I inform the House that there is an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That makes it clear that a large number of hon. Members want to speak in the debate. It will not be appreciated for them to come down to find out where they are on the list, by either myself or the Deputy Speakers.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Paul Clark.]
This is a debate on the Hutton report, but I know that the House will want to range wider than the report itself. I intend to cover four issues: the report itself and its findings; the inquiry into the issue of intelligence announced yesterday; the threat of weapons of mass destruction more generally; and the current situation in Iraq. I shall try to take as many interventions as possible, to allow questions on those issues.
The Hutton report did not, of course, consider whether the intelligence that the Government received prior to the war in Iraq was right, but it did examine exhaustively and in painstaking detail two issues: whether Downing street or the Government acted improperly in respect of the September 2002 dossier, and in particular whether the BBC story in respect of it was correct; and whether I or anyone else acted duplicitously or in an underhand manner in respect of the naming of Dr. Kelly.
The Hutton report found conclusively that on both counts the answer was no. It did find that the Ministry of Defence was at fault in not telling Dr. Kelly clearly and immediately that his name would be confirmed if a journalist suggested it. Again, as I said last week, we accept those findings, and I am sure that the whole House would want to join me in paying tribute to the dignity with which Mrs. Kelly and her family have conducted themselves during this extremely difficult period.
The report itself—clear, forensic and utterly comprehensive in its analysis of the evidence—is the best defence to the charges of Government whitewash, often from the same people who just over a week ago were describing Lord Hutton as a model of impartiality, wisdom and insight. I simply make two points to those who cannot accept that Lord Hutton could acquit the Government of dishonesty. On the principal point, Lord Hutton confirmed the conclusion that the Intelligence and Security Committee had found before him, and the Foreign Affairs Committee before it, and the Government published responses to their reports yesterday. It would have been impossible from the evidence, frankly, to find otherwise.
I read that there are some who still say that the broadcast by Mr. Gilligan was 90 per cent. right. Actually, it was 100 per cent. wrong. The claim by Mr. Gilligan was that, a) the intelligence about Saddam using some weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to do so was inserted into the dossier not by the Joint Intelligence Committee, as I told Parliament, but by Downing street; b) that this was done against the express wishes of the intelligence community; c) that it was done by Downing street,
"probably knowing that it was wrong"; and, furthermore, d) that the source of this unprecedented charge was
"a senior official in charge of drawing up the dossier".
In fact, every single one of those claims was wrong—not a little wrong, 100 per cent. wrong. The reason why Lord Hutton found as much was that not a single shred of evidence was presented to his inquiry that would have justified an alternative finding. The same is true for the Intelligence and Security Committee and for the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Everything that was relevant to the inquiry was made available to Lord Hutton, and I understand that he has already indicated that he believes he has all the relevant material. I do not believe that there is anything that we concealed from that inquiry. Indeed, I do not think that there has ever been a case in which a Government have disclosed so much information in such a way.
The Prime Minister has had some notice of this question, because I asked it two minutes before Lord Hutton began the presentation of his report a week ago. The evidence before Lord Hutton includes a copy of an e-mail about the dossier from the Prime Minister's chief of staff, which asks:
"what will be the headline in the Standard on day of publication? What do we want it to be?"
The headline turned out to be, "45 Minutes From Attack". Does the Prime Minister agree that that headline was wholly misleading? Why did not the Government take steps to make it clear that it was misleading?
In the famous
"I am in no doubt that the threat is serious, and current; that he has made progress on WMD, and that he has to be stopped."
In light of the inquiry that the Prime Minister has announced, when did he cease to believe that Saddam Hussein had WMD?
Again, I answered questions on that point at the Liaison Committee yesterday. As I said in my statement to the House last September, I could not say that the threat would materialise that day, the next day, the next week or even the next year, but I could say that to allow Saddam Hussein to continue developing programmes for weapons of mass destruction was a serious threat to the world. What I said yesterday, and I shall come to this point later in my speech, is that we obviously have to take account of what Dr. David Kay has said, as the head of the Iraq survey group. I hope that I will be able to convince the hon. Gentleman, after I go through the whole of what Dr. Kay actually said, that in fact we were fully justified in the decision that we took.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister said in the Chamber that the question of his official spokesman, Tom Kelly, describing Dr. Kelly as a "'Walter Mitty' character" before his body had even been buried was a matter for Lord Hutton. Lord Hutton has concluded that that comment was "wholly improper", though he noted that Tom Kelly had apologised for it. Given that Jo Moore apologised for her outrageous comment, but still had to go, when will the Prime Minister dispense with the services of his official spokesman?
Is it not also relevant that the late Dr. Kelly said, in the broadcast that was shown posthumously, that WMD could be deployed within days or weeks? Is not the real problem for the press and the Opposition their disappointment and frustration that they do not have the heads of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence on a platter?
My right hon. Friend is probably right.
I sympathise with the confusion in the public mind about how the Hutton report has been received. The reason is simple. There is a world of difference between the evidence given to the inquiry and some—although I stress by no means all—of the reporting of it at the time. I shall give one example, which is relevant to some of what is in the newspapers today. The concerns by people within Defence Intelligence Staff about the way in which the 45-minute intelligence was phrased in the dossier, which was after all possibly the grain of truth that led to the mountain of untruth in Mr. Gilligan's broadcast, was reported the next day as leaving the credibility of the dossier in tatters, and the Government's case shot to pieces. One would have thought that the entirety of the Government's case in the dossier had been destroyed after listening to or reading some accounts of the evidence. In fact, one of those who gave evidence to the Hutton inquiry said that overall the dossier was
"a reasonable and accurate picture of the intelligence."
It was also revealed to the inquiry that Dr. Kelly himself said that it was "good".
Bearing in mind what the Prime Minister has just said, and the Government's response to the Intelligence and Security Committee that it was important to preserve the line-management authority of Joint Intelligence Committee members in judging what should be brought to the attention of the chairman of that committee from their departments, could the Prime Minister say whether it is more important that any serious reservations felt by experts in defence intelligence should be made known to those who make the decisions, or that the authority of line management should be preserved? Surely we were trying to get the evidence to the right point, not managing a bus company.
Of course that is right, but the whole point about the evidence—and I shall deal with other aspects in a moment—is that the concerns expressed by Dr. Jones were considered by the head of defence intelligence. In the end, he concluded that the way in which the dossier expressed the evidence was right. Incidentally, those concerns—again, I shall come back to them in a moment—never came to the full Joint Intelligence Committee, let alone to Downing street. I have no doubt that questions will be asked about whether that was the right way to proceed. Personally, I think that people should be allowed to manage their own departments properly. What cannot be said is that Downing street had anything to do with those concerns. They never came before the JIC, let alone Downing street. I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman that issues may arise about procedures within departments, but those are a million miles away from the allegation that was broadcast—and I think that he would accept that.
The Prime Minister referred to the response to the ISC. That Committee produced a balanced report: some of its comments were supportive of the Government's actions and some were less so. The Government's response picked out four key judgments, all of which happened to support their actions. On reflection, does the Prime Minister regret that selective use of material? [Interruption.]
In picking out key judgments of the ISC, do the Government regret choosing those that supported the Government and not choosing those that were less supportive?
I think that overall we gave a balanced picture to people. Those who have looked into the whole question of whether the dossier was altered in any improper way have found that we did not do so. I will come to what was being said in September 2002, not only by myself, but by everyone else. Issues arise now, because of the evidence that has been given by David Kay, who headed the Iraq survey group. The whole reason for the inquiry that was announced yesterday is that we accept that some things may have been got wrong. We cannot have a situation—[Interruption.] I somehow feel that I am not being entirely persuasive in certain quarters. We cannot have a situation in which we end up translating what we know today back into the context of what was known and thought in September 2002, and then reaching a judgment. I shall come to that point in a moment.
I wish to deal with the story in The Independent today. Dr. Jones is an expert in his field and is highly respected. However, the newspapers today suggest that there is missing intelligence on the 45-minute issue. There is no missing intelligence on that issue. As far as I am aware, Dr. Jones saw all the intelligence that there was to see on it. So did Lord Hutton. The intelligence referred to the article that he—[Interruption.] Perhaps people could concentrate on this point—[Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker directed that the Public Galleries be cleared owing to instances of misconduct on the part of Strangers.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been necessary to have a suspension, which has lost about 15 minutes from today's business. You will be aware of the large number of Members on both sides of the House who wish to speak in the debate. Could you make inquiries, perhaps with the usual channels, to see whether it would be possible to extend the sitting by 15 minutes and allow two more people to speak?
Order. I feel that I have enough problems today, without worrying about that one.
I was dealing with the issue of today's story about Dr. Jones, and I was saying that there are really two issues. One is whether there was some missing intelligence that was not seen, and the other is obviously about the evidence of Dr. Jones himself. I was saying, and I repeat, that Dr. Jones is an expert in this field and is highly respected. But on the 45 minutes there is no missing intelligence. Dr. Jones saw all the intelligence there was to see on it. So, incidentally, did Lord Hutton. The intelligence referred to in the article which he did not see was, I am told, about the production of chemical and biological warfare agents. He did not see it, because the Secret Intelligence Service put it out on a very restricted basis owing to source sensitivity. His superiors, however, were briefed on the intelligence. It does not bear on the 45-minute point at all, and the ISC itself saw this CW intelligence and was satisfied with it.
In his article this morning, Dr. Jones says that he formalised complaints about the September dossier because he did not wish to see himself and other experts scapegoated for the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Will the Prime Minister make it clear that he would not want to subcontract any such responsibility, but would accept it, as Prime Minister?
I have made it clear throughout that not merely do I take full responsibility for the decision to go to war, but that our security services—I shall come to this later—do a magnificent job for this country. I hope that nobody in the House doubts their worth to the security of our people, or that they are immensely dedicated public servants.
The Prime Minister says that all the intelligence about the 45 minutes was made available. As he will be well aware, it has subsequently emerged that this related to battlefield weapons or small-calibre weaponry. In the eyes of many, if that information had been available, those weapons might not have been described as weapons of mass destruction threatening the region and the stability of the world. When did the Prime Minister know that information? In particular, did he know it when the House divided on
No. I have already indicated exactly when this came to my attention. It was not before the debate on
Brian Jones suggests that the particular intelligence information was made available only to a limited number of people. He suggests that it was confined to the chief of defence intelligence, and not even shown to his deputy. He also suggests that those to whom that intelligence was made available were not sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to assess its importance. Can my right hon. Friend comment on those suggestions?
I can comment on them, and it is helpful that my hon. Friend intervenes in that way. First, the particular intelligence that she is talking about is not intelligence on the 45 minutes; it was intelligence on the different issue to do with chemical and biological weapons. The ISC considered this in its report. It was not seen by everyone within DIS. The procedures of SIS are that where there is a very sensitive source it will go on a restricted access to people, but they were briefed on the details. However, people on the Joint Intelligence Committee were able to know exactly what the provenance of that intelligence was and exactly what its significance was. But the point that I was making was that it does not relate to the 45 minutes. What has happened—it is perfectly understandable, because this gets extremely complicated over time—is that people have conflated a different piece of intelligence with assuming that there was some secret bit of 45-minute intelligence that was not seen. Lord Hutton saw all that there was to see on the 45 minutes.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who are quoting Dr. Jones should also look closely at the evidence given by Dr. Kay to the Armed Services Committee on
"All I can say is if you read the total body of intelligence in the last 12 to 15 years that flowed on Iraq, I quite frankly think it would be hard to come to a conclusion other than Iraq was a gathering, serious threat to the world with regard to WMD."
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall come in a moment to what Dr. Kay said.
I should like to say exactly what the point is that Dr. Jones was making in the course of his evidence. The whole issue was gone into in minute detail by Lord Hutton. It is true that Dr. Jones was expressing concern about the strength of the language used to describe the 45-minute claim. But it is important also to contextualise that. In his evidence, to be found at page 120 of the Hutton report, he makes it clear in an answer to Lord Hutton that
"The important point is that we at no stage argued that this intelligence should not be included in the dossier . . . We thought it was important intelligence."
In other words, he was not even saying that it should not be in the dossier. He then said that he thought that the references in the foreword
"were too strong" and that what he believed was that instead of saying that the intelligence "shows" this it should be that the intelligence "indicates" this.
I agree that there is a difference between the two. But let us be quite clear. It is hardly of earth-shattering significance in terms of how the whole dossier would be perceived. In any event, I do not pass judgment on whether it was right to say "indicates" or right to say "shows". That judgment was made by the Joint Intelligence Committee. It never reached this difference within the DIS. In the Joint Intelligence Committee as a committee it did not reach the chairman of the committee, let alone Downing street.
Therefore, when people ask why the judge concluded that Downing street had not interfered improperly with the dossier, it was because even on that small issue, which is the only issue that has allowed Mr. Gilligan's claim to have any provenance at all, it never came anywhere near Downing Street.
When Alastair Campbell requested and was granted a change in the language about the 45-minute claim, so as to drop the word "may", was that because he had some superior knowledge about the state of readiness of weapons in Iraq, or was it, rather, that he was seeking to embellish or, as Gilligan put it, to "sex up" the dossier?
The hon. Gentleman simply will not accept the verdict of the Hutton inquiry. He is entitled to do that, but I disagree with him. The fact is that, whatever suggestions were made, it was the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee who cleared the entirety of the dossier. That dossier, as Lord Hutton finds, was not improperly interfered with. That was the finding also of the Intelligence and Security Committee and of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Surely the crucial point for the world here is that the dossier exaggerated how immediate the threat was, and that was the justification to rush to war by a preordained date, which divided the world, divided the United Nations and has caused a bitter and dangerous situation in Iraq and the Middle East. That exaggeration was the great fault, and it has led to dreadful consequences.
First, I do not accept my right hon. Friend's point about the exaggeration, for the reasons given by Lord Hutton and by the Intelligence and Security Committee before him. Secondly—I shall say more about this in a moment—the reason we went to war was that we believed there was a failure by Saddam Hussein to abide by the terms of United Nations resolution 1441. In a moment I shall come to what that failure was.
Thirdly, my right hon. Friend says that there is a bitter situation in Iraq today. There was a bitter situation in Iraq for a long time, and it was caused by a ruthless tyrant who killed literally hundreds of thousands of his people. I know that whatever disagreement my right hon. Friend has with me over the war, she would accept that Iraq is a better place without him.
Before I leave the subject of the Hutton report itself, let me make one final observation. Having produced his findings, Lord Hutton has been accused in certain quarters—we heard that earlier during Prime Minister's Question Time—of putting at risk the freedom of the press or the independence of the BBC. In fairness to him, we should be clear about what Lord Hutton is saying. What Lord Hutton says is that if an allegation of gross impropriety or dishonesty is made against someone it should be checked out first, or if it is made and turns out to be false, it should be withdrawn. That is not to curtail a free press; it is actually to ensure a free society.
I think the Prime Minister was referring to my question to him. What I asked about was the Government's reaction to the Hutton report—particularly the statement by the Prime Minister's official spokesman, who said that Greg Dyke's initial response did not go far enough, and the behaviour of Alastair Campbell, who over two or three days after the reaction to the Hutton report was parading around the media beating the BBC. The Prime Minister cannot claim that Alastair Campbell was simply operating as a private individual during those days.
In that case, we can no doubt have a debate about what happened subsequent to their publication. But let us be quite clear: the allegation that was being made—not just against me but against Alastair Campbell and to an extent, in a sense, against the security services themselves—was that we had done something improper or wrong, in effectively falsifying the intelligence that I presented to Parliament. That allegation never had a shred of evidence to it. It could never be supported. I am glad it has now been withdrawn, and I think it should have been withdrawn in the first place.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the article by the editor of the Financial Times that was published at the weekend? The editor said:
"The Hutton report is about a story that was wrong, defended against furious government complaints by a BBC management that had not bothered to check it, even weeks after it was broadcast, and backed by a board of governors determined to resist external pressure at the expense of obscuring the truth."
I did read that article. I think there is a debate that can be held—in, I hope, in a reasonably calm and reflective atmosphere—about the relationship between politics and the media. Who knows, that might benefit not just Labour Members but those in all parts of the House.
The BBC obviously made very bad mistakes, and—at least as far as I am concerned—no one would wish to justify them. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that the integrity of the BBC is absolutely essential? Why should we not admit that despite all those mistakes, which undoubtedly and understandably caused the Government much dismay, the BBC is probably the finest broadcasting organisation in the world? Let us say so, and be proud of it.
I think we all say how much pride we have in the BBC as an institution, but the important thing—and, as I have said, I hope that a calm and effective assessment of Lord Hutton's report will do this—is to make people understand the best way in which the BBC can preserve its place as an institution in which we can all have pride: if it does launch an accusation of impropriety that turns out to be false, it should withdraw it. That would actually help the BBC rather than harming it.
In paragraph 435 of his report, Lord Hutton says that Dr. Kelly had a right to feel
"badly let down by his employer".
Once the Prime Minister had condoned the strategy of naming Dr. Kelly, he received a lamentable lack of support from the Government. What changes of procedure will the Prime Minister make to ensure that no other employee—let alone someone as eminent as Dr. Kelly—ever feels so badly let down by the Government again?
The hon. Gentleman is eliding two separate things. Lord Hutton found that there was no underhand or duplicitous treatment in respect of the naming of Dr. Kelly. He did find that within the Ministry of Defence Dr. Kelly should have been informed that his name was going to come out. I have already indicated—I indicated last week—that we fully accepted those findings and that we will do our best to act on them, but that is an entirely different matter from the allegation that was made against us. Of course, where there have been failings in respect of Dr. Kelly we must take account of them. I also said, however—and I would like to repeat it—that some of those officials in the Ministry of Defence, who are good and dedicated public servants, have had the most appalling and difficult time themselves over the past few months. I think we should bear that in mind as well.
Let me now turn to whether the intelligence on which we relied, in part, to go to war was correct. Originally, as the House knows, I wanted to wait until the Iraq survey group had reported fully before any investigation occurred. Last Tuesday, however, David Kay, the outgoing head of the ISG, gave evidence to the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington which, frankly, cannot be ignored. More important still, it is now clear that the ISG itself, under its new chairman, will not make its full report any time soon. President Bush has announced a commission in the United States, and yesterday we announced one here.
I want to make clear, incidentally, that I personally would have been happy for the Intelligence and Security Committee to conduct this inquiry. That was within its statutory remit, and it does an excellent job. But I was pressed hard for a committee of the type headed by Lord Franks after the Falklands conflict, and I agreed to that. I might add that I have now looked at the terms of reference for the Franks committee. It is not correct that the committee passed judgment on whether or not the Falklands war was right. It did not do so.
As I said, I was pressed hard for a committee of that type, and I agreed. The committee will be able to examine the whole issue to do with intelligence and weapons of mass destruction, the difficulties associated with that across the piece, and of course, on Iraq specifically, any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government and what the ISG found.
