy seemed to be one of trying to frighten people. Although the Prime Minister may have genuinely believed those words, we have to ask on what intelligence they were based.

My right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Campbell asked whether that same intelligence was given to the Attorney-General in order to try to justify the legality of war. If so, given that it was clearly flawed, the House deserves to know what the Attorney-General said. In the light of subsequent events, he may have reflected on it and come up with a different viewpoint.

The executive summary of the September dossier stated:

"As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has: continued to produce chemical and biological agents".

It goes on to consider the command and control arrangements for the use of chemical and biological weapons. Page 6 discusses the development of missiles

"capable of reaching UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus".

The dossier was explicit about the genuine belief, based on intelligence—or so we were told—in a threat to the United Kingdom national interest. Hindsight tells us that that was patently not the case.

The September dossier made four mentions of the 45-minute claim. They were clearly based on a single source, yet they were given great and unjustified prominence. The same applies to the chemical and biological weaponry that was supposedly available to Saddam Hussein. The dossier gave numerous examples of Iraq having

"useable chemical and biological weapons capability . . . Iraq can deliver chemical and biological agents . . . and ballistic missiles".

The Foreign Secretary described the discredited February dossier as "a complete Horlicks" but the Prime Minister said that it provided further intelligence. There are genuine questions to be asked about how the intelligence was captured and whether it was misused and misunderstood, thereby misleading Parliament.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North 5:31 pm, 22nd October 2003

I did not originally intend to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was intrigued by the way in which the debate developed. I now have an opportunity to explain why many Labour Members are both "Labour against the war" and "Labour against the Conservative motion".

I agreed with the views that Mr. Clarke articulated. I know that a significant number of other members of the Conservative party share his view and have expressed it consistently in the past 12 months. I hold them in high regard, but it is opportunistic of Conservative Front Benchers to table a motion such as this.

The preparation of such motions is always weird and wonderful and I appreciate that advisers usually have some say in the matter. I do not know whether the Conservative party continues to have advisers but if so, they probably told the Leader of the Opposition that it would be wise to steer clear of health, in which the Labour Government had brought about substantial improvements that were felt by the people, and of education, because the public know that Conservative proposals would lead to a reduction in standards throughout the country. I believe that the wise men in the Corridors behind the Chamber decided, "You should have a crack at Iraq, because the Government are having difficulties with that."

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

We are enjoying the hon. Gentleman's robust style and delicious line in fantasy. I had no part in formulating the motion and speak from the Back Benches on this occasion. Will he answer a question to which the Foreign Secretary declined to reply? Does he believe that any questions remain outstanding from the process that has taken place? If so, in what forum should they properly be resolved?

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne North

I am pleased that I gave way because the hon. Gentleman has identified several key matters, with which I shall try to deal. If he will forgive me, I shall not do so immediately.

I am not, thankfully, a lawyer, although members of the legal profession have made some interesting, high-quality contributions today. However, as I understand it, the case for a judicial inquiry is that the public deserve and need to know something that they are not being told. I believe that, in a democracy, that is absolutely the case. Three or four months ago, I supported the case for an inquiry—judicial or otherwise, but at a high level—into the position of my Government in relation to Iraq. I opposed the war, and I still oppose it. I think that it was the wrong thing to do and history will demonstrate that that is the case. Increasingly, the first few months of history are demonstrating that. At the heart of the issue of whether to hold an inquiry is the question of whether the public have a right to know. As I said, I supported the case for an inquiry three or four months ago, but I do not think that it is the best way forward now.

There is undoubtedly ambiguity involved in this issue. As someone who opposed the war, I always believed that we had to give the Government many months to demonstrate that there were weapons of mass destruction, because that was the Government's principal reason for going to war and for advising the House to support them. I believed that it would be reasonable to give the Government 12 months or so. That argument was completely cut away when Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary, said in April or May, "I'm sorry, but we did not expect to find any weapons of mass destruction." If he could say that then, surely he had not changed his mind from two months earlier, when the American Secretary of State was leading discussions at the United Nations. That raised the question of why the Americans went to war, and why we did so. The Hutton inquiry was then set up. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith said, we have learned a lot from the Hutton inquiry, some of it not very favourable, about the way in which government is conducted in this country. However, that is a secondary issue.

Two significant points arise from what we know of the Hutton evidence so far that create further ambiguity about why we went to war. First, Jonathan Powell, the chief of staff in the Prime Minister's office, said in an e-mail that he sent seven days before the Prime Minister spoke to the House on the issue that he was not convinced that there was evidence in the dossier that led to the conclusion that the country should go to war or that the Government should seek Parliament's support for that. So far as I am aware, we do not know what the consequences of that memo were. We do not know where it went, or who commented on it, but we do know that the Government had that information before their decision was reached.

A second piece of information came from John Scarlett. In his evidence, he said that the information on weapons of mass destruction related to battlefield weapons rather than to weapons driven by longer-range missiles. If hon. Members recall, we all believed at the time that, if there was a threat from weapons of mass destruction, we should be worried about Cyprus and other British interests in the middle east. The question of battlefield weapons was quite different.

We have heard from our legal friends that, if we were to establish a judicial inquiry today, it would be impossible for it to be a short, sharp inquiry, which might have been possible if we had set one up in June or July. However, now that Hutton has taken nearly six months, I do not think that this bigger question could be dealt with, or a final report produced, in anything less than a year or two—perhaps three. That does not satisfy my criteria regarding the British people needing to know, because they would not know until the other side of the general election. They have a right to know before the general election that the Labour Government acted straight and had the right evidence, which they believed to be accurate—whether it was accurate or not is another matter—and which led to the decision to go to war.

A second reason why I do not think that a judicial inquiry is the right way forward is that any evidence given to such an inquiry is going to be superseded by events in the United States. If hon. Members recall, the original debate in the United States was very low key. The public there were typical of a mid-western public, saying, "We've got to get these guys, they're terrorists, they're people we don't know, and they cause trouble in their own country. We've got to take them out." That was the view that prevailed in the United States about 12 months ago, and that was the political background against which the United States Administration made their decision. Then they were faced with the difficulties at the United Nations, when we persuaded them to go along the United Nations route. Of course, they then recognised some of the points that had been made before, perhaps by the Secretary of State and others in the Administration.