How can Ann Taylor be a fit appointee to the committee, when she herself was sent a copy of the September dossier for comment before its publication?
Does the Prime Minister agree that neither the Government nor the media nor the public should look to the intelligence services for cast-iron certainties? Their business is the assessment of possibilities, probabilities and risks. Does the Prime Minister also agree that it is uniquely the responsibility of a Government to make decisions, which they must obviously do on the basis of the best available evidence, however imperfect it may be?
Will the inquiry also look at the political decisions made in the run-up to the war, in particular the Prime Minister's discussions with the President of the United States in April 2002, and when he thinks the United States made its decision to deploy troops as the start of the build-up to war?
I know perfectly well what the discussions were between myself and the President. I want to make this clear, because it was clear throughout. The reason why, after the dossier, we went back to the United Nations in November 2002 was that we wanted an opportunity to resolve this peacefully. It was made clear by both myself and the President at the time that if Saddam Hussein complied with resolution 1441, however much we might think it a good idea to get rid of him, the fact was that he would remain. He did not comply, for reasons that I will come to in a moment.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the fundamental difficulties of inquiries is that they are good at establishing facts, but not so good at changing opinions? Is not the difficulty of having an inquiry to assess whether it was right to remove Saddam Hussein the fact that it would not change a single mind?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
I am sorry that the Liberal Democrats felt that they could not participate in the committee, but I cannot accept that the issue of whether the political judgment that led to war was right should be given to a committee. We are the elected politicians; we make the judgment; it is for us to choose, and ultimately for the people to decide. However, I enter one word of caution. It has already been said—and it surprises me not at all—that this report will not do either. For some people, it will not. Some who opposed the war will not rest until one inquiry succeeds another, until a final inquiry concludes that it was all a mistake or, even better, a conspiracy. I have given up trying to satisfy that audience.
I also have a word of caution for others who rightly want to know whether the intelligence was correct. That word of caution surrounds the evidence of Dr. Kay and what the Iraq survey group has found so far. I accept that it has not found what many others, including Dr. Kay, and I confidently expected they would—actual weapons ready for immediate use. Let others accept that what it has found are laboratories, technology, diagrams, documents and teams of scientists told to conceal their work on biological, nuclear and chemical weapons capability, which, in sum, amount to breaches of UN resolutions many times over.
If we ever want an example of the impossibility of having a balanced debate on the issues, it is the way in which Dr. Kay's comments have been treated. I asked Senator Warner of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the United States and he agreed that we could place in the Library of the House of Commons the full transcript of Dr. Kay's remarks. I simply ask hon. Members to read it in full.
I shall read one or two items from it. First, Dr. Kay says on the subject of breaches of resolution 1441:
"In my judgment, based on the work that has been done to this point of the Iraq Survey Group . . . Iraq was in clear violation of the terms of Resolution 1441 . . . We have discovered hundreds of cases, based on both documents, physical evidence and the testimony of Iraqis, of activities prohibited under" the UN resolutions.
In replying to Senator Warner, he went on to say:
"I think the world is far safer with the disappearance and removal of Saddam Hussein. I have said I actually think this may be one of those cases where it was even more dangerous than we thought. I think when we have the complete record you're going to discover that after 1998 it became a regime that was totally corrupt. Individuals were out for their own protection. And in a world where we know others are seeking WMD, the likelihood at some point in the future of a seller and a buyer meeting up would have made that a far more dangerous country than even we anticipated".
Asked specifically by one Senator whether it would have been better to have allowed the UN inspectors to remain there, Dr. Kay says:
"All I can say is that among an extensive body of the U.N.—of Iraqi scientists who were talking to us, they have said: 'The U.N. interviewed us. We did not tell them the truth. We did not show them this equipment. We did not talk about these programmes. We couldn't do it as long as Saddam was in power.'"
Dr. Kay goes on:
"I suspect regardless of how long they had stayed, that attitude would have been the same."
He goes on to detail information about restarting the nuclear weapons programme, which is even worse than we thought. He continues to talk about mass destruction- related programme activities and goes on to detail how they were attempting to develop VX and anthrax of a more potent sort than we had anticipated. He goes on to give evidence of an unmanned aerial vehicle with a range of 500 km—way beyond 150 km—ready to be fitted with exactly the type of sprays used for WMD.
Dr. Kay goes on to say that, in addition to all those things, the group discovered even more evidence about a ballistic missile technology that Iraq was trying to develop to produce ballistic missiles of up to 1,000 km.
Before I give way, let me say what is absolutely clear. I fully accept that what I have referred to is not the same as the intelligence that we were told about actual weapons, but it is fully consistent with the determination to pursue WMD programmes and it indicates a total, unrepentant and malignant intent on the part of Saddam, which is, in the multiple breaches of UN resolutions, a justification for conflict. I cannot accept one part of Dr. Kay's comments and leave the other part to one side—but neither can others.
If the Prime Minister truly believed in March last year that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, why did he send the Black Watch into battle without adequate protective nuclear, biological and chemical equipment?
I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question that I put to the Foreign Secretary yesterday about the Attorney-General's opinion, which we had in truncated form immediately before the important debate that took place in March. Will the Prime Minister confirm that all the information that the Attorney-General would have needed in respect of the matters to which the Prime Minister has just referred does, in fact, and will continue to, marry up with the conclusions? In other words, there will be no discrepancy, and furthermore, the new committee to be established will have full access to the full opinion.
The Committee can have access to whatever it wants to have access to. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that the whole point of reading what Dr. Kay said is that if the UN inspectors at that time had returned and laid before us effectively what Dr. Kay is now saying, the legal justification would not have been in doubt. There would have been absolutely no doubt about it at all, because it indicates multiple breaches of the UN resolution. It was expressly stated in the resolution put before the House on
The Prime Minister makes a compelling and convincing case that he knew, and that the intelligence that he had established confirmed, that the Iraqis had those weapons. He also alluded more than once to the fact that he knew where they were—500 sites were identified. Does not the Prime Minister regret the fact that he did not pass all that information on to the inspectors so that they could carry out their job properly?
We did pass a great deal of information on to the UN inspectors. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that they were gravely inhibited in one respect. The single most important thing is to be able to interview the people concerned with the weapons programme. That is why in Libya today we are getting co-operation from the Libyan authorities and we are able to make real progress. Incidentally, I believe that, when we are able to talk about it, people will be surprised at the extent of that progress.
What Saddam was doing, however, was effectively refusing to allow the scientists to be interviewed properly. If scientists came to interviews, there would be a tape recorder there, or they were obliged to bring a "friend" to the interview. The fact is, as Dr. Kay said, that Iraqi scientists are on record as saying to him that when Saddam was in power, they did not dare give the information. I am afraid that we are left with the situation where, if people are reasonable, they will have to accept that Saddam retained the full intention of developing the programmes. In the end—Dr. Kelly himself once made this remark—Saddam was never going to change. Ultimately, even though we went through the UN and through the business of putting inspectors back into Iraq, he was never going to change unless he was removed from power.
Let me make one further comment. Suppose we had accepted Saddam's assurances and left him to get on with it, or suppose the inspections that he had no intention of co-operating with had wound their weary way to nowhere until the world's attention turned away. Do we think that in the chaos and corruption in Iraq that Dr. Kay described and that in the inevitable licence that Saddam would have gained in the face of the world's weakness, the world would be a safer place? Does anyone really believe that? Even if the Iraq survey group finds no more than it has found so far—incidentally, it still has 26 million pages of documents to read, as well as innumerable sites to visit and scientists to interview—we would have been irresponsible in the highest degree if we had not acted against Saddam and removed him and his loathsome regime from power.
However, I never based the case for war on Iraq alone. Iraq was also an essential test of whether the world was prepared to confront the new security threat that we face—the nexus between unstable, repressive states that develop WMD and terrorists who seek unlimited destruction in pursuit of fanatical goals. I shall not rehearse every aspect of that argument today, but I repeat my conviction that that nexus between terrorism and WMD is the security threat of the early 21st century.
After Afghanistan, and now after Iraq, the world knows that we will fight back. It knows that, wherever the terrorists are, we will get after them, and that we will press hard on states that sponsor terrorism. The pressure that we exert may well be diplomatic pressure, but such states now know that we have the military means at our disposal, and the willingness to use to it if necessary.
When states that used to harbour ambitions for WMD reach out to us in friendship, we will reach out to them and offer a way out. That is why I welcome the six-nation talks involving North Korea that have begun. It is why I am pleased that Iran has recommenced negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Authority, and why President Bush and I are prepared to seek a new relationship with Libya. Does anyone seriously believe that we would be better placed in any of those endeavours if we had shied away from confronting Saddam?
Also, in respect of each of the nations to which I have just referred, we have acted in part on intelligence. I cannot say—this bears directly on the point made earlier by Mr. Jackson—that all that intelligence is right in every respect. It may even be that we have underestimated the WMD threat in certain quarters. Intelligence never pretends to be an exact science. However, we are very lucky to have our intelligence capability, and we should be proud of the work that our intelligence services do, and of the people who work in them.
Therefore, if any part of the intelligence turns out to be wrong—and we know that much of it was right—or if the threat from Saddam turns out to be different or to have changed from what we thought, I will accept that, as I should. However, others should accept that ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein has made the world not just better, but safer. It has hugely strengthened us in our fight against the proliferation of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Although the responsibility for going to war is mine, as it should be, it would also have been my responsibility if, having received the intelligence, I had refused to act on it. I know which course lies more easily on my conscience.
One very clear reason for that is what is happening in Iraq today—and I come now to my final point. Yes, the terrorists and the rump of Saddam sympathisers wreak their deathly havoc. Yes, there are still a myriad problems to overcome. But 17,000 construction projects are now under way in Iraq; the oil is flowing, and its wealth is being put back into the hands of Iraqis; the schools and hospitals are open; a new currency is in circulation; a new police force is taking shape, and newspapers and radio stations abound.
In a moment. Democracy is on its way in Iraq. The people are free, and Iraq—a nation of immense history and deepest culture—is no longer a pariah, with its people enslaved. It is now a country with some hope for the future in its heart. That is a gain worth having.
The Prime Minister is a lawyer. Some very wicked people, among them Hermann Goering and others, were at least brought to trial at Nuremburg. Does he think that we ought to do something to arrange a trial for Tariq Aziz and others, and even for Saddam himself? Would not bringing forward the trial procedure allow the west to set an example, however unpalatable the people involved might have been?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we must make sure that the procedure that we use is fair and justified. In the end, though, it is important that the matter is determined by the new Iraqi Government. We are working closely with the Iraqis to ensure that Saddam Hussein and the other leaders of his regime get a fair trial. That is something that he denied to thousands of people when he was in power.
If we are to get an Iraq that is free, fair and democratic, will my right hon. Friend emphasise to President Bush at their next meeting that the people of Iraq have the need—and the right—to organise? People who organise a trade union or a committee in a mosque, for example, should not be suspected of being members of al-Qaeda, or of having links with that group. Will my right hon. Friend stress the need to allow and encourage the formation of such organisations, perhaps by suggesting that British companies that win contracts in Iraq should welcome the involvement of a free trade union movement?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Obviously, it is important that we give free organisation in Iraq every chance to express itself. There will be difficulties, as we go through the transition period. For obvious reasons, the coalition forces will sometimes be worried by one organisation or another. However, I agree that the forces must exercise their authority with discretion.
No, as I am conscious of the time, and of the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak.
We must recognise that the process that has begun in Iraq will give the Iraqi people, for the first time ever, the chance to run their own affairs in a democratic way. I remember that before the conflict, many people, both here and abroad, said that we did not understand what Iraq was like, and that countries such as Iraq preferred hard-line military dictators who were able to keep order. However, people in Iraq now rejoice at the possibility of democracy.
That brings me to my final point, which I think is important. Sometimes, the values that we are trying to help Iraqis to achieve are talked about as though they were solely western values. A sort of self-loathing comes upon us when we talk about them in that way, but those values are not only western in origin. They are the values of the human spirit. People support them wherever they can get them. We should be proud that, in Iraq today, we have a process under way that will allow the Iraqi people to achieve the freedom, democracy and the rule of the law that we take for granted.
Yes, we will get protests, as we saw earlier today. However, we in this House of Commons are very lucky: we can say what we want about the policy issues of the day, and we can debate them properly and come to decisions about them. In the end, the people of this country elect their Government. That is a fantastic thing, and it is an opportunity that is available for people in Iraq today.
I know that people—some of them Labour Members—are worried about our alliance with the United States of America. However, I think that America now understands and believes that the best and ultimate guarantee of its security is the spread of the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. If America no longer takes an isolationist view of the world but considers that part of its job is to spread those values around the world, I for one am proud to be its friend and ally.
The values that I have described are important: they are, ultimately, the best guarantee of security. We can have everything that we want in terms of security services and military action, but the best guarantee of our security is that people everywhere in the world are allowed to live their lives in decency and freedom. They must be able to know that the knock on the door does not come from the secret police. They must be able to hold their Governments to account, and to do the same for anyone who transgresses their rights, in courts that are properly run. In the end, that is the freedom that people in Iraq and everywhere else want. It is the freedom that we should be giving to them.
At the outset, may I say that I very much agree with the Prime Minister's concluding remarks? I agree with what he said about the United States, and about present conditions in Iraq. I agree, too, with what he said about the threats that we face in this dangerous world, and about the necessity to take action to deal with those threats. On all those vitally important matters, there is complete agreement between us.
I also welcome the Prime Minister's decision, announced yesterday, to set up an inquiry into the matters to which he has referred. I believe that the war in Iraq was a just war. My party has been consistent in offering support to the Government and our armed forces—[Interruption.] I remind Labour Members that, if it had not been for our support, the Government would not have had the House's authority to proceed. That is something that should be remembered. We have been equally consistent in calling, since last June, for an inquiry to be held into the intelligence surrounding the war. It is becoming increasingly clear that there was a discrepancy between the intelligence assessment of the weapons of mass destruction which it was believed Saddam Hussein possessed and the reality on the ground. David Kay, whom the Prime Minister quoted frequently in his speech, has said that he does not believe that weapons of mass destruction exist, or existed, in Iraq. He said a number of other things, too—the Prime Minister is quite right—and I shall come to some of them.
Let me make one thing clear: it is possible both to support the war and to want to get at the truth. That is the position of David Kay; it was the position of the late David Kelly; and it is my position, too. The purpose of the inquiry that the Prime Minister announced yesterday should not be to find scapegoats in the intelligence service—I agree with what the Prime Minister said about the enormous contribution that the intelligence services make to our security—nor should it be to rerun the arguments for war. As David Kay said—I think the Prime Minister has quoted these words—
"the world is a far safer place with the disappearance and removal of Saddam Hussein" and Iraq
"was even more dangerous than we thought."
It is precisely because we live in such a dangerous world, where many threats may be even graver than we currently think, that it is so important that we have the best intelligence possible and the best guarantee that it will be acted on wisely.
If it is the case that intelligence overestimated Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, it is also true that, in the past, intelligence has underestimated threats, not least from Libya and Iraq in the 1990s. Underestimating the dangers we face should be at least as big a concern as overestimating them. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Jackson that there can never be total certainty on these matters, but if the Government are to safeguard the national interest and people's lives, we need to be as certain as we can be of the hazards Britain faces, so that the correct action can be taken by our Government and their allies.
It is also vitally important that any future Government, before they discharge their most solemn duty—the dispatch of our forces abroad—must be able to convince the House and the British people of the necessity for action. I have little doubt that such a solemn duty will be required of a future Prime Minister and, given the fact that many of the threats we face from rogue states, weapons of mass destruction and terrorists are incubated in secrecy, we must have sound intelligence before we can make a convincing case for necessary action. The inquiry, for which we have long argued, is thus clearly in the nation's interest as a means of rebuilding public confidence and strengthening our capacity to defend ourselves and make the world a safer place. Those are serious issues, which the inquiry must address.
The inquiry may show that no one is to blame; after all, no one should underestimate the difficulties of obtaining accurate intelligence on countries such as Iraq. However, there must be lessons to be learned and it is essential that we learn them.
In the light of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said about the inquiry, does he agree that the attack made earlier by the Plaid Cymru Member, Mr. Llwyd, on my right hon. Friend Ann Taylor for her good public service in joining the inquiry, and which might also be made against the Conservative Member who is serving on the inquiry and on Lord Butler, who will head the inquiry, needs to be deplored now, so that a foundation is not laid for attacking people who agree to serve on inquiries on such difficult issues, and who take on an onerous public duty in doing so?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his courtesy in giving way. I have an e-mail that proves exactly what I said: a pre-publication copy was given to Ann Taylor for her comments and the draft was subsequently published. The right hon. Lady was the only Back Bencher to receive a copy and now she will be sitting in judgment on it.
I am happy to offer my mediation in this dispute if that is what the hon. Gentleman and Ann Taylor want; otherwise I think he will have to take the matter up directly with the right hon. Lady.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes his point to perfection.
I mentioned the consistency of the Conservative position on the inquiry. Although I am reluctant at this stage to introduce this small note of controversy, that is a contrast with the lack of consistency on the issue that we have seen from others. For many months, the Prime Minister has been in denial about the need for an inquiry. Indeed, it must be said that he was the last person to change his mind. When I asked him about it last week, he replied that we should wait for the Iraq survey group to complete its work, yet now he says that an inquiry is the right approach because the Iraq survey group probably will not report in the very near term. What did he discover between last Wednesday and yesterday that led him to that conclusion?
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary say that it is now right to hold an inquiry because of what David Kay said, but David Kay's remarks were the very comments that I put to the Prime Minister last week. What a pity no one told the Lord Chancellor and the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister was changing his mind. Only this Sunday, the Leader of the House was still saying,
"let's wait for the survey group to finish".
When the Lord Chancellor was asked—also on Sunday—whether there should now be an inquiry on weapons of mass destruction, he replied:
"No, I don't think there should".
So what has happened? Why did the Government perform such an extraordinary volte-face in the space of two days?
I would really like to think that my renewed calls for an inquiry over the weekend may have had something to do with that decision, but in fact I am realistic and I know perfectly well that it had nothing to do with me. The thing that changed between Sunday, when an inquiry was apparently quite out of the question, and Monday, when it was not, was the statement from President Bush. It is the President who deserves all the credit—I am happy to give it to him—for changing the Prime Minister's mind on this issue. Where the President led, the Prime Minister followed, so we should all be grateful to the President. At least we have an inquiry, and as I say, I am grateful for that.
Turning to the Hutton inquiry, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share with Lord Howe of Aberavon unqualified relief that the Prime Minister has been acquitted of dishonesty, and will he now be prepared to apologise for his own remarks, when he called the Prime Minister a liar and a stranger to the truth?
I said last week that I accepted the conclusions of the Hutton report and I do not in any way resile from that. As to the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I am glad that he asked it; I hope that he has done his research and not merely taken a handout from the Whips, because I want to deal very comprehensively with his suggestion. I made three claims, none of which I resile from today.
Even the hon. Member for Brent, North could not argue with my first point.
It then became increasingly clear—I commented on it—that people were misled about the 45-minute claim. If the hon. Gentleman has not read Dr. Jones's article in The Independent today, I suggest that he do so.
Thirdly, I asked the Prime Minister about his denial, on the aeroplane to Hong Kong, that he authorised the naming of David Kelly. The Government have now completely changed their tune on that. Before the Hutton report, they denied that they had anything to do with the naming of David Kelly, because they were afraid that they would be found by Lord Hutton to have done so dishonestly, duplicitously and in an underhand way.
That allegation was indeed made. It was not made by me—I have never said any of those things—and Lord Hutton rejected that allegation. Ever since Lord Hutton rejected that allegation, the Government, including the Prime Minister, have been happy to claim the credit for naming David Kelly. Indeed, the Prime Minister said last week that he was under a duty to do so. Now, the Prime Minister could have said all that on the plane, but he did not; he said something very different. The Prime Minister can have what he said on the plane, or he can have what he said last week—he cannot have them both.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning if she still wishes to intervene, and then to any other hon. Member who wants to deal with this issue, so that we can get it out of the way once and for all.
My right hon. and learned Friend says that the Prime Minister has apologised for the dodgy dossier. I have exchanged correspondence with the Prime Minister. I wrote to him in June, and he replied to me ultimately in November last year. When I asked him to apologise for the dodgy dossier, he replied that the Foreign Secretary had apologised for it—he had nothing to add.
I have not seen that correspondence, but the debate has been conducted thus far in a spirit of generosity, which was perhaps why I said what I did about the Prime Minister.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for being gracious in giving way. In one breath he says he accepts in full the findings of the Hutton report; then he goes on to equivocate about what he agrees with. How can we be confident that the outcome of the WMD inquiry will have his full support; or will he continue to equivocate?
The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. First, I accepted the conclusions of the Hutton report: that is perfectly true. Lord Hutton did not deal with the issues that I have just raised. In particular, he did not deal with the question of what the Prime Minister said. [Hon. Members: "He did."] Lord Hutton said that what was said on the plane cast no light on the controversy in which I have been engaging the hon. Lady, so she is quite wrong.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way on the subject of the naming of Dr. Kelly. On
"the deliberate disclosure of confidential information . . . that's exactly what the Government were about."
On that, Lord Hutton concluded:
"there was no strategy . . . devised by the Prime Minister and his officials to leak Dr. Kelly's name."
Given that the right hon. and learned Gentleman now says that he accepts the Hutton report, does he also accept that he was wrong on
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Leader of the Opposition is replying to a question that was put to him; the House should hear the answer.
The Prime Minister is now saying something about this issue that is completely different from what he said on the plane. That is a fact; it is on the record; and everyone can test it. That is the position. I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is unhappy about that, but there it is.
Among those present was
Is it not true that, if there is any conspiracy, that is where it was?
I must confess that I am mortified that I was not invited to that occasion. It was obviously a most convivial affair. I am sure that I would have greatly enjoyed it, and I shall take up with my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson, the editor of The Spectator, why it was that he never extended an invitation to me to attend that happy occasion.
I am not sure whether that is a wholly convincing excuse. I would have been happy to go even if my hon. Friend had not been there, but there it is—we cannot all win on these things.
I want to make some progress and to deal with some of the discussion that has taken place about the inquiry's terms of reference. I was not happy with the wording that the Prime Minister originally proposed to me. I wanted it to be clear that the committee can and should consider the way in which the Government used the intelligence with which they had been provided. That is now included fairly and squarely in the terms of reference that have been agreed. Indeed, that is why I agreed to them.
There are some things that can and should be done in relation to these issues, however, that do not need the report of that inquiry. Some things could be done now. Writing in The Independent today, Dr. Brian Jones has made a specific request to the Prime Minister to publish now the intelligence which he was not shown at the time, but which he says lay behind the Government's key claims that Iraq was actively producing chemical weapons and could launch an attack within 45 minutes of an order to do so. The Prime Minister has referred to that intelligence today in his speech. It clearly exists. Dr. Jones says that it should now be released. Given that Saddam Hussein has been overthrown, even if that intelligence came from a source that was sensitive when Saddam still ruled Iraq, Dr. Jones clearly believes that it is no longer sensitive now, although he went on to say that, if there is a reason of sensitivity, the Prime Minister should state it clearly. It seems to me that the request made by Dr. Jones is entirely reasonable. I hope the Prime Minister will respond to it. If he chooses not to, I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will deal with it in his winding-up speech.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that he would be happy for sources of intelligence to be paraded in the media around the world? Would that not put our intelligence people at risk?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read what Dr. Jones said in his article today. What Dr. Jones said is that he thinks that the intelligence should be published. He doubts whether there is any reason of sensitivity for not publishing it. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will wait just a moment, I shall carry on telling him what Dr. Jones said. Dr. Jones said that, if there is a reason of such sensitivity for not publishing the intelligence, the Prime Minister should say so clearly. Presumably, Dr. Jones would be happy with that, and so would I.
We must always remember that the Hutton inquiry was first and foremost about a tragedy: the tragic loss of a gifted and honourable scientist. I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the dignity with which Dr. Kelly's family have behaved during the months that have passed since his death. Lord Hutton has completed his report. I accepted its conclusions last week. Lord Hutton sets out in some detail what happened regarding the events surrounding the David Kelly's death, but he provided no recommendations. So it is up to the House and the Government to consider the lessons of those tragic events. There are lessons about the use of intelligence, about the way in which Select Committees should operate in future, about treatment of staff, about the way in which the Government do their business and about the Government's relationship with the media.
In the use of intelligence, a new precedent has now been set through the publication of intelligence dossiers. Everyone is clear about the February dossier—the dodgy dossier, to which I have already referred. The process that led to the publication of that document must never happen again.
The September dossier was the first document, so far as I am aware, prepared by the Joint Intelligence Committee and published by the Government. That decision gives rise to very serious questions. Will it be possible in future to go to war without publishing dossiers of that kind, including material from intelligence? If they are to be published, can the process of publication be better managed than it was on that occasion? For example, should not the Government have gone to greater lengths to avoid the kind of false interpretation that was placed on the 45 minutes claim? When, for example, newspapers published headlines such as "45 minutes from attack", on the day of the September dossier, and "Brits 45 minutes from doom", the day after, should not the Government have made it clear that the claim in the dossier referred to battlefield weapons? The Intelligence and Security Committee said:
"the context of the intelligence on the 45 minutes claim should have been explained, in particular the fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of this context and assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning".
That was the finding of the Committee. The Government response failed to respond to that specific point, which was the point raised by my right hon. Friend Mr. Arbuthnot in his intervention. The Defence Secretary was asked at the Hutton inquiry,
"why was no corrective statement issued for the benefit of the public in relation to those media reports?"
He replied, "I do not know". Perhaps the Prime Minister can provide an assurance that lessons from that episode have been learned.
There may also be lessons to be learned about how the operation of Select Committees can be improved. In the previous Parliament, my noble Friend Lord Norton of Louth chaired a commission of distinguished parliamentarians and constitutional experts, and proposed ways to strengthen democratic control of the Executive. Many of its recommendations relate to Select Committees, including strengthening their research support. Our party's pledge at the last election was to make sure that Select Committees are independent of party managers, which also followed the work of the Norton commission.
Then there is the Government. There are specific criticisms of the Ministry of Defence in the Hutton report, focusing on the way in which it treated Dr. Kelly in relation to the naming process. Paragraph 432 of the report states:
"The principal fault lay in the failure of the MoD to inform Dr Kelly that the press office was going to confirm his name if a journalist suggested it."
I trust that across Government attention will be paid in future to ensuring that their employees are given the care and respect that they deserve.
Is not an issue being missed, which is profoundly important, in relation to the way in which Mr. Gilligan used a member of the Select Committee and the media to make Dr. Kelly's position more untenable? Is not one of the issues to which we are not paying enough attention the problem of the relationship between politics and the media, which in this case was incredibly destructive for Dr. Kelly?
That is an interesting and important question. I was a member of the Government who set up the Intelligence and Security Committee, and who did so on the basis on which it currently exists. I do not want to rush into any judgment on the important question raised by the hon. Lady: it is an important question that has many implications, but it requires mature consideration.
There are also lessons in the Hutton report about the process of government. There is a lack of documentary evidence of the conclusions of crucial meetings, on which Lord Hutton commented in the course of the inquiry. Two weeks ago, the House debated the issue of a civil service Act. Once again, the Government said that they were in favour of such an Act in principle. Once again, they failed to give any indication that they were about to turn that theory into practice. They need to do so. The independence and impartiality of the civil service need to be given statutory reinforcement.
The most serious and far-reaching repercussions of the Hutton report in the last week have been for the BBC. I want to start by paying tribute to Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke. Notwithstanding the criticisms contained in the Hutton report, to which I will refer in a minute, they both made a very significant contribution to the BBC. Clearly, however, the BBC did make mistakes in the handling of this issue. Indeed, Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke have acknowledged as much themselves. I believe that some institutional changes are required, too. Conservatives have long argued that the governors cannot properly both run and regulate the BBC and that, particularly in relation to complaints procedures, there should be a role for Ofcom. Ofcom already has some jurisdiction over the BBC, so it is difficult to see how there can be any objection in principle to extending its remit in this way. At the last election, we specifically argued that Ofcom should have jurisdiction over complaints. If that had been in place, the most important of the complaints made by the Government would have been dealt with by Ofcom. That might have had a significant effect on the whole tragic train of events that led to the death of David Kelly.
When all is said and done, however, the Hutton report must not be used to undermine the independence of the BBC. On this issue, many people have concerns about the Government's reaction. Within minutes of the Hutton report, Alastair Campbell was touring the studios demanding multiple resignations. Officials made it clear that the Prime Minister was not satisfied with the resignation of Gavyn Davies. Even after Greg Dyke's initial apology, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the BBC response was not good enough. Then, after seeing the reaction of the public, the Prime Minister said that all he ever wanted was an apology.
There is an essential point of principle here. No one should underestimate the vital role that a free media plays in sustaining a vigorous and healthy democracy.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once already.
As Lord Hutton himself says:
"The communication by the media of information (including information obtained by investigative reporters) on matters of public interest and importance is a vital part of life in a democratic society".
And as I said last week, it is vital that the media are not cowed, and that they carry out their responsibilities fairly but rigorously. That includes challenging politicians. Sometimes, however occasionally, that process of holding us all to account can include making allegations about integrity. When that is appropriate, the media should not feel intimidated into not doing so. It is rather ironic that those who are now screaming for such challenges to become out of bounds were in the forefront of making them until they assumed office.
Respecting the integrity of the BBC, is it not right that in the 1980s Lord Tebbit in particular baited and tried to undermine the BBC because he considered that its broadcasting of the bombing attack on Libya was wrong, and that on many occasions Bernard Ingham taunted the BBC because he disliked, on behalf of the Tory Government, what was being done? Let us not be hypocritical: the BBC has come under attack from successive Governments and not least from the previous one.
Of course, all Governments make representations to the BBC. That is perfectly true. I do not believe, however—and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman could point to one—that any accusation against a member of the previous Government is at all comparable with Greg Dyke's allegation of bullying against the present Government. That is something that the hon. Gentleman will have to live with.
The last seven days have demonstrated yet again that a week is a long time in politics—
Does my right hon. and learned Friend not agree that there is a world of difference between confronting or contradicting the BBC, and seeking to crush the spirit of the journalists and editorial staff who work for it?
I am listening carefully to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. As he knows, I am very interested in the role of rationality in politics, to which he has made a contribution today, as has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He will be aware, however, that the issue that has particularly vexed Labour Members is that he seems to have personally associated himself with attacks on the integrity of the Prime Minister. Will he be consistent with the rational tone of his speech by explicitly denying that he intended to do that at any stage?
I have dealt with that matter, but since the hon. Gentleman raises it, let me deal with it again. Last week, the Prime Minister referred to what I said about him in a television broadcast that I made last August, when I made allegations—[Hon. Members: "In this House?"] No, it was in a television broadcast. In that broadcast, I made some allegations about the Prime Minister. In doing so, I quoted—verbatim, I think—from something that had been said on that very day by someone else in an article in The Independent on Sunday. That someone else—[Interruption.] I think that hon. Members should listen for a moment. That someone else was Mr. Kilfoyle, who is widely respected in all quarters of this House. In that article, describing the Government's spin, he said:
"This is spin of a different order to the kind which was around for many years. That sort of spin was an attempt to put the best gloss on government policy and action. It was not a consistent and concerted effort at evasiveness and duplicity which has become the hallmark of government in the perception of so many."
On that day, I associated myself with the words of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, and I make absolutely no apology for doing so.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman wriggles away from an apology. Seven days ago, prior to his wanting an inquiry into WMDs, the chairman of his party wanted an inquiry into the leaking of the Hutton report to The Sun. If he does not have the decency to apologise to the Prime Minister for his own comments, would he at least have the decency to apologise for the comments of the chairman of his party, who accused the Government of leaking the report to the media?
We shall have to see what happens when the report on that is concluded—that will be the time to consider it. In relation to his other question, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what I have said.
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman leaves the issue of lessons to be learned, will he reflect for a moment on whether there is any lesson to be learned by the Leader of the Opposition? Despite his loyally wriggling, the fact is that we have sat for week after week listening to him effectively calling the Prime Minister a liar. It would help our proceedings immensely if he now had the grace to withdraw that charge.
What I did in this House, as opposed to what I did in the television studio, was to put a series of questions to the Prime Minister; and it is a matter of great and abiding regret that he was so reluctant to answer them. If he had answered them immediately and straightforwardly, there would have been no difficulty at all. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that if he were to look back at the answers that the Prime Minister gave to those questions, he would regret his accusation of "loyally wriggling". He needs to look at what the Prime Minister said.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman seriously expect the House to accept that if he puts questions suggesting lying, that is not the same as suggesting lying? If I were to put a question suggesting to him that he might be guilty of paedophilia or some other crime, would he accept that merely as a question, or would he feel that it called for a withdrawal?
I will not give way again, because I have done so very generously.
In the past seven days, events outside this House have moved fast, as have comment and opinion. The Hutton report has been subjected to intense comment, some of it questioning, some of it critical, and some of it more than a little incredulous. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, the initial opinion of his colleagues last Wednesday does not seem to be reflected in the more settled opinion of the public. In the past, people would sometimes warn me of the dangers of winning an argument in this House, but not in the country. In a spirit of good will, perhaps I can offer the Prime Minister that same piece of advice.
There are clearly very important lessons to be learned from the Hutton report about how Governments of different parties run their business. There are lessons that the Prime Minister needs to address and lessons that leaders of any party need to address. That is why I have dealt with some of the general questions arising from the report and how they might be addressed in the absence of recommendations from Lord Hutton; why I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has accepted the need for a wider inquiry on the relation between intelligence and Government; and why it is essential that Governments of all political persuasions are extremely sensitive to the independence of the media, particularly the BBC, in the way in which they conduct themselves.
These are not easy decisions for any Government, and they require a great deal of restraint. I do not pretend that that was always present when my party was in power, and it is clear from the Hutton report that it has not been present in recent times. There are lessons to be learned from the events that led to the Hutton inquiry, and I hope that they will be learned.
As I said to the Prime Minister last week when he delivered his original statement on the Hutton report, we welcome and accept the conclusions arrived at by Lord Hutton, and pay tribute to the thoroughness of his work and that of his colleagues on the inquiry. Whatever our disagreements and differences, whether this week or during the war, on the issues and principles at stake, once the Hutton inquiry was established, we did not, as the Prime Minister was reasonable enough to acknowledge to me publicly across the Floor of the House last week, seek at any point to impugn his integrity or to reach premature judgments on the report. That distinction has not been lost on people inside and outside the House.
We accept the fundamental conclusion reached in the report—namely, that the Government did not insert intelligence information that they knew to be wrong into the dossier. There is no doubt whatsoever that mistakes were made by the BBC. There used to be an old saying at the BBC that whenever there was an inquiry, deputy heads would roll. This occasion has been the exception to the rule, because although two senior heads have rolled, as well as the junior head—Gilligan—deputy heads of management have remained unscathed. Some of us looking at the BBC from the outside in find that a bit puzzling, given the management shortcomings that the report clearly reveals.
I make this plea regarding the BBC. Last week, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber said that the report would become a weapon with which to beat the BBC and to undermine its integrity and independence in relation to function and funding. Now that the licence renewal process is under way and the charter is up for discussion, I hope, given the pledge that the Prime Minister made last week in his response to the resignations that took place, that the Government will ensure that the BBC's independence and integrity remain inviolate. Whatever mistakes were made in this case—and they were serious mistakes that led to serious consequences for all those involved and contributed to the particularly tragic consequence on which the report is centred—it is in all our long-term interests to have a viable, questioning, independent BBC. That is important not only for our national public life in Britain, but for the reputation of our country around the world.
It is clear that, as the Government and the Prime Minister have acknowledged, significant criticisms are made in the Hutton report. As the Prime Minister knows, our reservations about Hutton are based on similar grounds to those of the reservations that we expressed in our conversations earlier this week with regard to the next inquiry that is now coming on stream. The concern is that the tightness of the remit does not adequately enable the inquiries to address the fundamental question that the public want addressed—the political judgments that were taken at the top of the Government in committing this country to war.
The right hon. Gentleman has consistently questioned the integrity of the Government as to whether there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Is he equally consistent and concerned about the possibility, extreme though it may be, of weapons of mass destruction in the seas and oceans around this island? I represent a constituency that sits in the nuclear basin of the Clyde, like his hon. Friend Mr. Reid. This is a perfect opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to question the intelligence services through the Butler inquiry about exactly that issue, rather than to carry on grandstanding from the sidelines.
I have questioned the narrowness of the remit, but even I would have to acknowledge that the subject that the hon. Gentleman raises would be a rather broad remit for any further inquiry. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might well call me to order if I were to pursue that issue. None the less, the hon. Gentleman may want to make those representations as and when the next inquiry gets under way.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the political decisions taken in the Government that led to the war. Was not the political decision ultimately taken by this House in March in a vote, after a very important debate? Surely, that decision cannot now be subcontracted to a committee of inquiry. Are not such matters what we are sent here by our electorates to decide upon?
The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly fair question that gets to the heart of the matter. The parliamentary decision was indeed taken in the context and on the night to which he refers. However, the outstanding concern of many people, including many senior figures in his party—it has been expressed over the past few days—is clear. Will a further inquiry be able—clearly, it will not—to address the legitimate question that many have raised persistently: was the political decision to execute the war taken quite some considerable time before the decision was put in front of Parliament? Was it essentially arrived at in Washington, after which the Prime Minister reached his own private conclusion that war was inevitable, so it was only at a much later date that the House of Commons had the opportunity to speak as it did?