They recognised that, if they were to convince the international community, they needed much more specific evidence. They also recognised that their best ally, the United Kingdom, would have great difficulty at home and with Parliament if the only reason for going to war was getting rid of Saddam Hussein rather than coping with an immediate threat to British interests or those of Britain's friends. The Americans then began to say—they had found their reason—that it was all about weapons of mass destruction. However, that was killed by Rumsfeld—and by Wolfowitz in the same week—when he more or less admitted that that was not the reason why the Americans went to war.

From about June to September there was some hiatus in the US, but congressional committees have quietly begun investigations into all these matters. With the body bags coming home almost daily, American public opinion is beginning to focus much more closely on why their country went to war and why American soldiers are being killed in Iraq. The Democratic nomination process has further developed that trend. All the candidates are rightly being asked their views about the war and what they believe should be done in Iraq now. They are being interrogated in that way, and the results are very interesting.

General Wesley Clark was, until recently, Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO. I know that he has access to every piece of relevant intelligence that the British and American defence departments have. He has that knowledge. He has retired and is now a candidate for the Democratic nomination. About 12 days ago, he said on American television during a public debate in Phoenix, Arizona that he did not believe that there was a case for war, and that he would not have gone to war. That raises a huge question. If one of the principal generals in the US army, who had access to so much intelligence, believed that there was no case for war, how did the politicians in the Pentagon or the State Department come to believe that there was such a case, and how did politicians in the House here come to believe it? The momentum of that development will supersede events over the next few months.

What should the British Government do? Initially, it would have been wise—I supported an inquiry, judicial or otherwise, back in June—for them to build trust with the public and give all the evidence to an inquiry, which could then exonerate them. However, that is no longer a feasible option: it would take too long and be superseded by events. I believe that the British Government should now "come clean", in the words of the tabloids.

The Government should tell us more about their information on what the weapons were, where they were based, where they were targeted and what threat they constituted. If they can tell us that, it will clear the way for rebuilding trust. The public need to know what happened; we can then concentrate our energies on reconstructing Iraq.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 5:43 pm, 22nd October 2003

I have been Upstairs in Committee so I have not been able to gather the full thread of the debate. I had to leave at about 4.30 pm. I certainly respect and understand the views of Mr. Henderson, who has been consistent on the whole question of military activities in Iraq. He reflects the political and public disquiet about the current state of affairs in Iraq.

It may not be original but it is true to say that we won the war with impressive efficiency and speed and with minimal loss of allied lives. We are now trying to establish the new Iraq and to maintain law and order there. The picture is not clear, certainly not here in London. I gained a much clearer picture when I was in Iraq last June.

One thing that I have learned from the debate is that there is a degree of confusion among our constituents—and, indeed, some hon. Members—about what we can do and what we ought to do. I was especially impressed by the speeches by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and Mr. Campbell, both of whom—from marginally different perspectives—admirably and clearly expressed some interesting points of view.

I want an inquiry to be set up, not necessarily to deal with what is happening in Iraq now, but to establish why we are there and why we went there in the first place. It is said that Parliament should do that job and it is right that Parliament should hold the Executive to account, but we are not equipped to perform the work of an inquiry, which is essentially to find facts, not to make political judgments. Legal textbooks say:

"The task of a tribunal of inquiry is to investigate certain allegations or events with a view to producing an authoritative account of the facts, attributing responsibility or blame where it is necessary to do so. Tribunals of inquiry do not make decisions as to what action should be taken in the light of their findings of fact, but they may make recommendations for each action."

That is true, and it describes the difference between a political body such as this and a dispassionate, fact-finding body such as an inquiry under the chairmanship of a judge.

It is essential that the Opposition, who have tabled the motion, should provide the House with the terms of reference of any inquiry that we wish to see set up. My attention has been drawn to the wording of motion 23 on page 3003 of the Order Book, which sets out—as it does every week—the Opposition's view of what the tribunal should do once it has been established. Hon. Members can read it for themselves, but I suggest that the terms of reference should be along these lines: "to review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged, and to establish the circumstances in which, during the period leading up to the commencement of hostilities against Iraq by the United Kingdom in March 2003, taking account of all such factors in previous years as are relevant, the Government recommended to the House of Commons that such action was warranted, and to report." Others will have better ideas, but that—for what it is worth—is what I think an inquiry, headed by a judge or some other independent chairman, should be required to look into.

At the moment we are exchanging opinions, more or less informed by our views about the wisdom and legality, or otherwise, of going to war, but we have few facts on which to stick those judgments. We are, of course, free to have opinions, but they would be more valuable if they were based on some agreed facts. Unless we have an inquiry, I suspect that the facts will be difficult to find.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman have any idea of the time scale for an inquiry? When would his inquiry report?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Well, it should not start until Lord Hutton's inquiry has been completed and it should accept or adopt the findings of that inquiry as its own findings, rather than reinvestigate the facts involved. If the inquiry can be concluded speedily, it is right that it should be done speedily. The Opposition motion refers to six months, but that is probably a counsel of perfection. It would probably take something like 12 months, but it should not take the same time as the Saville inquiry, which has been going on for about five years. The issues that would be discussed and discovered by a judicial inquiry into the Iraq war would not involve individuals in quite the same way as those in the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday incident.

I do not pretend that the Government are itching to hold an inquiry. Of course they are not: they think that it would be a waste of time, and that it is time to move on. They consider that investigating the matter would be politically embarrassing, and would provide their critics with further opportunities to revisit what has been an unfortunate summer, which has been marked by the appearance before the Hutton inquiry of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence, and other persons of whose existence we were previously unaware. Those people have been under the public gaze and have suffered the indignity of being examined and cross-examined.

However, the Government should not be too shy about holding an inquiry. Although it could be politically embarrassing for them, it might be just as embarrassing for the Opposition. I voted in favour of the Government motion in March, when we debated the question of going to war. It may be suggested that Opposition Members have much to answer for, given their enthusiastic support—and I hold up my hand in this respect—of the military invasion of Iraq. The political outcome could therefore have two sides, and the Government should not be frightened of an inquiry. They should exhibit the self-confidence obvious in a Government prepared to be examined by an inquiry. I suggest that allowing an inquiry to be held would demonstrate strength rather than weakness on the part of the Government. I invite the Government to adopt that course.

It might be best to hold an inquiry under the 1921 Act. I did not hear his speech, but I am sure that Ross Cranston, a former Solicitor-General, will have detailed the powers available under that legislation, so I shall not rehearse them. However, that is not the only option. If we are not to have an inquiry under the 1921 Act, why not have one held by a committee of Privy Councillors? It could be chaired by a senior judge from the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords, as those judges are members of the Privy Council. If that were not acceptable, it could be chaired by an eminent Member of the House of Lords who is no longer actively engaged in party politics but who has Government—and preferably Cabinet-level—experience in the Home Office, the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence. Such a person would also have experience of working with the intelligence services. The inquiry could sit in private, if it was thought that national security would be put at risk by public hearings.

As I said in response to the intervention by Mr. Dalyell, an inquiry need not take an excessive amount of time. Other inquiries—into all sorts of things, not necessarily matters of foreign and defence policy like this—have been able to get to grips with the relevant issues and to find out where the facts are. That allows politicians, journalists and the public at large to comment on those facts. I cannot believe that the Government have anything to fear from an inquiry, if they have confidence in the policy that they advocated in the period leading up to the war.

As I said at the outset, I draw a distinction between post-conflict Iraq and pre-conflict Iraq. I want the House to give the Government permission to hold an inquiry, so that the facts on which the Government recommended that we went to war can be found.

I appreciate that the Attorney-General will be shy about giving the public sight of his advice, although I accept the point made by Mr. Campbell that he has rather broken convention by giving us a summary—or a little view—of what he said. However, if we cannot see the Attorney-General's advice, surely we are entitled to see the factual basis or instructions given to him by the Government and on which he was asked to advise. The Government claim that those facts provided them with a legitimate reason for going to war. It is the Attorney-General's opinion based on those facts and the Prime Minister's word that I accepted when I voted for the war in the early part of this year. If the Prime Minister is as good as his word, he should be prepared to have it examined dispassionately by a non-political tribunal so that, whether or not we agree with the decision that he took, in a year's time we will be able to say that we at least know the facts upon which he based his decision to invite us to vote for war.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford 5:55 pm, 22nd October 2003

We had no call for a judicial inquiry when troops went into Kosovo, Afghanistan or Sierra Leone. Why, then, is this inquiry needed for Iraq? The Franks inquiry has been quoted as a precedent, but why should a precedent from 20 years ago guide us?

The circumstances of the Falklands war were very different from the invasion of Iraq. That war came out of the blue after substantial errors were made in appreciating the situation. The survey ship Discovery had been withdrawn at a crucial time when tension was building. The ambassador's warning that Argentina was mobilising for war had been ignored. We gave many signs that if Argentina pressed its case by military action, we would not resist. As a result, when Argentina invaded the Falklands, the whole team of Foreign Office Ministers led by Lord Carrington felt that they had to resign.

The Franks inquiry was essentially into that failure of policy. There is no parallel with Iraq, where the crisis had been in gestation for 12 years and the case had been fully debated in the House of Commons and the United Nations. To treat the Falklands crisis as a precedent for what should happen over Iraq would be entirely false.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Surely the difference between the Falklands and Iraq was that in the case of the former Ministers resigned for underestimating the threat, whereas on this occasion Ministers have refused to accept responsibility for overestimating the threat—the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

With the Falklands, Ministers encouraged the threat by withdrawing ships and not sending any cruisers to sea to persuade the Argentines that we were serious.

The case for an inquiry may be to establish the facts that led to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Or it may be an investigation of the decisions based on the evidence available. Those two are quite different. I want to explore both of those potential justifications for the proposed judicial inquiry.

The media have made much of the intelligence dossier published in September 2002 as though it and it alone was the trigger for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. It was a presentation of the intelligence information that was available to the Government at that time. As with all such intelligence reports, it was incomplete and no doubt partly inaccurate, but it never pretended to be more than an appreciation of the situation derived from raw intelligence, which had been assessed by the procedure long established for that purpose. Under that procedure, the Joint Intelligence Committee was responsible for the final professional evaluation before the case was presented to the Government.This House's own all-party Intelligence and Security Committee has examined the way the dossier was compiled and, essentially, approved it as a reasonable interpretation of the available intelligence.

If anyone still believes the BBC's discreditable and preposterous assertion that the Government, to stir up war fever, invented and inserted the claim that Iraq would be ready to deliver chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, I remind them that the inquiry by Lord Hutton has covered that point in some depth. People have heard the evidence, and Lord Hutton will deliver his conclusions shortly. There can be no grounds there for adding another inquiry to the Hutton inquiry.

The media, for their own purposes, gave overwhelming emphasis to that September dossier as the basis for the invasion of Iraq. I did not vote on that basis in this House and I know no one, whichever way they voted, who was solely or mainly influenced by that dossier. The case presented to the House by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in 12 statements and five full debates was deeper and more comprehensive than was provided in the dossier.

Let us discard what was not said in those debates and statements, although some commentators have enriched their indignation by their creative recall. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary claimed that the threat from Iraq was imminent, still less did they use the American phraseology of the threat from Iraq being a "clear and present danger". What they did say was that the containment of the Iraq regime through sanctions was failing and that Saddam Hussein was determined to acquire an armoury of biological and chemical weapons and the capability to produce them. Moreover, following the 11 September 2001 outrage in New York, and given Saddam's past record, my right hon. Friends said that there was a danger of that capability being used to arm terrorist organisations—not just al-Qaeda, which was, I agree, the most remote possibility, but Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and others yet unknown—which could pose a threat to north American and western European cities.

The case for believing that Saddam Hussein still had those weapons was that he had them before the first Gulf war. Iraq still had the weapons and the scientific expertise. If not, why did Saddam Hussein refuse to co-operate with the United Nations inspectors and to give them free range, as he had agreed in the 1991 ceasefire? Why did he put his country through 12 years of UN sanctions, bringing suffering, destitution and death to the Iraqi people, when co-operation with the UN inspectors and evidence of the destruction of the biological and chemical weapons would have lifted those sanctions?

Throughout the 1990s, culminating in resolution 1441 last November, why did the UN Security Council unanimously recognise that Iraq had biological and chemical weapons that were a threat to world peace? Why did it demand that Iraq disarm? Are we to suppose that all those nations, which voted 17 times in the UN Security Council to demand co-operation on disarmament, were the hapless puppets of right-wing American zealots?

Some might argue that the implication was only that there was a technological capability, not necessarily the intention to use such weapons. However, the evidence of a policy of aggression and expansion is shown by the invasion of Iran, when more than 1 million people were killed. It can be seen in the invasion of Kuwait, a sovereign country that could never be a threat to Iraq. We do not need to infer likely intentions. The evidence of psychopathic ruthlessness was shown by the gassing of the people of Halabja and by the brutal treatment of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. It was seen when 300,000 men, women and children were executed by the regime for political reasons.