It is a political decision that has to be made at the time and on the basis of the best available evidence. This House was given, for the first time, the opportunity to have a substantive vote. What the right hon. Gentleman is questioning—this is what is puzzling me—is what is said even by intelligence sources such as David Kay, who said:
"I will just say if—I am convinced myself. If I had been there, presented with what I have seen as the record of the intelligence estimates, I probably would have come to the"— he then corrects himself, and continues—
"not probably—I would have come to the same conclusion that the political leaders did."
Given that that is the case, and that this House makes the political decision, I am still at a loss as to what the right hon. Gentleman would have wanted the new inquiry to achieve, other than giving the political decision to someone else.
If the hon. Lady was in the Chamber earlier to hear Prime Minister's questions, she will have heard the exchanges between the Prime Minister and me about the Franks committee. That committee's remit enables an analysis of the sort of questions to which she is drawing attention, but which we do not accept that Lord Hutton, as he explicitly makes clear, had a remit to inquire into in respect of certain fundamental issues. We are also concerned that the next forthcoming inquiry will be similar hidebound in terms of the remit that has been set.
Surely, if a decision has been made—it was made in March by this House on the best evidence then available—and fresh evidence subsequently arises, as it may in respect of the Iraq survey group, the court of appeal will not be some committee, but rather this House as well?
As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Menzies Campbell has just to remarked to me, if this House is the ultimate court of appeal, why have all the committees been set up in the first place? That seems a rather strange way for the Government to go about conducting the process, while denying that they are going to subcontract their own decisions to somebody else.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that he is quoting the Franks report without ever having read it? In paragraph 13 of his introductory chapter, Lord Franks states:
"We have sought to judge on each important issue whether the views expressed by Ministers and the action taken by those concerned were reasonable in the light of the information available to them and the circumstances prevailing at the time, and not to substitute our judgment of what we might have done in those circumstances."
Yet that is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is seeking for in respect of the Butler inquiry.
The question is very straightforward and we have enunciated it consistently throughout: were the big political decisions that were in front of Ministers—we can agree or disagree with the conclusions that were reached—taken in an adequate and satisfactory way, given the information that was available?
I apologise, but I must make some progress.
As Lord Hutton makes clear, it is important in the operations of government that the duty of care that was extended to Dr. Kelly was clearly not sustainable. That is not to forgive or overlook the fact that Dr. Kelly had overstepped his remit in terms of his governmental position. None the less, given the seniority and quality of the input that he had provided for the interests of this country over so many decades, it seems that the criticisms are very telling. First, there was the grotesquely bizarre strategy that was arrived at to somehow get out Dr. Kelly's name under "Any Questions?" style inquiries through the press officers in the Government. Secondly, given the torrent of interest that was going to descend upon his head, he was not given adequate press support or indeed private security when that strategy erupted and he found himself in the public domain. It is important that that issue be borne in mind.
On the dossier itself, as the Prime Minister said, the whole matter of public presentation is significant, not least in terms of the vital 45-minute issue. Yesterday, the Government said in paragraph 15 of their response to the Intelligence and Security Committee:
"The Government understands the reasoning behind the Committee's view (paragraph 112) that the presentation of the 45 minutes issue in the dossier, which was compiled for the public and not for experienced readers of intelligence material, allowed speculation as to its exact meaning."
When the Prime Minister says, "I am not responsible for headlines in the London Standard or anywhere else", it is worth bearing in mind the colossal public build-up and the sense of anticipation that surrounded the document. In the huge public relations activity that the Government entered into, they made every conceivable effort on public presentation in terms of the interpretation of the document—presentation that was clearly designed decisively to move people in one direction, and one direction only. However, as the Prime Minister acknowledged some time ago in the House, they did not do a very good job, as public opinion remained largely unmoved.
I cannot forbear quoting to the right hon. Gentleman what he said about the dossier two days after its publication. He said that it contained "no killer fact" and was
"more a confirmation of what we already knew."
That is the very point that I have just made. Despite the most strenuous efforts beginning at the top of the Government, public opinion remained substantially unmoved. That was the case despite all the propaganda efforts that were engaged upon by the Prime Minister, Alastair Campbell and everybody else. That is why so many of these questions remained outstanding then, and remain outstanding to this day.
No. I must make progress.
A further point arises in all this. Senior figures—indeed, those who themselves have occupied the position of chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee—have reflected on the matter. There is a sense—perhaps the further inquiry will have more to say on it in due course—that the intelligence that was sifted, assessed, brought together and put in front of Ministers had at times, or on this occasion, become too embroiled with the policy presentation of the Government. There are two distinct components, and if they are allowed to become conflated—this is an observation that has come from people who have occupied senior positions—it is something that the Government should reflect upon extremely seriously with regard to future activities of this sort.
No. I am not going to give way.
There is the independent inquiry. Lord Hutton made his position clear at the outset on pages 2 and 3 of his report. He stated:
"However, I concluded that a question of such wide import"— that is, to what extent Saddam Hussein posed an immediate danger to the direct interests of Britain—
" . . . is not one which falls within my terms of reference."
"The issue whether, if approved by the Joint Intelligence Committee and believed by the Government to be reliable, the intelligence contained in the dossier was nevertheless unreliable is a separate issue which I consider does not fall within my terms of reference."
The position was made clear. That disclaimer was made at the outset.
My worry is that we will not resolve those issues with the forthcoming inquiry, given the terms and the remit that have been set out again. The longer this situation continues, the longer public confidence remains dissatisfied. This life-and-death issue, specifically relating to one individual in the Hutton report but, with the war and its aftermath, to many more individuals, will continue to bedevil British politics and bedevil the world stage. We remain of the view, given the situation at the time and for the reasons that were given, that it was the wrong war, prosecuted at the wrong time for quite the wrong reasons.
I remind the House that the eight-minute limit on Back-Bench Members' speeches applies. I am sure that shorter speeches would be welcome on both sides of the House.
The opening speeches have been quite wide ranging. For reasons that I trust my colleagues will understand, I wish to concentrate on some specific aspects that are covered in the Intelligence and Security Committee's Report, "Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction—Intelligence and Assessments", which is helpfully described in the Order Paper as relevant to the debate.
I say at the beginning that in respect of Dr. David Kelly, from whom the Intelligence and Security Committee took evidence the day before his death, I agree with Sir Patrick Cormack, who said last week that his death was a great personal tragedy but not a great public scandal. I think that that is the right way of putting it. As someone who gave evidence to the Hutton inquiry, and followed it carefully, I stand by what I said at the beginning of the inquiry, which was that we must all accept it and accept the totality of the outcome in all respects.
I shall take the House back to a time a little before the Hutton inquiry. In the annual report of the ISC, which we wrote in May 2003, we said:
"It is impossible at the present moment to make any definitive statements about the role of intelligence in the situation in Iraq. . . . We intend to examine in more detail the intelligence and assessments available and their use."
In July last year the House voted for the following motion:
"That . . . the Intelligence and Security Committee, established by Parliament, by statute, is the appropriate body to consider intelligence relating to Iraq; and notes that it has already begun its work."
During last summer, the ISC worked incredibly hard to deliver the report that we produced to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on
The ISC produced a unanimous report, even though we are a multi-party Committee with members who took very different views on the war: we are a Committee of nine members, five of whom voted for action against Iraq. However, our conclusions are unanimous, and I hope that they are all the stronger for that. I am obviously pleased that Lord Hutton, who covered some of the same areas, agreed with many of our conclusions and quoted them.
Yesterday, the Government published their response to the Committee's report. In that response they chose, as has been mentioned, to highlight some of our conclusions—only some. Nevertheless, they are valid. We said that the September dossier was endorsed by the whole JIC. The September document was founded on the intelligence assessments then available. It was not sexed up. Perhaps most important of all, the JIC was not subject to political pressures. Its independence and impartiality were not compromised in any way.
I know that those issues are not central in the minds of many people now because the arguments have moved on, but at the time they were the original charges that were put to the Government. They have now been rejected not only by Lord Hutton and not only by the ISC but by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
I turn to some sections of the Committee's report that make significant points that the Government have not highlighted because they do not always agree with them. First, we believe and we say that there was a casual attitude to the 45-minute issue. We are not blaming Ministers; we are not criticising Ministers. Instead we are saying that the issue was badly handled by intelligence professionals, not least because they were not thinking of the audience who would be reading the document. Similarly, there is the issue of battlefield weapons.
We made significant comments that the Government have partly taken on board about reporting differences of opinion to the JIC within different agencies, Departments or organisations. This is specific to Brian Jones. It is a question of principle how differing views within any organisation or service can be fed to the JIC chairman when necessary.
There is much more that I would like to say about the problems of terminology and about issues that were left out of the dossier that could have been in to help people understand the nature of weapons of mass destruction and that terminology and wording. In the Prime Minister's original draft of his introduction there was reference to the fact that he was not talking about an attack on London. There was not time to go into all of those details. However, one important point relates to the basic problem of the JIC assessment on which the September dossier was based. It is covered in paragraphs 64 to 67 of our report. The JIC minute of the meeting of
"needed to make clearer which of its judgments were based on firm intelligence, which were based more on informed assessment or interpretation, and where the major intelligence gaps in the UK's knowledge and understanding of Iraq's capabilities remained."
The ISC believes that the final JIC assessment issued before the September dossier was a balanced assessment of the scenario. However, I quote the ISC's report and its verdict on the JIC's assessment:
"it did not highlight the key judgements, the uncertainties and the gaps in the UK's knowledge about the Iraqi biological and chemical weapons."
That meant that the JIC assessment, which was written for Ministers, did not highlight those, and consequently they were not highlighted in the dossier. We believe that that omission is the cause of much of the discussion and many of the difficulties that have arisen about the dossier.
There is much more that I would like to say. I want to mention the continuing work of the ISC and, in particular, the work that we have flagged up in our report on the agencies' relationship with the media, which is a very important area that we want to look at.
I wish that this debate were longer, but I hope that those who were making accusations against the Government about the September dossier will acknowledge the weight of the evidence presented by Lord Hutton and the ISC.
I want to make two points, but before I do so I take up the last point made by Ann Taylor, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, who rightly said that it is a great pity that the debate is not going on longer. Many of us called, first, for the debate to continue until 10 o'clock, or, secondly, for it to be a two-day debate. The Leader of the House ignored us, but I believe that today we are fully vindicated. I am very pleased that the right hon. Lady, an ex-Government Chief Whip and Chairman of the appropriate Committee, entirely agrees; her point was well made.
My first point, which I put to the Secretary of State for Defence—I should have liked to put it also to the Prime Minister—is that sometimes there are wrongs that are so serious that an apology is not sufficient, and a resignation or sacking is required. I refer specifically to what Lord Hutton said in paragraph 463 of his report, when he said that it was "wholly improper" for Mr. Tom Kelly to have said before the funeral that Dr. David Kelly, who had only just died, was a Walter Mitty figure. I need hardly say to the Secretary of State that that not only caused great hurt to Dr. Kelly's family and friends but was patently untrue, as was shown by all the tributes made to Dr. Kelly, perhaps most powerfully by the Prime Minister himself. I cannot understand how the Prime Minister can allow Mr. Tom Kelly to remain one of his most senior advisers in Downing street and to deal with the press.
As the House will be aware, I have had some interest in Northern Ireland, both as Tom King's Parliamentary Private Secretary when he was Secretary of State there in the 1980s and, in the last Parliament, as the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I therefore have some recollection of how Mr. Tom Kelly arrived on the scene, and it was a bad, sad occasion. The then Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, in collusion with Alastair Campbell, removed an excellent civil servant, Andy Wood. He had been a distinguished chief press officer in that Department for a long time, and he was hugely well regarded. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there was a purge of civil servants in the press departments of different Departments, with certain Secretaries of State more willing than others to dance to Mr. Campbell's tune, and so from the BBC came Mr. Tom Kelly—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Member of this House to make a sustained personal attack on a civil servant who is unable to defend himself?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry, but what Mr. Mackay is talking about does not feature in the Hutton report at all; he is talking about a perfectly routine change of civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office some years ago, which bears absolutely no resemblance or relationship to anything in the Hutton report.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. The right hon. Member for Bracknell has to be responsible for what he says in the House, and that becomes a matter of debate. I am sure that he will measure his words.
I am delighted by the point of order from Mr. Mandelson, who made my case extremely well. He will know that there was a purge of distinguished civil servants who were not prepared to dance to the tune of the chief press secretary, Alastair Campbell. Such was Mr. Kelly's devotion that he was then moved to Downing street to be Mr. Campbell's No. 2. I go back to the point that I made earlier, which is that Mr. Kelly's position should be considered.
Mr. Mandelson must not bring the Chair into the debate. As I understand it, nothing out of order has been said in the line of argument that the right hon. Member for Bracknell is taking on the report. I said that that was not out of order. I also said that I was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would measure his words.
I now move on to my second point. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and certainly Labour Members such as Ann Clwyd, whose intervention yesterday was, as so often on this subject, remarkable and correct, would have voted for action in Iraq and supported the Government whether or not there was evidence of weapons of mass destruction. As the hon. Lady said yesterday, there were other good reasons, not least genocide and the way in which Saddam Hussein's regime was destabilising the middle east, for the action to be taken.
It is absolutely clear, however, that a significant number of Members—some on this side of the House, but many more of them Labour Members—finally decided in that fateful vote at the end of the debate last May to vote with the Government only because of the evidence that had been given from the Dispatch Box about weapons of mass destruction. If that evidence had not been forthcoming, the Government would probably either have lost that vote or won it in a way that hopelessly split the parliamentary Labour party. That would inevitably have been a pressure on Ministers.
I cannot because I have only two minutes left.
I recall from my day as Government deputy Chief Whip the pressures when there was a rebellion and a tight vote. I am not for one moment suggesting to the Secretary of State for Defence that those pressures would have been succumbed to, but what is absolutely essential for this inquiry is that those conducting it satisfy themselves that at no point did Ministers in any way over-emphasise the evidence of weapons of mass destruction with the clear knowledge in the back of their mind that they would need to have that evidence to persuade so many of their right hon. and hon. Friends. That is a perfectly legitimate concern for the House, and it is essential that the inquiry reach a conclusion on that very specific point.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I do so as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but also as someone who did not support the Government in going to war in Iraq, and who would maintain that view today. However, let me say at the outset that my difficulty in supporting the Government at that time was not because I felt that they had behaved improperly over intelligence matters or exercised improper influence over the intelligence agencies, but because I disagreed with the political judgments that they took after receiving the intelligence, and because of other issues, not intelligence-related, which were part of the open and public political debate at the time.
I support what my right hon. Friend Ann Taylor said about the Intelligence and Security Committee. She rightly refuted the claim that members of the ISC, because they are appointed by the Prime Minister, are there to do the Prime Minister's bidding. The fact that he appoints us is in any case, in my view, far more significant in theory than in practice, as in practice consultations take place between the parties and the Whips, and, furthermore, I believe that we take our duties as parliamentarians seriously and reject the idea that the job of a Committee member is to be a cipher for anyone, the Prime Minister included.
The ISC report contained criticisms of the Government, as well as recognising areas where they should definitely not be blamed. The Committee was able to agree the report unanimously, on the basis of the detailed investigations that it carried out, but the point needs to be stressed that intelligence, and the conclusions drawn from it, are only one part of the overall situation, forming only a part of the basis on which a political judgment on whether to go to war is made.
The other elements are familiar to all of us, yet, frustratingly, in all the furore over intelligence, get overlooked. Those include issues such as whether it was advisable to give the inspectors more time, given that they had begun to have successes, and issues such as achieving a wider and bigger coalition of countries willing to take action, or whether the importance of our alliance with the United States should take precedence, to which the Prime Minister and the Government obviously attached great priority.
Other issues include whether the United Nations should have had a wider and more direct role, and questions about the international legality of the proposed action. In my view, many of those wider issues militated against the Government going to war when they did, but other wider issues motivated people to take a different view—in particular, the flouting by Iraq over many years of United Nations resolutions, and its appalling treatment of its own citizens. One of the issues that made me hesitate at the time of the vote was the powerful testimony from my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd, and the testimonies that she ensured were heard of the families of Saddam Hussein's victims.
To say that the decision to go to war was completely intelligence-driven is inaccurate, and I regret the fact that Ministers sometimes give that impression. To blame intelligence for the decision to go to war is entirely unwarranted.
Let me turn to the report of Lord Hutton and its aftermath. When Lord Hutton was appointed, the press were full of praise for his integrity and the respect in which he was held by colleagues throughout the judiciary and more widely. I do not believe that he has undergone a personality or character change in the past few months, so I find it depressing that he is now being portrayed in some sections of the press as a biased and even dishonourable Government stooge. After the initial stunned reaction by the press to the report, we have seen a media fightback over the weekend, seemingly fuelled by disappointed rage that the report did not lambast the Government, as had been so fervently hoped.
Some of the media coverage has been, frankly, vicious and shocking. I could give many examples, but to give just one, The Sunday Times ran the screaming headline "Campbell crows", continuing on the next page, "as widow grieves". That seems to me to be a completely unacceptable way of reporting anything. It is offensive both to Alastair Campbell, who was exonerated in the Hutton report, and to Dr. Kelly's widow and family, on whom it piles further distress and intrusion.
Does the right hon. Lady think that, even for charity, it was appropriate, the day after the publication of what was effectively Dr. Kelly's obituary, for Mr. Campbell to sell signed copies of the report?
I am not commenting on any of the reactions of people who were mentioned in the report. I am referring only to some of the disgraceful headlines in the press, which do not do their writers any credit.
A number of surveys have concluded that people do not believe the findings of the Hutton report, but I believe that it is dishonest and unacceptable to conduct instant surveys, when the respondents are unlikely even to have seen a copy of the report, and would not have had time to read it. Indeed, how many of us can claim to have read and fully digested every word? Conducting surveys in such circumstances is another vivid example of how superficial and wild the response to the report has been.
Like other hon. Members, I strongly defend a free press and believe in fearless investigative journalism, but such journalism should be accurate, and not based on unchecked and unsubstantiated information. On the BBC, I regret the fact that Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke resigned, and I am far less interested in resignations than in efforts to improve the accuracy of reporting. Improved journalistic standards, rather than finding scapegoats, would be the ideal consequence of the Hutton report.
On the new inquiry that the Government announced yesterday, I was pleased that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister said that their preference would have been for the all-party Intelligence and Security Committee to undertake further work. I regret strongly the fact that neither the Conservative party nor the Liberal Democrats have sufficient faith in their own parliamentary colleagues, and that the Conservatives in particular pressed for a committee that is already being perceived in the press as more pro-establishment in its composition than a cross-party Committee of parliamentarians.