Those are the facts. We no more need a judicial inquiry to establish them than we needed such an inquiry into Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland, Czechoslovakia and Poland to understand the case for war in 1939. The Government faced those inalienable facts and recognised the possible consequences of indefinite inaction. The first question to arise was, "If not now, when?" If the time was not ripe to deal with Saddam Hussein, when would it have been right?

Undoubtedly, if matters had drifted, with sanctions weakening and Saddam Hussein triumphant in his defiance, he would have been a threat to stability in the middle east. The United Nations would have lost its credibility to handle such crises in the future and it would have sunk into impotence, as the League of Nations did before it.

The second consequence of inaction was the increasing risk to the United Kingdom of chemical, biological and possibly radiological weapons falling into terrorist hands. The threat is all too real, as intelligence services have warned. It is the threat of an anthrax or radiological weapon exploding in London, Washington, Paris or Berlin and—quite apart from the casualties—making a major part of the city a no-go area for decades. After 11 September 2001, do not let anyone pretend that such a scenario can be discounted.

The third possible consequence of inaction for the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union is the risk of America defending national interests with no allies and ultimately reverting to a fortress America strategy. We are not talking about Britain as America's poodle here. I believe Britain and the rest of the European Union have a vital strategic interest in maintaining the strength of the Atlantic alliance.

It was those major consequences for this country, not the minutiae of an intelligence dossier or the bruised egos of those compiling it, that the Government had to consider and judge in deciding to join in the invasion of Iraq. It is the intention of the Opposition motion, it seems, that a judicial inquiry be held to second-guess the strategic judgment of a democratically elected Government. The House was involved in the decision to an unprecedented extent and voted to join the invasion of Iraq. Are we to have the constitutional innovation of decisions made by Government and Parliament being subjected to a judicial review? We are elected to the House as representatives of our constituents, with a duty to exercise our judgment on their behalf. Executive decisions are devolved to Government, from whence comes their democratic authority.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Would the hon. Gentleman allow me?

Photo of Mr Nigel Beard Mr Nigel Beard Labour, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I really do not have time.

There could be no legitimacy in a judicial review attempting to overturn or question the decisions of a democratically elected Parliament and Government. The sovereignty of Parliament, derived by great sacrifice over centuries, is at issue in this resolution.

That great champion of representative democracy, Edmund Burke, set out the principle 230 years ago when he told his constituents that a Member of the House should not sacrifice his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment or his enlightened conscience to any man or set of men living. Today the members of his party are willing to sacrifice those principles of representative democracy as they thrash around, desperately and cynically, in search of political advantage. That is the true meaning of the motion.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:07 pm, 22nd October 2003

I very much enjoyed the speech I just heard, not least because Mr. Beard put an excellent neo-Conservative case for the action that was taken in Iraq. Sadly, he has been a lone voice in much of the debate, certainly in terms of Back-Bench contributions, because we have largely heard from people who opposed the war and voted against it, whose opinions are well known and who have expressed those opinions again today.

It is worth reminding the House that on 18 March the House voted by a huge majority to go to war. As I said in an intervention on my right hon. Friend Mr. Lilley, I do not believe that the result of that vote would have been substantially different if we had known then what we know now. It is also worth stating in the House that the decision taken that day was right, and that those who supported it should not be defensive about the way they voted.

Moreover, those who supported the decision should not feel defensive about saying that those who opposed the war in that vote were wrong. They were wrong when they prophesied a long and bloody war of attrition. They were wrong when they prophesied a mass slaughter in Baghdad. They were wrong when they forecast a humanitarian catastrophe, which never arose. They were wrong when they predicted an exodus of millions of refugees, which did not happen. Indeed, they are wrong now when they say that post-war Iraq is a disaster and that the world is a more dangerous place because we have got rid of Saddam Hussein. We who supported military action should have the confidence to take on and demolish the arguments that we successfully took on and demolished in March.

The first argument that is made is that post-war Iraq is a mess, that our forces are unwelcome and that, in the words of that infamous BBC report, ordinary Iraqis are somehow now worse off than they were under the Saddam regime. Well, I prefer the words I read recently from an Iraqi university lecturer, who lives above a bakery in Baghdad where political prisoners used to be burned alive. He says:

"I feel as if I have been born again. Iraq was a prison above ground and a mass grave beneath it."

Indeed, when an opinion poll—itself a sign of political freedom in Iraq—was held last month, 62 per cent. of Iraqis thought that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was worth the suffering and 67 per cent. thought that their lives would be better five years from now.

We are right to be optimistic and those Iraqis are right to think that their lives will be better five years from now because thousands of new businesses are opening in Iraq, the markets are bustling and food prices are lower than under the Hussein regime. There is a new currency and a new banking system. Employment is up and real salaries, both private and public sector, are up. Some 1,500 schools have been refurbished and 5 million textbooks are being printed by UNESCO. Finally, it is worth pointing out that 22 million vaccinations have been given to Iraqi children in the past couple of months. So education, commerce and prosperity are returning to a region that was the birthplace of education, prosperity and commerce.

Perhaps even more importantly, for the first time Iraqis now have a say in their country's future. Torture and imprisonment have been replaced by 200 new newspapers and 70 political parties. The Iraqi governing council brings together for the first time Shi'ites, Sunnis, Kurds, Christians and Turkomens in a range of representative opinion that is unrivalled in the Arab world. Of course, they face massive challenges, not least that of security—we all feel for members of that council who have been killed or intimidated—but let us not detract from the enormous achievements.

Those achievements have been noted by the Iraq Foundation—a totally non-partisan organisation. It reports:

"Self-government, long advocated for Iraq, appears to be working well when put into practice."

I very much welcome the UN resolution, not least because it sets out a clear timetable for moving towards greater self-government in Iraq. Surely in the House of all places, we should celebrate that fact and value the democratic freedom that we are starting to bring to Iraq, rather than unquestioningly assuming that everything in Iraq is a mess.

The second argument that is used against those of us who supported the war is that, somehow, military action in Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place by encouraging the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, as rogue states seek immunity from unilateral American action. That argument is put most persuasively by my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie, but I am afraid he is wrong. Indeed, current events prove that he is wrong.

What is happening in this post-Iraq-war world? For a start, Iran has this week agreed to sign up to tougher UN inspections of its nuclear facilities, to suspend the enrichment of uranium and to declare that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons. That does not sound like a rogue state seeking nuclear weapons to protect itself against unilateral military action. Similarly, North Korea is apparently now seeking some form of security pledge from the United States in return for ceasing its nuclear programme. Who can seriously think that any middle east state would now consider starting a chemical or biological weapons programme? It is early days, but the Iraq war seems to be achieving one of its explicit objectives: to send a message to rogue states that the civilised world is not prepared to allow proliferation and the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The third argument used against those of us who supported the war is that the presence of American and British troops in the middle east is somehow radicalising Islamic opinion. This is not the time to start a lengthy discussion of what we can do about radical Islamic opinion, but I would just say that the biggest challenge to Islamic terrorists would be an Arab state that was free, prosperous, plural and fairly governed, because the likes of al-Qaeda rely on autocratic, economically stagnant and backward regimes that provide them with a ready supply of frustrated, angry, radicalised young men and women. I am optimistic that Iraq can become a progressive Arab state that can provide young people in its society with real economic and political opportunities and diminish the lure of fundamentalism. Indeed, only by creating a plural, progressive and economically dynamic Arab world will we deal with the root causes of Islamic terrorism.

The final argument used against us is that the action by the US and UK Governments in Iraq dangerously undermined the international institutions on which our collective security depends. Of course, it is a great shame that the United Nations felt unable to support the second resolution. The world would be a much better place and it would have been far preferable if the United Nations had supported that second resolution. It is refreshing, however, that so soon after many people said that that was the death of the UN, it has come together and unanimously supported another resolution, and is re-engaging with what is happening in Iraq.

It is also heartening that, around the world, NATO—one of the mistakes of the US and British Administrations was that they neglected NATO to a degree—is now taking over operations in Afghanistan, and Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation is calling this week for increased measures to stop the spread of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Those international institutions are vital in demonstrating the collective opinion of the civilised world. It suits the United States' broader interests to support those institutions. After all, NATO, the UN and the World Trade Organisation are the post-war creation of American Administrations. Perhaps belatedly, the United States is coming to understand what the dean of the Harvard school of government, Dr. Nye, has called the soft power of the United States, which comes from its values, cultures and economic prosperity, as well as its undoubted hard power—its military might. It is welcome that a Republican Administration has increased US foreign aid by 50 per cent. this year—a sign that it understands the value of its soft power.

Contrary to the opinion expressed by many people today, post-war Iraq is a place of optimism, a place where self-rule is a real prospect and where we are starting to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons in other rogue states. It is an example of where we are providing a challenge to Islamic fundamentalism. In short, we were right on 18 March to support the action in Iraq—I am proud to have taken part in that Division—and we are right now to insist that we finish the job.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Secretary of State 6:17 pm, 22nd October 2003

I am glad to follow the robust speech that we have just heard with regard to the question of whether we made the right decision at the time of the vote on the war. I want to make it clear from the outset that our call for a judicial inquiry, and the comments that I will make with respect to the Attorney-General's role and the legal advice, is without prejudice to the fact that we in no way resile from our support for the war for the right reasons.

It does not follow that the reasons that were given by the Government are necessarily the reasons that we had. Perhaps the Government have been somewhat presumptuous in making that assumption. The reality, however, is that the motion demands a judicial inquiry. What I find astonishing, having observed Labour Back Benchers' manoeuvrings this evening and this afternoon, is that they all seem to have had one main gear—move forward. They are determined to make it clear that they do not want a judicial inquiry, although 130 of them, if I have my figures more or less right, felt that it was a matter of such important principle that they rebelled against their own Government. Because of the idea of moving forward, despite the many unresolved questions, including serious constitutional and legal questions, and the consequences flowing from that, they have gone into a collective funk.

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

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that those of us who opposed the war do not wish to move forward just for the sake of it but disagree fundamentally, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith said, that a judicial review would be beneficial at this stage and would achieve anything more than further nit-picking. The fundamental issues of why we opposed the war still stand, and we should raise them. There have been plenty of arguments this afternoon from both the Labour Benches and the Opposition Benches that clearly state why we should not have gone to war, but those cases have been made forcefully in the House, which is the proper place for that to happen.

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

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have enormous respect for him. We worked together on a number of things in the past and the not-so-distant past, and I can only say that I simply do not buy his argument. We have heard accusations of opportunism and the word "meretricious" has been used about our motion. I shall explain why it is important to have a judicial inquiry and I shall also consider the role of the Attorney-General.

As my right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary said, problems arise largely because there is still a residual problem of confusion and suspicion. There has been a constant stream of serious and damaging charges both during and after the conduct of the war, and they have been damaging to the United Kingdom. Let us leave aside party politics, because the reality is that a stream of charges that must be properly answered has undoubtedly damaged the national interest.

The reasons for a judicial inquiry are quite simple and they are set out in the motion before the House and in the other motion that has been permanently on the Order Paper. They simply come down to the fact that there have been an enormous number of contradictions and misleading statements. We even have a situation in which very senior Cabinet Ministers—members of the War Cabinet, a point that has not been brought out today—have accused one another of contradictions and misleading statements.

I have an article that was written by the entirely absent former Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short. She has not even attended the debate despite the extent to which she was intimately involved in all these matters. The article appeared in the New Statesman on 9 June 2003 under the headline "How the Prime Minister deceived us". The right hon. Lady says:

"Yet the drums of war beat louder. There was mounting worry in Whitehall about the legality of war. We had no advice from the Attorney General. Officials had informed me that Foreign Office lawyers had disagreed about the legality and that, as became public, one had resigned."

The fact is that the right hon. Lady ultimately accepted the advice of the Attorney-General, and I want to put it on the record that I too agree with what he said in his opinion. It is ably reinforced by an extremely good article today by Professor Greenwood, who set outs with the benefit of hindsight, as well as the law and the facts as they have developed, that the war was legitimate and legal at that time and remains so. I do not need to go into the arguments; they are there for people to read.

When the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood resigned, she said in her letter to the Prime Minister:

"I am afraid that the assurances you gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached."

There are therefore two separate questions with which there are serious problems.