I am also not convinced that we needed to follow the example of the inquiry announced by President Bush. The situation in the United States is different, and in particular, unlike the ISC, the US congressional intelligence committees have failed to achieve a common view and have split on party lines. Indeed, electoral considerations have played a huge and unhelpful part in the deliberations in the United States.
The committee that we have set up will have some real issues to consider, arising both from earlier reports and from the findings of the Iraq survey group. I wish it well, but, whatever its findings, it cannot change the reality that the decision to go to war was based on a political judgment—openly debated, and about which there will always be controversy—just as the decision to take military action on numerous other occasions has been.
I shall not reopen the issue of whether the House was right to decide to take this country to war—a decision that I completely support, for the reasons that the Prime Minister outlined earlier today—nor question the conclusions of Lord Hutton's inquiry, as far as they go, within its limited remit, but that does not preclude any Member of Parliament questioning the veracity of the intelligence presented to the Government and the way in which that intelligence was used.
I welcome the inquiry that has been set up. It needs to get to the truth about what intelligence we had and whether it was accurate. It needs to restore public confidence both in the intelligence services, which I personally have great faith in and to which I pay tribute, and in the way in which politicians use that intelligence in order to make a case for a particular course of action.
This is where I differ from the Government, because I do not believe that the Hutton inquiry has exonerated or acquitted them on some of the issues that arise concerning the interface between the intelligence service and the politicians. Paragraph 467(1)(viii) of the inquiry conclusions says:
"'sexed-up' is a slang expression . . . It is capable of two different meanings."
I fully accept that the Government have been acquitted of the charge of using intelligence dishonestly, but on the alternative definition of "sexed up" Lord Hutton states that
"it could be said that the Government 'sexed-up' the dossier".
The hon. Gentleman wants me to say that Mr. Gilligan's allegations were not proved, which I accept, but it is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to accept that there is an issue. A new situation arose with the publication of the dossier. Never before has a decision of such importance been based on published evidence from the security services. The relationship between politicians and the intelligence services will form an important part of the inquiry that has just been established and must fall within its remit.
I attended some of the evidence sessions of the Hutton inquiry. I watched John Scarlett give his presentation and suffer cross-examination by Mr. Dingemans and Lord Hutton. I have no reason to question John Scarlett's integrity or ability, but it was clear to me from the evidence that he presented and the evidence with which he was confronted that at the time when the dossier was produced he was under intense pressure and subject to many competing claims on his attention and judgment, and I shall give two examples of that.
First, there were competing memorandums—some from Alastair Campbell and some from the defence intelligence services. Some of them said "take out 'maybe' and put 'certainly'"; others said "take out 'certainly' and put 'maybe'". The idea that the defence intelligence services were giving substantive advice about the content of the document but Alastair Campbell was simply helping to present the information is a distinction that became blurred. It cannot possibly be said that under those circumstances it was easy for John Scarlett to make the judgment that he had to make. That is why the matter must be studied by the inquiry.
Secondly, I shall go further and give the House completely new information. Two weeks before the dossier was published, the International Institute for Strategic Studies produced a dossier about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. As shadow Secretary of State for Defence, I attended a private briefing with the IISS at which I learned that it had been summoned to No. 10 to give a presentation about its document. It had been told that there was concern that its document had stolen the thunder from the forthcoming publication of the Government document.
The evidence presented to the Hutton inquiry included information on the frantic search for any new information. The Joint Intelligence Committee was being put under pressure to come up with something new and sensational—my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt referred to the headline that Alastair Campbell wanted so badly to make the case for war. The relationship and procedures between the intelligence services and politicians must be reviewed by the inquiry. I am pleased to say that the inquiry undoubtedly covers that relationship because my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition has amended its terms of reference to include discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict.
I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Defence, who has been through a difficult time and must have had some sleepless nights questioning whether he did everything right under the circumstances. I am pleased that he has been acquitted by the Hutton inquiry of any wrongdoing. That is a good thing for politics and a good thing for politicians in general. In turn, I hope that he will have the generosity to acknowledge that public confidence in the relationship between politicians and the intelligence services is a real issue. If we want the public to believe that published intelligence information is intelligence and not propaganda, we must be able to answer the question, "At what stage does intelligence become propaganda when it is in the hands of the spin doctors and politicians?"
I issued a statement when Dr. Kelly died, and I shall repeat it to the House:
"I deeply regret Dr. Kelly's death. I'm sorry for any of the stress that, albeit unintentionally, I may have caused him during his questioning before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. I wish to express my sincere condolences to his wife and family."
Immediately after Dr. Kelly's death, a Sunday paper reprinted that statement and added, "And then Mackinlay went into hiding". I did not go into hiding, but I did not want to talk to the Sunday papers because I took the view, which was manifestly obvious out of courtesy and common sense, "The less said the better, let Lord Hutton fulfil and discharge his duties, and let us have regard to a grieving family." On the Saturday when we learned about Dr. Kelly's death, my wife and I were appalled that a Sunday paper approached us to offer me money to comment. We have kept our counsel about that, but it was the case. I want to place on record how disgusted I was by that approach.
What was the Foreign Affairs Committee doing last summer? We were trying to discharge our duty to Parliament to examine whether the Government exaggerated the case that they presented to Parliament and the people for going to war. We tried to discharge that duty as best we could, but our report to House states that we felt that we were frustrated in fulfilling that duty—that is not only my view, but that of the Committee.
I hope that the Prime Minister will reflect on the point that Lord Hutton cross-examined John Scarlett in public, but the Foreign Affairs Committee was refused access to him. When we requested the drafts of the September dossier, we were refused them; Lord Hutton has put them on the worldwide web. If the Prime Minister had said, "You can have John Scarlett in secret," we would have compromised. If he had said, "The documents will be written on rice paper and you must eat them afterwards," we would have compromised, too. There is a lesson about the capacity of the Government to respond to reasonable requests from parliamentary Committees, and I hope that that will be picked up as a serious point, despite the levity with which I introduced it.
There is an obsession with secrecy in this country. One thing that irritates me—the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend Ann Taylor touched on this—is the interface between journalists and the security and intelligence services. In submission to Lord Hutton, I said that the security and intelligence services speak to journalists all the time. The people they will not speak to are politicians. That situation is surely unacceptable. I do not mind the security and intelligence services speaking to journalists, but I expect them to have a public interface with politicians, and particularly with Committees of this House.
I shall illustrate the point about the obsession with secrecy. On
The answer was the equivalent of saying, "I'm not going to tell you; it's a secret." That is not sustainable and we cannot tolerate it. Is it really a matter of national security whether any such meeting took place? In any event, we are entitled to know.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence winds up, perhaps he can tell us the latest position of the investigation into the fact that Andrew Gilligan told the Foreign Affairs Committee that he had had access to a top-secret document. I told Lord Hutton that the source would not be discovered, because it was obviously from someone in a high echelon, so the Government dare not find out who it was. I repeat the point that people in the security and intelligence community talk to journalists all the time. If it was someone at the level of Sarah Tisdall, he or she would be found out in five minutes, but people at the top are not discovered, and I really do not like that.
With the greatest respect to my good colleagues on the Intelligence and Security Committee, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury and for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) and Mr. Mates—who will shortly become a Privy Councillor, although some of us are nature's Privy Councillors and do not need recognition from the Queen—there is no parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence services in this country. I do not accept that it is a distinction without a difference that the ISC is appointed by the Prime Minister, meets in secret and reports to him. The evidence given by Dr. David Kay last week to the US Congress would have been given in secret in this country. We cannot tolerate that.
I agree with my hon. Friend Ms Stuart that the ISC's status must be reviewed. However, that review must be genuine, and not just a matter of passing a resolution that says that it is now a parliamentary Committee. As inadequate as our selection processes are, it should be for this Parliament to choose the Chairman and membership of the Committee that provides parliamentary oversight.
The Leader of the Opposition made an interesting speech. As he said, we must all reflect on what lessons are to be learned, and I shall do so. I know that the Liaison Committee and others are considering this issue, but witnesses who appear before our Committees need to be cautioned about our expectations. It is reasonable for us to expect candour and full disclosure. Witnesses should not be leaned on by other parties outside the hearings. We pass a motion to that effect in the Sessional Orders after every Queen's Speech. I appeal to Members who will review those orders not to do away with them, but to reinforce them and to see that they are brought to the attention of witnesses before they appear before Committees. That is in the interests of the witnesses and of fairness, because there appears to be a prevailing culture that it is legitimate to give away as little information to parliamentary Committees as one can get away with. I have seen that attitude in several Committees, from private and public sector witnesses, as well as Ministers. That has to be stopped; otherwise we will diminish our capacity to scrutinise, rather than expand it.
Every Select Committee has the chance to decide the subject of its inquiries. The danger is that Committees will be tempted to take the soft options, instead of adopting the issues that challenge the Government, and to which Governments find it difficult to respond. It is our duty not to buckle under pressure. We want Members of Parliament who are prepared to ignore signs that say "No Trespassers" or "Do Not Enter". We should enter doors marked with such signs, and I give my commitment to the House that I shall do so—regardless of what has happened in the past, which I deeply regret. Otherwise, failing that, Parliament will be diminished.
With regard to the inquiry on which I shall not serve and my party's decision about its terms of reference, the phrase used by Andrew Mackinlay—"No Trespassers"—is relevant. The Government have fenced off a no man's land in the terms of reference, which lies between the charge of improper conduct, which was rejected by the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Hutton report, and the quality of intelligence. The first was covered by Hutton and the second will be covered by the new inquiry, but the no man's land involves Government decision making and the interaction of Ministers with officials from the intelligence services. It involves the extent to which intelligence was selected, perhaps unconsciously, to find support for a policy that had already been decided. That is a legitimate area for consideration.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way at the moment. I shall keep in mind his wish to intervene, but I want to ensure that I cover two points about the ISC report and one about the BBC.
Paragraph 116 of the ISC report refers to the Defence Intelligence Staff, and I mentioned it in exchanges with the Prime Minister, today and yesterday. The Committee recommended that if individuals in the intelligence community wrote formally to their line managers with concerns about JIC assessments, the concerns should be brought to the attention of the JIC chairman. That recommendation has not been accepted by the Government, who have taken the view that the importance of the authority of line managers might be undermined if it were possible for someone such as Dr. Brian Jones to insist that the chairman of the JIC knew of his reservations about the way in which information was expressed in an assessment or—even worse—in a public dossier. That is why I posed my question to the Prime Minister. There is a tension between the remit of line management and the need to ensure that expert opinion is brought to the fore on matters on which it is necessary. The JIC itself did not have the technical competence to judge on those issues—which the ISC implied in what it said—and did not have before it some of the reservations that had been made.
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's anxieties over matters that the committee that has been set up might not be able to examine. But once the phrase "use of the intelligence" has been introduced to the committee's remit, which we have insisted on, is that not precisely what it will be able to comment on? In those circumstances, I am bound to say how much I regret that the committee will be deprived of the right hon. Gentleman's services, as the wording meets the very point that is causing him anxiety.
I am not satisfied with that wording, partly because I have heard the Prime Minister, both yesterday and today, assert how strongly he wishes to protect the field of political judgment. Political judgment is intertwined with decisions being made about intelligence, which is why I believe there is still a no man's land. I hope that the inquiry will trespass into that no man's land, and I am not happy with terms of reference that exclude it.
"al-Qaida and associated groups . . . represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq."
That was one of a number of factors to be considered, but it was not one to which Ministers alluded. The impression that they sought to give was often very different, as they suggested that the greatest threat from terrorism would be from the continuance of the Saddam Hussein regime—evil though it was. The Prime Minister currently takes refuge in a phrase that refers to the "nexus between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction"—a vague and imprecise concept that I do not remember ever seeing in any intelligence assessment, and which does not address the question of that particular threat—that holder of weapons of mass destruction, that terrorist group, and the possibility of a link between the two. If Members had known more about the available intelligence on the dangers that would arise with regime collapse, they would have wanted to take that into account. I am not saying that it would necessarily have changed their judgment, but that intelligence factor was omitted.
I want to add to the point that the right hon. Gentleman made some moments ago. In turning down our recommendation, the Government gave the impression that the concerns to which he referred should be left to line management, rather than being brought to the attention of the chairman of the JIC. That belies that fact—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that this is right—that only about twice in the past seven to 10 years has an official felt strongly enough to put his reservations about intelligence in writing. That reinforces the point that the JIC chairman should at least be aware of such concerns.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct, and I am grateful to him for adding to my argument.
I want to refer to the BBC and, like others today, emphasise that the mistakes that its management made, which have been paid for in resignations, should not lead to any undermining of its independence or to the exercise of any leverage in negotiations over the charter or the licence fee. An independent BBC is very important to us.
I shall take the greatest of all possible political risks and comment on the "Today" programme, which plays a significant part in many of our lives. The resignations and top management changes—of heads rather than deputy heads—have perhaps led us to miss a point about the pressures that programmes are currently under in reporting such matters. The "Today" programme has come under pressure, from past editors, I suspect, to concentrate on getting the story first, rather than getting the story right. The frequent use of expressions such as, "This programme has learned," and "The BBC has been told," suggest that the programme is engaged in a ratings war with the newspapers. We look to a programme like that, for which we all have great affection, to get a story right, and we frankly do not care if its story appears later than a story in some newspaper that is speculative and wrong. I am sure that many of those who make the programme are trying to abide by that principle, but they should have it reinforced in the processes that follow the Hutton report.
Another feature that I want to mention is not peculiar to the "Today" programme but applies to news bulletins as well—I believe that that is a factor in some of these problems. It is the interview format adopted when correspondents explain a matter. This used to be done by a correspondent appearing in front of camera and saying some rather carefully prepared words. Having a journalist interviewed at 7 minutes past 6 in the morning from his home is likely to lead to words not being carefully chosen at all. I do not believe that that was the only factor in the Gilligan error—indeed, the Gilligan falsehood, as Hutton rightly rules it—but presentational pressure to make the statement of a well informed correspondent appear like an interview or a casual conversation between him and the presenter does not contribute to ensuring that the story is right. Those of us who value the BBC highly look to it to get the story right—we do not care whether it gets it first—and presentation is not the most important issue.
Having concluded with those comments, I think I have made sure that I shall not appear on the "Today" programme for quite some time. That will make my mornings more comfortable.
I adopt everything that Mr. Beith has said.
Seven days is a long time in politics. A week ago, I criticised the Leader of the Opposition for what I deemed an unworthy response to the Prime Minister. Today, I commend him for his highly constructive contribution to the debate.
Lord Hutton published his report last week. He is a distinguished judge, whose appointment was greeted with acclamation. He is a man of undoubted integrity and independence. The conduct of his inquiry was also praised. I appeared before him for almost two hours, and therefore have some idea of the care that he took. He agonised long over the conclusions that he reached. That was also the general impression conveyed by the press at the time. Lord Hutton was hailed as
"a Judge not afraid to stand up to the Establishment".
He was commended for his "fearless independence", for being
"very much his own man", and for being "shrewd and astute". One journalist identified in him
"a sharpness of mind and efficiency that stunned witnesses and journalists".
Suddenly, however, when the report was published, Lord Hutton was blamed for his "naiveté", and for his "unbalanced document". The charge of "whitewash" was common currency, even on the front pages of the newspapers. There was widespread disappointment and frustration that Lord Hutton did not take the scalps of any senior politicians, including that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who I am delighted to say was wholly absolved by the report.
This tells us much about the state of British democracy. Of course the press is the bulwark of our freedom. Its ability to question, using investigative journalism, is absolutely vital, but this should be coupled with responsibility. There is a danger of the press subverting our democracy by creating a climate of mistrust and malice towards those in public life, cynically hunting in packs for its next victim. There must surely be a middle way between deference and malicious point scoring, and between questioning scepticism and corroding cynicism.
Lord Hutton clearly interpreted his remit as requiring something broader than an inquest but narrower than an inquiry into the causes of war. In that, he was right. The quality of the intelligence involved must now be investigated. David Kay told the Senate committee last week that we were all wrong. Of course, we learn of intelligence failures—indeed, Libya was another failure in terms of its nuclear capacity—but not of the successes. Some failures might have been due to Saddam Hussein having been deceived by his generals, or having sought to be duplicitous to others. Human intelligence might have been weak, or have relied too much on exiles. There could have been a "group think" among the experts because of the serial liar who was in charge of Iraq. There was of course a failure to record dissent within the security establishment. All these are important questions which the committee needs to address. But I agree with the broad conclusion of Lord Hutton, which of course the leader of the Opposition accepted, too. The BBC was at fault. Ultimately it made a full apology. There was sloppy journalism, and there was no, or insufficient, rigorous questioning along the route.
Is it just old-fashioned of me, and perhaps the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, to say that the BBC's reputation was based on its practice in the past of reporting the news objectively, rather than seeking to make the news—a point made excellently by the editor of the Financial Times in last Saturday's edition?
I hope also that the inquiry will not divert attention from the real challenges of peace in Iraq and of reconstructing that country.
I turn to the role of Select Committees, which my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay mentioned. He addressed the question of access to information, individuals and documents. The Committees of the House have powers to send for persons, papers and records—PPR, in the jargon. In practice, however, the power is unenforceable against Ministers, because of the Government's parliamentary majority.
In the course of our inquiry, the Foreign Affairs Committee reached conclusions that, save in one particular, were accepted by the Intelligence and Security Committee, which had access to all the intelligence that we asked for. We asked for Alastair Campbell to appear before us; we also asked for Scarlett, Omand, Dearlove and others. All this was refused to us, except, at the second time of trying, Alastair Campbell. Yet all gave evidence to an inquiry that lacked any power to compel their attendance.
Similarly, the Foreign Affairs Committee asked for drafts of the weapons of mass destruction dossier and other papers, so that we could look at the route it took step by step. Again, all those papers were denied to a Committee of Parliament, even in confidence, but are now all published for people to read on the Hutton inquiry website. Surely that is wrong. If the House is to do its job, and its expert Committees are to do their job on behalf of the House and the public, we must be given the tools.
I made the point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday in the Liaison Committee, and I made it to him this morning. I hope that this issue will not go away, and that the House will learn that as one of the key lessons of Hutton. Of course, as parliamentarians we are envious of the access of Hutton's inquiry to witnesses and information. The Government must take Parliament and its Committees more seriously.
As I have said, that is one of the key lessons to be learnt. The other is the light that the human tragedy of a good and distinguished public servant, Dr. Kelly, throws on the current climate of mistrust and cynicism fostered by the press with regard to those in public life, and the presumption that those in public life are at best to be mistrusted and at worst dishonest.
I trust that as a House we shall learn the lessons from this tragic episode and try to move forward in a spirit of greater humility, respect and indeed trust.