The first is the issue of the facts in relation to the September dossier and the question of whether the instructions to the Attorney-General were based on absolutely accurate information and therefore whether he was in possession of all the facts. The other question relates to the former Secretary of State for International Development and refers to the aftermath and the occupation of Iraq. As far as I can remember, that point has not really been raised today, but it was the subject of the right hon. Lady's resignation letter and the article in which she said that the Prime Minister had deceived her.

I would have thought that those questions create serious problems for Parliament, let alone for the Government. They raise matters of considerable importance. It is quite clear that we shall not get at the truth when there are such contradictions in the accounts of senior Ministers who were in the know. They were in the War Cabinet, so there must be a way of elevating the argument to an arena in which the truth may be established.

Many proper tributes have been paid to the Hutton inquiry, from which an enormous amount of extremely important information has come. It has been said that although we do not know the inquiry's results, the Government had the confidence to set it up. That was the right thing to do—they were doing the right thing for the right reason. However, in practice, they have given no indication that they would be prepared for the two issues on which the Attorney-General's advice was requested to be examined properly. I admit that the matter was considered by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is not a Select Committee because it was set up under the Intelligence Services Act 1994. However, both Committees' procedures have inherent difficulties. I shall not criticise members of the Committees and I do not have time to analyse the composition, power and procedures of the Committees. However, the Committees do not lend themselves to dealing with the serious problems that lie at the heart of the questions that the House is considering.

Some people seem to have forgotten the extraordinary fact that although Mr. Cook, who is not in the Chamber, resigned over the war to the applause of Back Benchers, he made an unequivocal statement on the no-fly zone on 18 December 1998. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website carried an interview with the right hon. Gentleman—the then Foreign Secretary—who said:

"we are absolutely clear that we have thorough clear backing in UN resolutions . . . Last February Saddam was warned in the Security Council resolution that there would be the severest consequences"— note those words—

"if he broke his undertakings."

It is astonishing that the then Foreign Secretary could take that view, presumably on the basis of advice from the Foreign Office and, almost certainly, the Attorney-General, yet consider it necessary to resign a few years later. I do not criticise him for taking a decision on a point of principle, but there is no doubt that his position on legal advice in 1998 does not fit easily with his decision to resign.

I want to talk about the Attorney-General and the question of confidentiality. Over and over again, Ministers have refused to give the legal basis for the Government's decisions. I am pleased to recall that the Government made available a summary of the Attorney-General's opinion, and I was somewhat responsible for that because I tabled a question to the Prime Minister on Friday 14 March. The question was as follows:

"To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the legal basis for military intervention against Iraq."

The answer said:

"There is a longstanding convention, followed by successive Governments and reflected in the ministerial code, that legal advice to the Government remains confidential. This enables Government to obtain frank and full legal advice in confidence, as everyone else can."—[Hansard, 14 March 2003; Vol. 401, c. 482W.]

It is clear that the Government intended to give the impression that the information was going to be full and frank, but it would have been far better if they had provided the House with the full opinion. Even now, that full opinion should be made available to us and the public at large.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Is he aware that the ministerial code allows the Government to use their discretion to provide the document in full? That would not breach the code and it is imperative that it is done.

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

I was coming to that. I am not going to criticise the Attorney-General. Once he formed his opinion, no doubt in good faith, based on the facts provided, the responsibility—this is where it becomes uncomfortable for the Government—fell to Ministers, in particular the Prime Minister. Let us bear it in mind that the former Secretary of State for International Development said that the Prime Minister deceived her on one opinion, so she resigned.

"Erskine May", our bible on such matters, says:

"The opinions of the law officers of the Crown, being confidential, are not usually laid before Parliament, cited in debate or provided in evidence before a Select Committee, and their production has frequently been refused; but if a Minister deems it expedient that such opinions should be made known for the information of the House, he is entitled to cite them in debate."

That is by no means as unusual as is sometimes thought. There is ample precedent, especially in the context of the Attorney-General's interpretation of international law and the production of his full and whole opinion on matters of similar importance. For example, during the 1970s the Law Officers' legal opinion on the effect of the Simonstown agreement relating to the sale of arms to South Africa was published, as was the opinion on European matters and the Customs (Import Deposits) Act 1968. Those instances have been overtaken, however, by a greater and greater determination by Government, especially this Government, not to release information in the public interest that would enable the House and the public to be fully satisfied.

The precedents go back as far as 1865. Lord Palmerston, then Prime Minister, said:

"I do not apprehend that there is anything contrary to the Rules of the House in reading or quoting any opinion of the Law Officers. It is a question of discretion on the part of the government, not one bearing on the Orders of the House. There may be occasions when they may be properly read. As a general rule, no doubt, they are not laid before Parliament, and for this reason, not because it would be against an Order of the House, but because the Law Officers would be more cautious in expressing an opinion if they knew that it was to be laid before Parliament and the public."

I was told, however, that the Government were not going to publish on the grounds that they wanted the opinion to be frank and full.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

How does the hon. Gentleman square his concerns about the legal basis for war with the position adopted by his Front-Bench spokesmen in the months leading up to it? They wanted Parliament to support the President of the United States in a war against Iraq whatever the UN said and before any dossiers or legal opinions were put in the public domain.

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

I have made it clear that I do not dispute the legal basis as such; I am talking about the process. The key question is the breach of the resolutions. The weapons of mass destruction issue and the dossier are important, but the constant breaches of the resolutions are vital. The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Livingston resigned over that matter, and gave similar reasons in December 1998 for the basis on which it was right and legal to take action on the no-fly zone.

Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

By far the most helpful precedent for the Opposition is the fact that when the opinion of Sir Patrick Hastings, the Attorney-General, on the Zinoviev letter was made public, it brought down the first Labour Government.

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

Absolutely. That was in 1924, and the Ramsay MacDonald Government fell because the Cabinet effectively pressurised the Attorney-General into giving advice that altered the basis of his previous advice.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

The Attorney-General's opinion may be eminent and may be one with which we agree. That does not matter: what is important is its factual basis. Surely, that is what we want to know. It may be nice to ask for the Attorney-General's opinion but, frankly, we are not going to get it, so why do we not concentrate on trying to get the facts?

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

That is exactly what I said. My hon. and learned Friend may not have heard me correctly, as I said that the instructions and the facts on which the Attorney-General, no doubt in good faith, arrived at his conclusion were the key issue. We cannot simply dismiss his opinion as though it does not matter, because it does. However, the basis of that opinion is crucial.

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

I do not want my hon. Friend to retrace his argument, because he has demonstrated exhaustively that the Government have complete discretion about whether to waive their privilege and publish the opinion or keep it confidential, but does he not agree that the real choice is whether to disclose the opinion in full or say that it is confidential and not disclose it? On this occasion, we have the worst of all worlds—a selective, edited version of the opinion has been produced, and requests for the opinion, because it has been cited, to be put before the House in its entirety have been refused.

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

As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, that is exactly what I have been saying. It is extremely important that the full opinion be made available, and there is ample opportunity under the rules and conventions of the House for that to take place. Indeed, I would go further—the responsibility for deciding whether or not the opinion should be made available in full is the Prime Minister's. The Government do not want to reveal it in full because there is something in the instructions, the dossier or whatever that would show that the Attorney-General was relying on facts that may not have been what other people were told. The fact that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood accused the Prime Minister of deceiving her and Parliament in an article is evidence of the problems that the Government would face if the whole thing were revealed.

As regards the time scale of a judicial inquiry, many matters have already been investigated, but a number of residual questions remain. There is no reason why such an inquiry should take an undue length of time. Analogies have been made with the Bloody Sunday inquiry, its costs and time scale, but there is no reason why an inquiry on Iraq should not be completed in a relatively short period. We have suggested six months, but it may take a little longer. This is an important matter, about which Labour Members felt so strongly that they rebelled against their own Government. However, when it comes to the question of whether or not it is legitimate to investigate the process and the facts behind the events leading up to war, in one speech after another they funked the opportunity to demand an inquiry, simply saying that they want to move on. That is a massive collective funk on the part of Labour Members. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply. The bottom line is that the Government are condemned by the attitude of their own Back Benchers.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office 6:40 pm, 22nd October 2003

We have had an instructive and worthwhile debate, but I am not sure that anyone in the House or outside has changed their view in the course of it. I am grateful to Mr. Cash, who summed up for the Opposition, for giving us an advance taste of the legal clarity that would be brought to these matters if we had an independent judicial inquiry. That is meant light-heartedly, but there is a serious point behind it.

If the Opposition were genuine in the position that they took in March this year when they supported the case for military action, and if they truly want to focus on rebuilding Iraq, I do not understand why the motion was tabled. I shall start by explaining why there is no case for a judicial inquiry. I shall then move on to the real issue—what we are doing to help develop a stable, prosperous and democratic future for Iraq and all its people, which should properly be the priority and the responsibility of the House and the Government.

The Opposition say that we need a judicial inquiry, yet the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee have already undertaken substantive and detailed investigations. Both inquiries, on a cross-party basis, concluded that the claims that were made in the Government's September dossier were well founded on the basis of the intelligence that was then available. Crucially, given that this is the key accusation that has been made against the Government, they concluded that the Government did not, in the current terminology, sex up the dossiers. In light of those conclusions, the Opposition are struggling to make a case for an independent inquiry.

The question whether we were right to take military action involved, for me, a balance of political judgments—weighing up the pros and cons. I acknowledge that it was the most difficult political decision to which I have ever been party. But it was a political decision, which was rightly taken by the Government and endorsed by a vote in the House.

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

Those of us who opposed the war respect those who had to make such difficult decisions. It was a political decision based on a wide range of facts. We have heard the arguments rehearsed once again today. I do not think that anyone has changed their mind. I do not suggest that the Tories tabled the motion just to cause some distraction on a difficult day for them. We made a decision based on hundreds of factors before us, and we have all come to different conclusions. We as parliamentarians should rehearse those arguments time and again as to why we opposed the war, not leave it to judges and, with all due respect, to the lawyers who dominated the Benches this afternoon.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

My hon. Friend and I took a different view on the case for military action. Even though we disagreed, I respected the decision that he took. He is right. He has been consistent in his arguments, in stark contrast to some of those on the Opposition Benches. He was right to say that the decision was a political judgment, not a decision for a judge to make at the time, and it should not be a decision for a judge to approve or disapprove in retrospect. The place for such debates and arguments is the House of Commons.

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

Does the Minister agree that there remain very serious differences between Cabinet Ministers and ex-Cabinet Ministers, and that these matters are therefore of such great importance that evidence should be taken on oath?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

We would be on a slippery slope if we were to say that there is a case for a judicial inquiry every time a Cabinet Minister disagreed with the Prime Minister and resigned from the Government. When Lord Heseltine left Lady Thatcher's Cabinet, having decided that he could not serve in that Government with honour, Conservative Members did not call for an independent judicial inquiry, nor should they on this occasion.

Let me deal with some of the points that hon. Members raised. The hon. Member for Stone made great play of the fact that the Attorney-General's advice has not been published. As he knows, there is a long-standing convention that such advice is not put in the public domain. However, on 17 March, the Attorney-General gave a reply to a parliamentary question that clearly set out the legal basis for taking the decision to commit to military action and go to war, so the hon. Gentleman's argument is somewhat lacking in that respect.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

The Government made a strong case for not having a judicial inquiry on an essentially political judgment, but why did they go further than that in their amendment by saying that they are against any kind of inquiry? That presumably includes an inquiry by this House, yet we shall no doubt want to inquire into matters such as the Intelligence and Security Committee's view that there was a lack of balance and qualification in the intelligence assessments and questions raised about the machinery of government by the Hutton inquiry.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The Foreign Secretary has given me his permission to say that the amendment is infelicitous. We shall make a judgment about that at a later stage. The key point is that we have already agreed to two inquiries that were independent of Government and produced substantive conclusions. [Interruption.] If hon. Members are questioning the integrity and veracity of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which looked at the raw intelligence and concluded that the Government did not mislead the House and the country, they will find that argument difficult to uphold.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The Minister said that in answer to a parliamentary question the Attorney-General published part of his legal advice. I entirely accept that Iraq was in breach of the revived ceasefire resolution and resolution 1441, but I have never understood whether it is part of the legal argument that one or two members of the Security Council can take it upon themselves to use military force to enforce a resolution without explicit authority from the Security Council. Can the Minister clarify that?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

In terms of resolution 1441, there was clearly no requirement to go back to the Security Council for further authorisation before undertaking military action. Some nations attempted to insert such a requirement during its drafting, but that was not agreed to. On that basis, there was a 15:0 vote in favour of 1441. With respect, that demolishes the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Although I disagreed with some of what Mr. Campbell said in support of a public inquiry, he made a telling point when he underlined the disingenuousness of Conservative Members in calling for an independent judicial inquiry. He quoted the emphatic arguments cited by the Leader of the Opposition in an article published in The Times well before publication of the September 2002 dossier. If Conservative Members were convinced of the arguments prior to the publication of the dossier, they cannot claim that they were misled by it and should not call for an independent inquiry.