I suppose I should begin by declaring an interest of sorts, in that I edit a magazine which received Andrew Gilligan's reports throughout the Gulf war—and very proud we were of those reports, none of which was remotely anti-war.
I shall now do a very unfashionable thing, which is to stick up for Andrew Gilligan. We heard from the Labour benches about how people have been pilloried and vilified. No one has been more pilloried and vilified than that journalist. I propose to try to vindicate what he said.
This debate takes place after the Prime Minister has announced an inquiry into the Government's extraordinary failure to give an accurate picture of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction before the war. I hope that Lord Butler will somehow in his findings pay tribute to the work of Andrew Gilligan in exposing the way in which Downing Street revised raw intelligence material in the hope of making it sound more alarming and making the threat sound more imminent.
To understand what I think happened—and I am paid to say what I think—one must remember the origins of Alastair Campbell as a tabloid journalist. He was political editor of the Daily Mirror, and went to Downing street as editor-in-chief of the propaganda campaign, in particular the propaganda campaign to convince the public—and especially Labour Members, whose votes were very important—that Saddam was a clear and present threat to this country. In his office in Downing street, Alastair Campbell chaired a series of very important meetings. Very senior civil servants were there, among them John Scarlett, chairman of the JIC. Alastair Campbell told John Scarlett
"I will chair a team that will go through the document from a presentational point of view, and make recommendations to you."
Everyone who has worked on a newspaper, tabloid or broadsheet—as I have—will know that newspapers are basically monarchical in structure. If the editor is known to be partial to a certain story or a certain subject—pheasants, say—loyal underlings will provide the editor with pheasants. Or a story about topless models, or whatever it happens to be. That is how it works. He is the Sun King, and they are sunflowers who turn their faces towards him.
The hon. Gentleman clearly has a keen understanding of these matters.
As Lord Hutton himself observed, this may be subconsciously—he said "subconsciously"—corrupting. But I think that in the case of the influence of Downing street on the intelligence services it was clearly more than subconsciously corrupting, for there was a whole series of overt and explicit memos. In the spring and summer of 2002, the intelligence services had produced a fairly cautious document about the state of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. It may be remembered that the original document, which was not published because it was too feeble, said that there was a chemical and biological weapons capability, but made no mention of actual weapons. It said that Iraq was at least five years away from producing a nuclear weapon. That, of course, was not exactly what the editorial staff in Downing street wanted to hear.
Phil Bassett, himself a former journalist and a member of the Downing street press office, sent a memo saying,
"We're in a lot of trouble as it stands now."
Another memo went out from Downing street saying,
"No 10 through the Chairman wants the document to be as strong as possible within the bounds of the available" evidence.
"Therefore this is a last (!) call for elements that agencies think can and should be included."
In due course, naturally, Scarlett obliged. He produced a dossier in which some of the language had been strengthened. But Campbell, the editor-in-chief, still was not happy. There was a sentence that read
"The Iraq military may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so".
Mr. Campbell pointed out that that was weaker than the wording of the summary, and requested that it be changed. That request was granted, along with requests for a dozen other material changes designed to beef up the language.
Some analysts on the Defence Intelligence Staff were uneasy about the 45-minute claim. Dr. Brian Jones—whose intimate involvement with the whole business was discussed earlier by the Prime Minister—said:
"The way the intelligence was reported did not give us any confidence that the primary source knew very much about the subject."
He went to see Dr. Kelly, who himself expressed some doubts about, for instance, the biological weapons claim, but when they passed their concerns up to their superiors those concerns were ignored. Jones said he felt that
"the shutters were coming down".
An unnamed official was so alarmed by the draft that he wrote a highly unusual memo of protest:
The 20th September draft still includes a number of statements which are not supported by the evidence available to me . . . What I wish to record is that based on the intelligence available to me, it has NOT been established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons."
As for the notorious 45-minute claim, he said
"This is based on a single source. It is not clear what is meant by 'weapons are deployable within 45 minutes'. The judgment is too strong considering the evidence on which it is based".
"The threat of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. The history and present threat are real".
"Alastair, what will the headline be in the Standard" after they had published this thing?
"What do we want it to be?"
We do not have Campbell's answer, but I think we can guess, because the Evening Standard duly obliged the Government's propaganda machine and said "45 minutes from attack".
The Sun said, "He's got 'em . . . Let's get him." It was nonsense, of course. It was an inverted pyramid of piffle. To make matters worse, the Government allowed the tabloids to misconstrue the 45-minute reference to mean ground or air-launched missiles rather than battlefield weapons. In other words, a claim that was rubbish had been embellished at the Government's behest and at the specific request of Alastair Campbell.
Let us go back to the fateful change and the psychology of the parties involved. The intelligence services are already straining to oblige their political masters and they have beefed up the language as far as they dare, but Campbell comes back to Scarlett and wants him to ratchet it up one notch higher. He wants to move the claim from the conditional to the indicative mood, as the grammarians would say. Why does Scarlett accede to that? Because he is in the position of a foreign correspondent who has before him a campaigning editor, but the story is not quite hot or strong enough, so he agrees to hype it up. He takes a risk because he thinks he can get away with it because the facts may well turn out to support his editor's desire and he wants a quiet life and to be obliging.
That is, in essence, what Andrew Gilligan reported. He said that the Government probably knew that the figure was wrong. They and Campbell certainly did not know that the figure was right, yet they put it before the public and before Parliament as an incontrovertible fact. Gilligan said that his source was involved in the production of the dossier, which was certainly true. He said that there was anxiety in the intelligence services about the dossier, which has been amply confirmed.
I ask Labour Members who deride Gilligan whether they are happy that those facts were brought into the public domain. I also ask them in their triumphalism to reflect on whether it is possible that the Government made mistakes in the production of the dossier—
The time limit makes it difficult for me to respond to the interesting remarks of Mr. Johnson. I will focus my brief remarks on three areas: the publication of intelligence, the future of the BBC and the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
First, on the publication of intelligence, the Intelligence and Security Committee's report on Iraqi WMD says that we intended to examine the agencies' relationship with the media and the use of intelligence-derived material by the Government to brief the public. The dossier published in September 2002 was the first of its kind, and we can learn much from the experiment. Lord Hutton has shown us that the rules were not broken in the drafting of the dossier, and I am pleased that the Government have been cleared in that way.
The rules were not broken, but the question we must ask ourselves now is whether we have the right rules. My view is that we do not—not yet. I believe that the Government should operate with a presumption of openness. Intelligence, however, is obviously inherently different. For good reason, the intelligence agencies work in secret and much of their findings is kept secret. If, however, intelligence on issues of great national importance can be made public without jeopardising the work of the agencies, a case can be made for publishing it. In theory, that should enable the public to have a more informed debate on the subject in question. The question is: who should publish that work and on what terms?
Let me be clear: I do not condemn the decision of my right hon. Friends to publish the dossier in September 2002. The House may recall that the Intelligence and Security Committee supported that decision in our annual report last year. But we have to learn the lessons of this whole affair, and my conclusion is that Governments should not, in future, be involved in the publication of intelligence-based documents.
Intelligence does not readily lend itself to publication. It is rarely cut and dried. The intelligence received is a stream of often conflicting or inconclusive data, from which people have to make judgments. It is for the Government to take decisions based on those judgments.
My view is that, by their very nature, Governments will be selective in their use of intelligence. A Government will tend to cite intelligence publicly only when trying to persuade the public on a difficult point. Sometimes a Government may take a decision that is in conflict with the balance of the available intelligence, but it is difficult to imagine such a Government choosing to publish a dossier full of that intelligence.
An alternative approach could be for the intelligence agencies alone to draft any intelligence-related documents to be published. Ministers would not be answerable for them, but the documents could be debated. One advantage of such an approach would be that there could then be no suspicion—however unfounded—of Government pressure or interference; and no possibility that any members of the Joint Intelligence Committee might be "sub-consciously influenced", as Lord Hutton put it, to use wording stronger than would otherwise be used. The hon. Member for Henley made a lot of that.
A further advantage of that approach is that authorship of such reports would be clear. That is an important point for members of the public looking at the statements made at the time of the dossier's publication. Its authorship is not clear. Was it written by the intelligence services, or the Government?
In that context, one option would be for the intelligence agencies to publish annually a report of their assessment of security issues. My view, based on what has happened in the past couple of years, is that, as a general rule, intelligence material should not be published. Instead, the Government should set out their judgments in the normal way, in a statement to the House or in an official Government document. In the case of Iraq, the Government would have published their own document, setting out their considered view of the nature of the threat.
I turn now to the future of the BBC. It is important that we do not overreact. Clearly, Andrew Gilligan made a mistake in his broadcast, which was compounded by the way that it was dealt with in the BBC chains of command. However, we must not respond in a way that would damage the BBC, which is a truly great British institution.
I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister assured my right hon. Friend Alan Howarth, my colleague on the Intelligence and Security Committee, that Lord Hutton's strictures against the BBC will not bias the Government in their consideration of the future of the charter and the licence fee.
Much of what the BBC currently does is policed by Ofcom, but I believe that regulation of the BBC should not be transferred entirely to that body. The BBC is different from other broadcasters: it is a public service, paid for and owned by everyone. The BBC exists to set standards for others and to play a vital role in our democracy. One only has to look at what is served up in news bulletins in other countries to begin to recognise what an asset we have in the BBC.
Finally, important though the questions surrounding Andrew Gilligan's broadcasts were, and tragic though the death of Dr Kelly was, at some point we must leave these discussions behind us. The real question is, why did we go to war?
For the UK, the central case was Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. There is the separate question of regime change, but the stated basis of the British Government's decision to go to war was Iraq's WMD.
The past is the past. Whether or not there actually were WMD in Iraq, I believed that the UN weapons inspectors should have been given more time to do their job. The Government disagreed. I do not doubt that they acted in good faith, on the basis of the intelligence that they had. However, statements were made—about 45 minutes, the thousands of tonnes of WMD agent, and so on—that I do not believe that anyone here would make now.
As I have said, I do not doubt that the Government acted in good faith. We therefore have to ask ourselves whether the intelligence was wrong. We have all heard the statements by David Kay, the outgoing leader of the Iraq survey group. He put the matter starkly when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last Wednesday,
"We were all wrong, probably, in my judgment, and that is most disturbing."
I am not saying that there is nothing there. David Kay himself spoke of a programme to develop a weapon using ricin that was active until the war, and the Iraq survey group has not finished its work. However, it is looking less and less likely that Iraq possessed great stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, or that there was large-scale production of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
Lord Hutton did not address that matter, and it is wrong to criticise him for not doing so, as that was not in his remit. Instead, he was judging whether the intelligence was properly presented, but the time has come to take stock of the intelligence itself. The fundamental questions now have to do with whether it was right to go to war in the first place and, given the present situation in Iraq, with the proper role of Britain and its armed forces.
As my right hon. Friend Joyce Quin noted, intelligence material is only one of a number of factors that the Government had to weigh in the balance in taking the momentous decision to go to war. There is a feeling among the public that the intelligence may have been flawed. If the further inquiry that the Foreign Secretary announced yesterday is able to cast some light on that, then it will be doing the country a service.
I rather suspect that Lord Hutton, if he pays any attention to such matters, will have been amused at the way in which the press lionised him at first and then turned against him when he did not produce the desired results. He may even share my amusement at the especially fatuous comment that his report lacked balance. The sentiment seems to have been that his criticism of the BBC meant that he should have criticised the Government as well.
That comment betrays a complete misconception of Lord Hutton's function. He is a judge who was asked to examine certain issues. He took evidence, saw and evaluated witnesses, and made what he considered to be findings of fact. Having looked at his report, I find it difficult to see any basis for differing from his findings on the facts, but of course whether those facts fit into someone's notion of balance is entirely another matter.
Some of the comments—especially some of the commentary—were silly. Joyce Quin referred to a particular newspaper; I want to refer to a particular commentary, although I shall reveal neither the organ nor the author. Two thirds of the way through my example—a splendid denunciation of Lord Hutton—was a little sentence saying that the author had not had time to study the report in detail, which being translated meant that he had not read it.
I turn from that commentary in an outlet that has a high opinion of itself to the refreshingly different point of view of a former editor of The Sun—Mr. Yelland, writing in The Times on Friday. He said:
"I can truly say that when I was Editor of The Sun that story would not have passed muster. I would have asked so many questions it would not have seen the light of day.
And if it did get in the paper and Campbell had called me, I would have gone through the reporter's notes and, in this case, I would have fired him."
The claim further on in the paper that the tabloid press still retains some of the values of reporters of fact, whereas so much of the quality press is now dominated by commentators who wish to make an impact and a political point is a good one. Although, as a balance to those comments, Andreas Whittam Smith, in The Independent, made the good point that the BBC needs a strong editorial function.
I do not have time to go into details, but the e-mails sent by Kevin Marsh of the "Today" programme are reproduced on page 195 of the Hutton report. He listed eight points that should be introduced to ensure a proper editorial regime over the matters that Mr. Gilligan would deal with in future on the programme. Mention of those points concedes that such editorial control did not exist before that.
I was struck by the comments on the Marsh memorandum included elsewhere in the report. Mr. Dyke said that it had not been brought to his attention and when that was queried, he replied:
"This is further down the chain, quite a long way down the chain".
Similar comments made by Mr. Sambrook and Mr. Davies indicate that persons in the upper echelons of the BBC did not regard the comments of the editor of their flagship current affairs radio programme as something worthy of their attention, or that should even have been brought to their attention. A decent editorial structure in the BBC would be quite different from that, and I hope that the BBC will address that problem, as well as looking into the culture that has developed of making news rather than providing decent analysis of it.
Reference has been made to maintaining the independence of the BBC. That is important, but we need integrity at the BBC, too. I am sorry to have to tell the House that, where I come from, that integrity has sometimes not existed. A journalist who now writes for a left-wing newspaper but who, at the time, was the security correspondent for BBC Northern Ireland gave me one such example. When Garda Gerry McCabe was murdered in the Irish Republic, that BBC security correspondent received, from three separate sources, confirmation that the murder was committed by the IRA and the names of the four persons who are currently serving prison terms, but was told, "Oh no, you can't report that, because it's based on supposition". BBC Northern Ireland then broadcast an interview with a Sinn Fein luvvie, who said, "Oh no, it was the Irish National Liberation Army". I connect that misrepresentation with the circumstance that someone at a senior level in BBC Northern Ireland was arrested in the early 1960s trying to set fire to an Army recruitment office. The case was hushed up because that youngster was then, as now, very well connected. These are questions of integrity. We need to return to a proper sense of public service broadcasting.
A new, fresh inquiry has been announced, and I welcome that. Although I realise that it is in no way connected with the comments that I made in the House a week ago about the need for such an inquiry, I am glad, for other reasons, that it has been set up. It is good that the inquiry will be able to look into the gathering, evaluation and use of intelligence, but it is important that that be done in as cool a way as possible. It is curious, too, to read the comments of Dr. Jones today, in which he is clearly concerned about the overstatement of intelligence. As has been said, intelligence is a matter of judgment; it is uncertain. Dr. Jones is concerned that his superiors in the intelligence world were overstating things that he thought should still be qualified. Again, where I come from, there is a strong belief among people who deal with intelligence matters on the ground in Northern Ireland that the chief function of the JIC over the years has been to tone down and take out of the intelligence presented to the Government any awkward or inconvenient fact. There is good reason to believe that that is, in fact, what the JIC has tended to do over the past few years, and I wish that the Government would probe a little bit more deeply into those matters as well.
I wish the fresh inquiry well. It is important that we look back to see what mistakes have been made if only to ensure that performance is better in the future, but I do not think that those inquiries—whether those conducted by Lord Hutton or by the fresh inquiry—change the basic political decision that the House took in March last year. Indeed, what we have heard today from Mr. Kay reinforces that. However, independently of that, I am quite satisfied that the decision that we took then was right and, as the Prime Minister said towards the end of his contribution, the middle east—indeed, perhaps the world—is a better place as a result.
Following what Mr. Trimble said, part of the difficulty is that the JIC has often geared itself to what it thinks its masters want to hear, so should there not be a distinction between analysis and advocacy? I raised that issue in some detail in the debate in the House on
"I have also made it clear that the Chairman of the JIC was responsible for the executive summary and the body of the text. At no time during the process did anyone attempt to override the intelligence judgements of the Chairman of the JIC and his Committee.
The foreword was put to the Chairman of the JIC who confirmed at the time that there was nothing which conflicted with the contents of the dossier."
I have a constructive suggestion to make: there should be a directive to the JIC and, through it, to the entire intelligence community that there should always be a distinction between analysis and advocacy. That might be helpful to the intelligence community because, like many others, I am very uneasy about those in the intelligence community having to shoulder a blame that they do not deserve.
As time is short, I shall be as brief as possible, but I have one other matter that I should like to raise with those on the Front Bench. Towards the end of his speech, the Prime Minister chose to raise the question of the present situation in Iraq. May I repeat that there is increasing need for the west to show an example in at least bringing to trial people who may have done dreadful things, just as people who did dreadful things between 1939 and 1945—indeed, before that—were brought to trial at Nuremburg? If we are to going to dampen an increasingly dangerous situation, in which our forces are seen, rightly or wrongly, as an occupying army, it is a matter of absolute urgency that those trials be set in motion.
I have a final question. Is it true, as is coming from certain sources in Washington, that Saddam Hussein is being held at the biggest base outside the continental United States, at Diego Garcia, which is, after all, a British Indian ocean territory? I put that question because of the information coming from Washington.
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Butler inquiry's terms of reference will allow it to study the difference to which he alludes between analysis and advocacy?
The answer to that is that I hope so. What I am uneasy about, as are some of my hon. Friends, is whether the Butler terms of reference will carry over into questions about which many of our fellow citizens want to know: the justification for the war in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman may agree that one slight anxiety, given that I am confident that the wording is sufficient to allow such examination of the use of the material in terms of the persuasion of the public, is that when the Foreign Secretary was asked about that yesterday, he shied away from giving the assurance that that was his interpretation. Would it not be extremely desirable for the Government to acknowledge publicly that the plain use of the language in the terms of reference must allow that to happen?
The answer to that is that it must have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. If I may have his attention, I ask him to bring that serious question to the attention of the Foreign Secretary, who will wind up the debate, because it deserves an answer that I am in no position to give.
I am glad to follow Mr. Dalyell. I want to start on the point with which he opened his speech.
One of the unique features of the present Government's operation of the machinery of government has been to produce a wholly unprecedented interleaving of the machinery of intelligence with the machinery of presentation. Until the Foreign Affairs Committee made its report, "The Decision to go to War in Iraq", the extent to which that had taken place was unknown, both inside the House and among the wider public. It certainly came as a significant surprise to members of the Committee. The Committee, to quote just one of our recommendations, recommendation 12, was in absolutely no doubt that it was dangerous and unacceptable:
As we know, what the Foreign Affairs Committee uncovered was just the tip of the iceberg. When the Hutton inquiry got under way, and we saw the flood of e-mails that were being exchanged within the Government, to some of which my hon. Friend Mr. Johnson has referred, it became clear that there was an absolutely unprecedented interleaving of those responsible for the Government's presentation, particularly in No. 10, with the intelligence agencies. That is a very serious issue for Government to address. As long as in this House, and just as importantly among the wider public, there is a general perception that intelligence material is subject to a degree of presentational input before it comes into the public domain, doubt will be cast on the independence, and indeed the integrity and professionalism, of the intelligence services.
A more significant matter for the longer term, which should worry the Secretary of State for Defence, if he is paying attention, is that if at a later date the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary or he comes to the House and says, "We have found new intelligence of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and we now need to take some form of military action to deal with that", the Government will be seriously at risk of running into a gale of scepticism and doubt, which perhaps should not be there. This is a very serious issue for the Government; I ask them seriously to consider reverting to the practice of all previous Governments by clearly separating the intelligence machinery from the presentational machinery.
The second issue that I want to raise is that of weapons of mass destruction. Another unique feature of the situation that arose in connection with the decision to go to war in Iraq is that, unlike the decision on any previous conflict, it was taken on the basis not of indisputable factual evidence of an invasion, a terrible terrorist attack or an impending massive humanitarian disaster, but of an assessed intelligence threat to British interests and those elsewhere. I acknowledge that that presented Ministers with a very significant difficulty, but it also presented them with a very serious obligation—namely, to scrutinise, question and evaluate the intelligence assessment most closely.
At the moment, we lack any evidence—certainly, the Hutton inquiry is wholly silent on this—that senior Ministers, especially the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, subjected the intelligence assessments to the degree of scrutiny and evaluation that should have taken place before they took the key decision to take this country to war. What questions were asked? The House and the wider public would wish to know the answer to that. For example, did the Prime Minister ever ask why, if the 45-minute claim was seen to be reliable as far as British intelligence was concerned, it was so clearly seen to be unreliable by the US Administration that they never used it?
Another question, which my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway asked today, is: did the Prime Minister ask to which weapons of mass destruction supposedly possessed by Saddam Hussein the 45-minute claim related? The Prime Minister's answer was absolutely extraordinary. He said that when he came to this House on
My next question relates to chemical and biological weapons. Did the Prime Minister and his fellow Ministers ever ask, before repeating in the September dossier and at the Dispatch Box figures indicating very large tonnages of chemical weapons and chemical precursors, to what extent they had degraded, possibly beyond use? That information was widely available in the International Institute for Strategic Studies and in the working document produced by UNMOVIC—the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I have not got time to go into detail now, but I could make comparisons between what the Prime Minister said about certain chemicals on
The last question that I suggest that the Prime Minister should have asked—we asked it in the Foreign Affairs Committee—is: how great was the degree of unanimity in the top echelons of the British intelligence community about the September dossier, weapons of mass destruction and the 45-minute claim? We now know about that, not least from appendix 18 to the Hutton report, which quotes the letter from the person who describes himself as
"probably the most senior and experienced intelligence community official working on 'WMD'"—
[Interruption.] I shall continue if I may. He said:
"I was so concerned about the manner in which intelligence assessments for which I had some responsibility were being presented in the dossier of
I say to the House, and most particularly to those on the Government Front Bench, that if the House and the wider public are to be satisfied that there was proper scrutiny and evaluation of the intelligence assessments, it is crucial that this area—the degree of questioning and evaluation by Ministers, including the Prime Minister—be addressed by Lord Butler's committee.
In nothing that I have said in the House or outside it about Iraq have I ever questioned the good faith with which the Prime Minister believed in his case. I therefore welcome unreservedly the clear conclusion of Lord Hutton that the Prime Minister did not lie. Indeed, if I may say so to my colleagues, my frustration in those last few months before the war was not any suspicion that my right hon. Friend was acting duplicitously, but the sheer impossibility of shaking his open and passionate conviction that he was correct in his view that military confrontation was the right course.
We should of course remember that, at that time, those on the Opposition Front Bench fully shared the same passionate conviction. I sat beside my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the Front Bench during a number of the exchanges, and frankly, the only challenge that he got from the then Conservative leader was a competition to see who could be more enthusiastic about a war. It does not compensate for the failure of the Opposition to scrutinise these matters at the time to have demanded over the past couple of months an inquiry into how the country ended up in a war that they fully supported. Personally, I gave up demanding an inquiry at about the same time as they started calling for one, partly because I was convinced that enough evidence was now in the public domain to make it plain that Saddam Hussein had not been a threat. Having sat through yesterday's exchange on the announcement of the inquiry, I feel that I was wise in not calling for it.
All that I would suggest to my hon. Friends about that inquiry is a piece of helpful advice. I suggest that they should stop trying to pretend that our decision to call an inquiry has nothing to do with the decision to call an inquiry over in Washington. Until Saturday, the Government were resisting the call for an inquiry. By Monday, they were organising one. Plainly, the only thing that had changed in between was that President Bush had announced that he wanted the facts. It speaks volumes about the extent of our culture of dependency on the Bush Administration that as soon as they decide to have an inquiry, we too decide that it is a good thing.
That goes to the heart of the origins of the war. The truth is that the Bush Administration were convinced of the case for war long before they ever looked at any intelligence. We have Paul O'Neill's observation that, at the very first meeting of the National Security Council, the invasion of Iraq was topic A, and President Bush's approach was to say, "Get me a way of doing it." The reality is that intelligence was not the origin of the war; intelligence was used as the justification for a decision that had been taken for other reasons.
I welcome what the Prime Minister said today in praise of the intelligence agencies. For four years I was the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for the Secret Intelligence Service. I was always impressed by the service's detachment, and its meticulous qualification of what it offered. I say to my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell that I never once knew the intelligence services to advocate a particular course of action. Indeed, the intelligence assessments were always so carefully balanced and full of alternative interpretations that I frequently rose from them more confused than when I had sat down in the first place. What went wrong in this case is that intelligence was used as propaganda to lobby for a war that had been decided on for reasons other than intelligence.
I read with great unease the article in today's edition of The Independent by Dr. Brian Jones. I do not wish to spend time discussing whether his comments were properly handled by his line manager. For me, the bottom line is that I find it extraordinary that neither the Cabinet nor Parliament were told that all the experts in the Defence Intelligence Staff had reservations about the September dossier.
There is one question that I have for the Butler inquiry to consider. I think that it falls within its remit, however narrow that may be. I have never doubted that Ministers believed all the information in the September dossier when that dossier was presented to Parliament, but I would be surprised if they believed all of it by the time the House was asked in March to vote for war. I say that because in between those two points we had two months of inspections by Hans Blix and the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq. We had given those inspectors, perfectly properly and correctly, our intelligence to guide them where to look, and they found nothing. Hans Blix has observed, "My God, if this was their best intelligence, what was the rest like?"
Those blank results were fed back to our intelligence agencies by the weapons inspectors. I would like the Butler inquiry to consider whether that knowledge that our intelligence had proved faulty changed any of the evaluation by the intelligence agencies of the threat from Saddam. If so, why did Ministers not tell the House before we went to war?
I shall pick up on the exchange between Richard Ottaway and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister earlier this afternoon. If I heard it correctly—I may have misheard it—the hon. Gentleman asked my right hon. Friend whether he was aware by March that we were considering battlefield weapons rather than wider long-range weapons of mass destruction.
If I heard him correctly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said no. I am bound to say that I was surprised by that answer. The House will recall that in my resignation speech I made the very point that we were considering battlefield weapons and that Saddam probably had no real weapons of mass destruction. I invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who will reply to the debate, to consider with his advisers whether it might not be wise to qualify the Prime Minister's answer when he replies. I find it difficult to reconcile with what I knew, and what I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knew when we had the vote in March.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could go further in his questioning. Just after the September dossier was published, the Evening Standard and The Sun took up the 45-minute claim, and interpreted it as referring to long-range weapons. That coming out in a newspaper article was clearly wrong. Should not the right hon. Gentleman's question also encompass whether the Government, having known that that was wrong, were not bound to correct it?
I am obviously more relaxed about whether the Government corrects the record in The Sun, but I am very anxious that they should correct the record in the House before it is invited to make a decision.
The hon. Gentleman tempts me to quote from the interesting response that was published yesterday by the Government to the Intelligence and Security Committee, in the course of which the Government say:
"In March 2003"—
It is obvious from the context that this was before the vote in the House—
"the Joint Intelligence Committee stated that intelligence on the timing of when Iraq might use the CBW was inconsistent and that the intelligence on deployment was sparse. Intelligence indicating that chemical weapons remained disassembled and that Saddam had not yet ordered their assembly, and that was highlighted."
That is light years away from what the House was told in September. If the Government had had such an assessment in March, they should have shared it with the House before we voted.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister properly took credit for the fact that the Government allowed the House to vote before British troops were committed to action. I offer personal credit to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who was always a robust advocate of the right of the House to vote on action before it took place. But if we are to take credit for the House having the right to decide, it becomes very important that the House had accurate information on which to make the decision. At the very least, the majority in the House would have been much reduced if we had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
It may well be, as Mr. Mackay said, that there are Members who would have chosen to continue with invasion even if they had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and they are entitled to that view. But the situation then becomes a choice, not a necessity. We now know that we did have the time to let Hans Blix finish the inspections, and had we done so we would have found out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, and there was no threat from Saddam.
It has become fashionable to talk about the judgment of history. I do not know what history will say about our decision to choose to go to war, but we already know enough to conclude that history will judge that we did not need to go to war.
We have just heard two distinguished contributions from Mr. Cook and my right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley, but I hope that they will forgive me if I refer back to an earlier contribution by Andrew Mackinlay who was much maligned and vilified for his questioning on the Foreign Affairs Committee at the time. I am poles apart from him politically, but I want to place on record the fact that I greatly respect what he did then, and does every day, as a parliamentarian. He deserves our respect, and he should know that he has support across the House.
I want to focus on key questions that were left unanswered by Hutton and which I hope will be answered by the next inquiry—and if not, by the Government. First, however, I shall put on record the fact that I voted for war on
Close reading of those documents also made it clear to me that Saddam had in the past possessed and used those weapons, he had the current intention to possess them, and if we withdrew and sanctions collapsed, he would in future, in all likelihood, get them and become a danger. So I voted, knowing that there were no weapons but believing that it was possible to justify war to change the regime and pre-empt a future threat. I think that the Prime Minister was doing the right thing but giving the wrong reason, and it is important that we hold him to account for the reasons that he gave, lest a Government in future feel free to do whatever they like for the wrong reason.
The first question that we ought to ask is why the Government placed such enormous reliance on the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction. It is clear that the decision to go to war did not follow from a study of the evidence of the existence of those weapons. The right hon. Member for Livingston said that it was the other way round: the decision came first and then the evidence was assembled to justify it. We know that because the key piece of evidence on which the Government relied so much that they put it in the dossier four times—the 45-minute claim—was not available to them when the decision was made but only at the last minute after they decided to produce the dossier.
The reason why the Government based the case for war on Saddam's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was, as so often with this Government, presentational. They chose the argument that they believed would maximise support, particularly among their Back Benchers and in the United Nations. They chose it not because they believed it to be true but because it would maximise support. They thought that war to disarm Saddam of weapons of mass destruction would play well with the many Labour Members who have belonged to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and could be expected to support disarmament of all kinds. We know that that did not work: so many of those Members opposed their Government's decision that if this party had not joined the Government in the Lobby they would have been defeated and would have fallen.
The second question that we have to ask is whether, if the Government had known or been willing to accept at the time that there were no weapons of mass destruction available to Saddam, the war would have been legal. I made it clear that I voted for it as a war of regime change and pre-emptive action—a contentious position. Some argue that any war to change a regime is forbidden by international law. That seems a rather odd argument, given that we had already changed the regime of one third of the country. When we did that in Kurdistan and the Marsh Arab areas by military action and overflying, no one seemed to challenge it. If it was right to do that in a third of the country, I cannot see why it should be wrong in the other two thirds.
Others argued that one could not take military action to pre-empt a future threat, as if we should sit here and wait until Tel Aviv had been nuked or Portsmouth poisoned. If we have the power and can take pre-emptive action, there may be occasions when it is justified. The issues need to be established clearly, because the same arguments may be deployed again with respect to other rogue states in apparent possession of, or threatening to possess, weapons of mass destruction.
When we discussed authorising the war in March, I cannot recollect anything being said about regime change or pre-emptive action. The motion simply said that Iraq was in repeated breach of UN resolutions, notably 1441, and Dr. Kay's assessment of the work of the survey group was:
"In my judgement, based on the work that has been done to this point of the Iraq Survey Group . . . Iraq was in clear violation of the terms of resolution 1441."
That was the whole legal and moral basis of the war.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue, which concerns the role of the Law Officers, who I suspect played an important part. We have seen their truncated conclusion, but we have never seen the full opinion or the submission on which it was based, and we do not know the extent to which they relied on that submission. That information should be available to the new inquiry, to establish whether the existence of weapons of mass destruction was relied on in their analysis.
We have to question the accountability of the Law Officers. They are very powerful, and once they have opined, a Cabinet is bound by that opinion. No Cabinet could afford to go against such an opinion for fear that it would be found to have done something that its own Law Officers said was illegal. In many cases that is all right, but international law is highly fluid, uncertain and subjective. In asking for an opinion, one is effectively making the Law Officers' subjective assessment binding on Government. We have to ask whether that is the right way to reach conclusions in such uncertain areas.
We need to ask whether Ministers or the intelligence services were to blame if intelligence was wrong. Ministers are responsible even for the advice that they take, so they have a duty to probe, question and evaluate that advice and get it right, as the right hon. Member for Livingston did—and even I, in my humble way, outside, could reach the same correct conclusion. In my experience, the worst decisions in Government are made when Ministers fail to question things because they are as enthusiastic as the officials, and officials fail to draw their attention to the problems, because they perhaps have an interest in heightening the appreciation of a certain risk or threat.
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of his view of the proper limits of ministerial responsibility? Does he judge, in fact, that Ministers are responsible for operational decisions?
That is probably a trick question, and does not strike me as terribly worthy. It depends on the Ministry—I took decisions that affected the operations of my Department, which would not have been appropriate in other Departments.
We need to ask whether the intelligence was as much at fault as everyone has assumed. I believe that it was far less at fault than most people suppose. It was presented in a very sexed-up fashion, not so much in the preparation of the document as in its presentation to the House and the public. The document said:
"The JIC concluded that Iraq had sufficient expertise, equipment and materials to produce biological warfare agents within weeks using its legitimate biotechnology facilities."
In the case of chemicals, the document said that Iraq could
"produce significant quantities of mustard gas within weeks, and of nerve agents within months" and that the JIC concluded that
"these chemical and biological capabilities represented the most immediate threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction."
In other words, it was not that Iraq possessed such weapons but that it had the ability to produce them within weeks or months.
The 45-minute claim was used so frequently not because it could be linked to the threat of missiles reaching here but because it was the only information in the document that implied that Iraq must already have the weapons, because it could get them to an unstated location 45 minutes later. That was the only evidence, and it contradicted the actual conclusions of the JIC, which is why so much was made of that claim.
The new inquiry should not start from the presumption that its task is to attach blame to the intelligence services. It should question how Ministers assessed the intelligence and presented it to the country. It should also ask whether the actual justification—a pre-emptive regime change—was justified in law, and whether we should be bound by the subjective opinion of the Law Officers.
Lord Hutton judged the BBC to be culpable. As a consequence, Gavyn Davies has gone, rightly and with dignity, and Greg Dyke has gone, unwillingly and behaving like a buffoon. However, it is clear that those directly implicated in the Gilligan story, which Lord Hutton judged to be unfounded, remain active in the BBC.
"we have nothing to apologise for . . . we had one senior and credible source in the intelligence services".
He continued deceptively to imply that the Gilligan story was based on a security or intelligence source. What is more, having learned that the source was not an intelligence official, he deliberately withheld that information from the board of governors, leading it to claim that there was an intelligence source. On that basis, the governors negligently and culpably endorsed the story and did not do their job.
Richard Sambrook was involved not only in that but, along with Kevin Marsh, in Gilligan's suborning of members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. That is demonstrated by an e-mail—oh that mine enemy should send an e-mail—that Gilligan sent to Mark Damazer, Richard Sambrook and Kevin Marsh in which, among other things, he said:
"Spoke to Ottaway again and he's happy".
He also discussed briefing members of the Foreign Affairs Committee and suggested more briefing and suborning of members of that Committee—that is all in the Hutton evidence.
The situation is worse than that. Downing street concentrated on The Mail on Sunday article of
"is charged with exaggeration, distortion, over-emphasis."
Kevin Marsh cleared that article. He read it, endorsed it and said, "It seems fine." That was the editor of the "Today" programme endorsing a contentious political article in a newspaper, and not seeing anything wrong in doing so. Indeed, far from it; the day after the Gilligan report on the "Today" programme that started this whole train of events, Marsh e-mailed Gilligan to say:
"Great week; great stories, well handled and well told."
Those two, Sambrook and Marsh, are clinging to their jobs when it is clear that any sort of BBC journalistic probity demands that they go. A leading article in The Economist at the weekend said that the Gilligan report
"was typical of much of modern British journalism: twisting or falsifying the supposed news to fit a journalist's opinion".
It went on to say that this action had been committed by
"a public-service broadcaster, whose reputation for reliability and authority gave the report its very credibility."
Yet those people are still there. We do not simply have those executives; we also have a situation in which a publicly funded, public service broadcasting organisation has revealed its governance to be unacceptable. That was said in relation to this issue by Lord Hutton.
I had a long correspondence with Gavyn Davies, which began long before the Gilligan affair, in which he insisted that the BBC's
"system of governance is a critical protection for the BBC's editorial independence from politicians".
As a member of the National Union of Journalists for 49 years, I am strongly in favour of the BBC and, indeed, the printed press, being totally independent of any interference by politicians. However, if that is to happen, there has to be a converse. The converse is that the BBC, above all, has a duty to behave with responsibility and with a great respect for truth.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to continue for a moment.
I champion the right of the printed press to be irresponsible, inaccurate, biased and politically motivated. It finances itself; it does not ask every household in the country to finance it. That is the burden of a free press. The BBC is different. It needs to be totally independent of all Governments. Governments must not interfere with the BBC's content, but if that is to be so, the BBC's governance must be changed. As many hon. Members know, I said this long before the Gilligan affair or the Iraq war.
The BBC is governed and run as it was 77 years ago. It is time that we had a public sector, public service broadcasting organisation that was independent of the Government but, nevertheless, run like a business in this cut-throat world of the media. In my view, that involves an executive chairman, a board of directors and a chief executive. In this episode, the members of the BBC's board of governors did not simply allow a wrong to continue; they let themselves down. They betrayed themselves and the BBC. I do not believe that that system of governance can be allowed to continue when the charter review takes place.