My right hon. Friend Mrs. Liddell presented powerful arguments against premature judgments on the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction. She also tellingly said that, even now, there were no answers to Hans Blix's 167-page report, which contained key questions to the Iraqi regime about their whereabouts. That argument was fundamentally right.

My hon. Friend Mr. Pollard took a different position from mine, but he has a respectable stance on the issue. Indeed, he travelled widely in Iraq before the conflict. He underlined the sincerity of the Prime Minister and the Government in reaching their conclusions even when he took a different view. I agree that we need to look forwards, not backwards at this stage. I was struck by comments from my hon. Friend's contacts in Basra that the position has improved greatly since the military conflict.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

That is not the impression that much of our media give, and the debate is therefore especially important.

I welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend Tony Wright, who underlined his view that disagreements on the matter are essentially political and that resolving them is fundamentally a matter for Parliament, not judges. I agree that referring every disagreement of this nature to the judiciary is an abdication of parliamentary responsibility. I believe that that view is increasingly widely shared by Labour Members.

It is important to look forwards.

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

The Minister argues that the House made a political decision, that we should move on and that holding a judicial inquiry every time such a situation arises would be pointless. However, two Cabinet Ministers resigned and one of them made it clear that she believed that the House had been misled about the origins of a war. Many people continue to assert that. It continues to be relevant because in looking forwards, one has to consider not only the important position in Iraq but the way in which policy will evolve towards Syria, Iran and the road map. We are not considering an ordinary political decision; it continues to be relevant both to whether the House was misled on the basis of our alliance with America and to future middle eastern policy. [Interruption]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. Many conversations are taking place in the Chamber.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Although I have always had the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend Clare Short, the former Secretary of State for International Development, I believe that her judgment was fundamentally wrong on the issue that we are considering.

It is important to focus on the successes that we have already experienced in reconstructing Iraq and to be candid about the challenges and problems, especially given the difficult security situation that we continue to face. Significant progress has been made in the six months since the cessation of hostilities. We have an Iraqi governing council, which has established, for the first time in a generation, a governing structure that is truly representative of the Iraqi population. Twenty-five Ministers intervene on a daily and weekly basis in the key political and economic decisions that are of interest to the Iraqi people.

Recently, we rightly argued strongly for the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1511. Many people believed that such a resolution would not be possible, yet owing to our efforts and those of others it was a significant and major achievement that strengthens the coalition, the United Nations and international support for Iraq. Crucially, it also enables a timetable for elections to be set in 10 weeks.

Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East and Musselburgh

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the real world in Iraq, as he rightly described it, it is disturbing that the United States military do not even attempt to record the number of Iraqis that they have killed since the end of major combat operations? Is that not another reason why the sooner coalition forces are replaced by a United Nations force, with troops from other nations, the better?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I have not heard information to that effect and it must be substantiated if we are to respond to it.

The resolution that was passed in New York last week ensures a strengthened United Nations role in the partnership with the Iraqis and the coalition in underpinning the political process for a constitution and elections. It also gives UN authorisation to the multinational force that is helping to secure Iraq, which is a high priority for us. Security remains our No. 1 priority, and we are working hard to enable the Iraqis to play a greater role in assuring the security of their country. The recent injection of an additional 1,200 UK troops will provide significant support in tackling terrorism, but it is also critical that we build up the civilian support within the police force, so that the Iraqis can police their own people with consent. Nearly all Iraq's 400 courts are now functioning, and for the first time in more than a generation, the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent. That should be a cause for celebration in the House and across the world.

We are backing up our political support with significant financial support. The Secretary of State for International Development recently announced the £544 million that the Government have committed over three years from April 2003. I hope that, at the Madrid donors conference this week, similar contributions will be forthcoming from across the board.

There are difficulties in the security situation, but there has also been a great improvement in the delivery of essential services. Nearly 240 hospitals in Iraq are now open and functioning, and 1,500 schools have been rehabilitated. With the help of UNICEF, more than 22 million doses of vaccine have been provided, and health expenditure is now significantly higher than it was under Saddam's regime.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Does the Minister realise that millions of people in this country are disillusioned because they were told that we went to war to remove weapons of mass destruction, none of which have been found? They will not believe that he can get through a debate today without addressing that question and explaining how it came about.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

First, that is not the issue that has been put down in the Conservatives' motion. Secondly, we went to war because resolution 1441 gave Saddam a last chance to comply with the united will of the international community and he did not do so. Thirdly, it is premature, to say the least, to make judgments about the existence of weapons of mass destruction just five short months after the end of the conflict. Look at the experience in post-conflict situations elsewhere in the world, where it has taken much longer than that.

Despite the fact that we are making progress, we are having real difficulty in getting that message across. I am therefore grateful to Jon Snow and "Channel 4 News" for their very objective reports from Iraq this week on the real situation on the ground—[Interruption.]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I must ask once again for quiet in the Chamber while the Minister is replying to the debate.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Jon Snow, in one of his reports this week, said:

"Despite the daily assaults, the US-led Administration here is making headway on a number of fronts . . . It's a risky thing to report, but things in Baghdad seem to be getting better. The streets hum with activity. Fewer power cuts, and sidewalk cafes coming back to life."

It is worth underlining those facts, because that message is not getting across. Whatever view any of us took on this issue, it is important that we report the facts. It is also the case that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support the actions that we have taken.

I believe that we were right to take military action in Iraq. Nevertheless, I respect those, many of whom are in my party, who took a different view. What I do not and cannot respect is a Conservative Front-Bench team who supported military action on principle but who now seek to cut and run for what they perceive to be short-term, narrow, party political gain. I urge the House to reject the Opposition motion.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 303.

Division number 335 Iraq — Set up of judicial inquiry — rejected

A majority of MPs voted against a comprehensive independent judicial inquiry into the Iraq war.

Aye: 190 MPs

No: 303 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 162 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order 31 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 293, Noes 141.

Division number 336 Iraq — Judicial Inquiry — Not necessary

A majority of MPs voted against a further inquiry into the war in Iraq.

Aye: 292 MPs

No: 180 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Absent: 182 MPs

Abstained: 1 MP

Absents: A-Z by last name

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Madam Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House 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.