Given the time available, I shall obviously have to choose carefully what I talk about.
Who took the decision to name Dr. Kelly, and why? Alastair Campbell's diaries reveal that he and the Defence Secretary were keen to reveal the source, in order to strike back at Gilligan—to "****" him, to use the communication chief's own word. Dr. Kelly remained anonymous after the Prime Minister expressed concern about the plan. However, Sir Kevin Tebbit, the MOD's most senior civil servant, told the inquiry that the Prime Minister agreed with the strategy that led to the eventual outing of Dr. Kelly, in order, I think, to put him before parliamentary Committees.
We know of the discussion on the plane from Shanghai to Hong Kong, where the Prime Minister emphatically denied that he had had anything to do with it. On the other hand, on
"A policy decision on the handling of this matter had not been taken until the Prime Minister's meeting on Tuesday [
So obviously there is a doubt there.
On the question whether the dossier was embellished, sexed up or whatever, it seems plain to anyone who has read the evidence that that must be the case. Lord Hutton may have concluded in another manner. That is fine. I am not impugning his impartiality, but I am calling into question the way in which he arrived at the decision. I am supported in that by several prominent lawyers, many of them Labour-supporting, such as Geoffrey Bindman. It is extraordinary that Lord Hutton should ignore the inconsistencies in coming to his conclusions.
What I am concerned about is that in the run-up to the debate and the vote we were not given evidence that could be relied upon. I am not all that upset about it, because I did not vote for the war, but I take issue over the Prime Minister's having said, in the foreword to the dossier,
"I am in no doubt that the threat is serious and current" and so on, and then in September that the threat of the weapons of mass destruction programme was
"active, detailed and growing . . . It is up and running".
John Scarlett, on the other hand, said when the document was launched:
"We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he is an imminent threat."
That was the week before the Prime Minister said that the programme was up and running and that it was active, detailed and growing. There are evident inconsistencies here as well.
In today's edition of The Independent Dr. Brian Jones wrote:
"the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002 resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities."
I will not dwell on the 45 minutes claim. Suffice it to say that enough has been said about that today. I am far from clear as to what the truth is in that part of the report as well.
A letter from Martin Howard, deputy chief of defence intelligence, to the Secretary of State for Defence attempted to brief the right hon. Gentleman about DIS dissent before he gave evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee. I do not think that that took us anywhere. It is astonishing that the Government chose not to take the advice of these people, who were very concerned about embellishments and very concerned about the way in which the evidence was presented.
At page 133 of the report we have Alastair Campbell's minute to Scarlett of
"Please find below a number of drafting points. As I was writing this, the Prime Minister had a read of the draft you gave me this morning, and he too made a number of points."
So it goes on.
Earlier today I referred to the appointment of Ann Taylor to the forthcoming inquiry. I think that it is inappropriate that she should serve on it. I shall read out verbatim an e-mail from Matthew Rycroft, dated
"Ann Taylor read the draft dossier this morning and passed on some detailed comments to John Scarlett. She has just rung me to underline the following points. The dossier should more explicitly refer back to the end of the Gulf war, the cessation of hostilities agreement and the demands of Iraq arising from the UNCR then. This is a baseline that people will understand. The dossier itself needs to come across as an impartial professional assessment of the threat. The political policy questions of the response to the threat need to be separate. The PM's statement to the House should make this distinction. The hardest questions in the debate, not fully answered by the dossier, remain why now and why Saddam. The PM should take these on in his statement to undercut critics."
The strongest defence of what I said about Mr. Mates, who has been appointed to the committee. I do not hold out much hope for the committee. As I have said, many lawyers who have looked at the conclusions of the first inquiry believe it is flawed.
My hon. Friend mentioned an e-mail from Matthew Rycroft, a Foreign Office adviser. Another e-mail from him, produced in evidence to the Hutton inquiry, reveals that the right hon. Lady was the only person outside Government to be shown a draft of the document and asked to comment on it. That was at the specific request of the Prime Minister. Two further drafts were produced, no doubt using some of the "helpful comments"—in the words of John Scarlett—of the right hon. Lady.
I note what my hon. Friend says. At the heart of the process, however, is the fact that one person was given a draft to add to or amend. That is part of the remit of the forthcoming inquiry. The right hon. Lady must, in all conscience, feel that she is compromised in this matter.
I did not write to the right hon. Lady, but she was well aware of my feelings about this. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Lady was well aware of my feelings when I intervened on the Prime Minister earlier.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I have a ruling? The right hon. Lady was in the Chamber when the matter was discussed.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a strict convention of the House that when a Member plans in advance—as the hon. Gentleman clearly did on this occasion—to refer to another, the former informs the latter, also in advance. That has been a convention of the House throughout the 34 years for which I have been an MP, and I do not believe it can be relaxed for the misbehaviour of that hon. Member. In fact, may I withdraw the word "honourable"?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Dewsbury was in the Chamber when Mr. Llwyd intervened on the Prime Minister. She did not seek to intervene on the Prime Minister to correct any misapprehension that we might have gained. I rather suspect that the complaint is entirely bogus, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should be allowed to continue his speech.
I am obliged, Madam Deputy Speaker.
At the heart of the process is a mysterious lack of logic. Lord Hutton spent weeks listening to evidence about the preparation of the Government's case against Saddam in the September dossier, but when it came to writing his report he rejected the need to address the issue of the dossier's truth, saying
"A question of such wide import . . . . is not one which falls within my terms of reference."
Two points therefore need to be made. First, if Lord Hutton was not going to rule on that matter, why go into the facts at such length? Secondly, the truth of the dossier's contents is the essence of the circumstances of Dr. Kelly's death, because that was what propelled the BBC and Alastair Campbell to escalate their running battle into open war.
I have referred to several lawyers—Michael Mansfield, Richard Parkes QC, and Anthony Scrivener—but I also mention the Labour supporter, Geoffrey Bindman, who said that he found Lord Hutton's version incredible. He believed that the argument for saying that the dossier was not sexed up runs contrary to the evidence—and so he goes on.
Several references have been made to the importance of restoring confidence in the Government. The imminent inquiry has the wrong remit and the wrong personnel. It has been described as being on the Franks model, but the Franks inquiry into the Falklands conflict exonerated the Government and severely criticised the intelligence service. Am I the only one to have a sense of déjà vu? For "dodgy dossier", read "dodgy inquiry".
I doubt whether my constituents, along with most people in this country, begin to understand the press and media reaction to Lord Hutton's report in the last week. For weeks they had been told that Lord Hutton's findings would be the nemesis of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. They were told Andrew Gilligan's story—that the September 2002 dossier had been changed not by intelligence experts, but by the Government, to include a claim that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes. Furthermore, they were told that the Government knew that claim to be false, but included it to persuade people to support an invasion of Iraq.
Except for a charge of war crimes, it is difficult to imagine a more serious charge against a Government. The charge had added weight by being broadcast by the BBC with its worldwide reputation for accuracy and independence. Now we have Lord Hutton's report, based on evidence presented in public and closely argued, which says that the whole of that allegation was false and that the Government did not falsify the September 2002 dossier.
Collective media judgment on the issue was woefully wrong. Rather than admit that, however, there has been a week of unsupported denunciation of the Hutton report in a press tantrum of petulance, malice, and self-indulgent irrationality. One aspect of the smokescreen is to pretend that Lord Hutton is a creature of the establishment who was bound to come down in favour of the Government—a sneering assertion, again unsupported by any evidence.
Lord Hutton has a record of judicial independence of which he and this country can be justly proud. In 1992, a republican prisoner, Patrick Nash, was accused of attempting to murder four of Lord Hutton's fellow judges in Northern Ireland. Lord Hutton acquitted him, making it clear he did not believe the police evidence against the prisoner. That is the man who has explicitly and by innuendo been dubbed an establishment stooge during the past week. No doubt the detractors would have discovered a man of entirely different character if he had come to the conclusion that they wanted.
Another distraction, attempted by Jeremy Paxman on "Newsnight", has been to say, "But we haven't discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Lord Hutton has said nothing about the reason for our going to war". Neither issue lay within the terms of the inquiry; neither related to the charge of falsification by the Government, nor to Dr. Kelly's death.
Both the chairman and the director-general of the BBC have justified themselves by saying that they were defending the independence of BBC reporting. I do not know what pressure was put on them during the Iraq war, but that was never the issue. The case was that a reporter walked in with a story from a single source, which defamed and was capable of wrecking the British Government and nobody bothered to check it before or after it was broadcast.
Knowing the significance of the controversy, the BBC governors did not examine any primary evidence. They reproduced the bunker mentality of the chairman and director-general in deciding that their prime responsibility was to defend the independence of the BBC, even at the risk of rallying round an odious lie. It is the BBC's corporate judgment that is at issue, not its right of independence from the Government.
Sadly, I believe that the reaction to Lord Hutton's inquiry, both before and after publication of his report, reflects a malaise in British journalism, and in the media generally. That malaise is the origin of the BBC's performance in this affair. It says that facts and evidence should not get in the way of a good story, and that it is perfectly all right to impugn the integrity of anyone—the Prime Minister, Lord Hutton, or people dragged into the tabloid limelight—if that promotes a good story.
The same malaise is also evident in the attitude of many journalists with ambitions to be the next Woodward or Bernstein. They are ready to expose the corruption and dishonesty that is assumed to prevail among politicians and officials in both national Government and local government. If lying and corruption are assumed to be endemic, there is no need to be too meticulous about evidence or fairness. The end exposure justifies the means.
As has already been mentioned, the problem prevails in many serious newspapers, where all attempt at objectivity is abandoned and the opinion of the reporter is allowed to slant the news presented. In addition, every television report now seems obliged to end with a knowing quip that implies a judgment superior to anything said by the soldier, business man, policeman or politician who has just been interviewed.
A good illustration of that is the interview given by Mr. Rod Liddle immediately after publication of the Hutton report. The interview was held so soon after publication that Mr. Liddle could not have read and reflected on it, but he felt able to denounce it as
"a whitewash, like all reports by Law Lords, which are bound to come down on the side of the Government."
There was no concern for evidence, or the reasoning that arose from it. Like a drunk in a bar at closing time, he was ready to denounce all that he disapproved of as an establishment conspiracy.
My hon. Friend mentions the time for reflection that Rod Liddle allows before he comments on a matter. After the private session in which the Foreign Affairs Committee took evidence from Andrew Gilligan—for which the minutes were not published—he saw fit to write an article in which he described me as a Teutonic harridan for the way in which I asked my questions. He had no facts to base that on.
Opinion was the main emphasis of that remark. However, Mr. Liddle is not a drunk in a bar at midnight. He is the former editor of the "Today" programme who hired Andrew Gilligan as part of a policy of actively making the news rather than reporting it. He has certainly done that now.
Last week brought no distinction to British journalism generally, but mention has been made already of the article by Andrew Gowers, the editor of the Financial Times. It appeared in Saturday's edition of the newspaper, and is a noble exception for its objectivity and concern. I echo his cry:
"Let this dreadful misadventure then serve as a wake-up call for all journalists."
The lifeblood of our democracy is accurate and objective information, from which people can draw their own conclusions. Yes, opinions should be presented in the media to aid debate, but it should be clear that that is what they are. To have false information posing as truth, and opinion masquerading as fact, ultimately corrodes confidence in democracy itself.
The Hutton report is not just a warning to the BBC; it also warns of a culture and style that permeate most of journalism, and the media. To protect democracy, there must be a better code of ethics, and a framework of principles within which journalism and the media operate. If we can learn that lesson from this affair, good will come of it, and the BBC can return to being the standard bearer of truth and independence, quickly and unassailably.
I shall have to revise entirely my view of the meaning of the word "harridan".
These matters are more serious than merely thinking about the past; we need to learn the lessons of the past. The first of those lessons comes from the information given to the House and which decided it that we were willing to go to war. I voted against that, but I did so on the important evidence that I was given. I hope that in the investigation we shall discover answers to three questions that are important for the way that this Government, or any Government, work.
First, why did no one ask about the nature of the weapons of mass destruction? Why did no one ask whether they were battlefield weapons? From my ministerial experience, I cannot understand why that interlocution did not apparently take place until so much later on.
Secondly, why did the Prime Minister not ask about the nature of the chemical weapons that had been talked about? How far had they already degenerated?
The third question is perhaps the most important. In a Government who are known constantly to urge the press and the BBC to correct their mistakes, why did no one press the newspapers to correct what they knew to be untrue—the headlines that suggested that the 45 minute claim referred to the sort of weapons that most of us thought threatened immediately and directly the great capitals of, at least, the middle east and, many thought, even of Europe?
For many of us from a particular tradition, the WMD issue is so important because, whatever the legalities, we believe that only it could have made the war a just one. It was because I did not believe in the existence of WMD that I could not support the war; I do not believe that the definition of a just war allows a pre-emptive strike unless there is an immediate and direct threat. I ask the Government to be clear about that, because the House needs that information if it is to make a judgment on an issue that is, in this case, also a moral one, on which the Prime Minister's moral judgment is opposed by every major leader of moral thought. That is a matter of importance and the Prime Minister failed to give the House the information we needed.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the logic of his position is that, had his view prevailed on
That is the logic of my view. We would not be threatened and there would not have been an unjust war.
The Government must take seriously the real question that needs to be asked: why did that entirely untruthful allegation about them—the hateful lie to which the Prime Minister referred—immediately take legs? Why did people believe it so widely? There are two points for the Government to answer.
First, they must recognise that there was, by then, a widespread view that they were not always as careful with truth as they ought to be. They were warned about that much earlier on, in an article of considerable depth written by Matthew Parris—a columnist normally known for his humour. In The Spectator of
"There will come a point in any prime minister's career when he needs to be able to say 'trust me' in circumstances where he can offer no better reason to do so than our own confidence in his trustworthiness. It is that belief in the minds of the press . . . which is being quietly shot to pieces as Mr. Blair's apparently untroubled progress continues."
I submit that Bernie Ecclestone, Mr. Mittal, the Walmart meeting, the Sudanese aspirin factory, the Hindujas, the Berlusconi phone call, the Queen Mother's funeral and that first dodgy dossier gave credence to that untruthful allegation.
The second thing of which the Government have to remind themselves is that they have adopted towards all the broadcast media, as well as the written media, a harassing attitude, whereby every day, very often every hour, someone from No. 10 Downing street is pressing for a change in what the broadcast media are saying. I believe that it is true to say that a senior member of the BBC staff spent almost 50 per cent. of his time dealing with the Government's regular complaints about this or that portrayal. It is not therefore surprising that a proper judgment was not made about the importance of the attack in relation to Gilligan. It was one in a series of regular, daily attacks, but that does not justify the BBC.
I have been more critical of the BBC than most, but I will not take it from Mr. Kaufman. When I was able to show that the BBC had produced a film in which it had spliced in other material on more than a dozen occasions to make a wholly wrong, wholly fallacious attack, which it had to withdraw in the end, but only at the gates of the court, one of the people who refused to support that battle, who was most offensive and in whom the milk of human kindness was least to be found was the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. His attacks on the BBC almost always occur when it is at variance with his own views, rather than with those of others. If the right hon. Gentleman is not here now, it is not my fault. He was here earlier and might have expected that comment because he asked for it.
I want to turn very quickly to Mr. Mandelson, who is here. He became extremely angry when anyone suggested that there might have been some change in press officers because of their political inability to take their masters' orders. Well, I cannot prove any such change, but I believe that 18 took place in a very short period. There is no doubt that there is not a press officer in the world who does not believe that those changes were not entirely unconnected with a desire by an incoming Government to use the government mechanism to propagandise rather than inform. That does not excuse anything that the BBC did; it does not excuse anyone who now upholds an assertion that the Prime Minister lied, but it reminds us that people believed that lie because the Government have been dodgy about the truth for far too long and so people thought it likely.
The reason why the BBC failed to investigate properly is not acceptable or excusable—no one should excuse it—but the reason lies more in the way that the Government have treated the BBC, harassed its journalists and tried to ensure that the news that is put over to the people is the news as they would like it, with the headlines that they desire. It is that which made the difference, and it is that which the Prime Minister should think about.
I do not want to take my full time because so many colleagues want to speak in the debate. I voted against the war in Iraq because I did not believe, as the Prime Minister invited us all to believe, that there was a serious and current threat. I wanted Hans Blix to get back in there and finish the inspections. Let us remember that he said that the inspections would take months, not years.
Going to war is the most serious decision that a Government can take, and it must be taken in full knowledge of all the facts. It is as plain as a pikestaff that we did not have all the relevant facts before us when we voted on
I would rather not.
The September document showed concentric circles taking in not just the middle east but Europe, including the British base in Akrotiri in Cyprus. Any reasonable person reading it would say that there was a threat, if not to us in Britain but to our troops in Cyprus.
I believe that the policy of containment worked. What has been the result of military action? Yes, we are in Iraq, but 10,000 Iraqis have been killed, 500 American servicemen have been killed, and British soldiers have been killed. I do not believe that Saddam was a threat. We heard today, as several Members have noted, that the Prime Minister did not know on
A number of positive things came out of Hutton. It showed for the first time the internal wiring of the Government—who was in the loop, and who was not. I find it astonishing that when so many of the key decisions were taken, the Secretary of State for Defence was not copied in to critical correspondence. It is astonishing that the head of the civil service, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, became involved only on the day after Dr. Kelly's body was found. The top civil servant, who is supposed to advise the Prime Minister, did not know about it—he was out playing golf or something—until after Dr. Kelly died.
It is unprecedented that all this information is posted on the internet, and yet we heard from my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and my hon. Friend Andrew Mackinlay that the Committee was denied access to information and told that it could not see John Scarlett even in camera. Lord Hutton comes along, however, gets that information and posts it on the world wide web. What conclusion do we draw from that? A fundamental review of the Osmotherly rules is needed to give Select Committees access to information that inquiries can ask for and get as a matter of routine.
The other thing that needs to be looked at is No. 10 and how it works. It is the classic paperless office—no notes of meetings were taken. It is astonishing that, over a two-week period, three written records were taken for up to 17 meetings a day. Phone calls and key decisions made over the phone were not recorded. Permanent secretaries, the top civil servants—belatedly doing now what they should have done then—are apparently insisting that key meetings, at which key decisions are taken, are properly minuted. Lord Hutton could follow the paper trail as far as the BBC was concerned, but there was no paper trail to follow in respect of what happened in No. 10—it all emerged from the evidence that was given during the Hutton inquiry.
Hutton also brought out other facts that would have been buried. I refer my colleagues to an article by Lord Alexander, the chairman of Justice—the British section of the International Commission of Jurists—that appeared in Monday's Financial Times, which chronologises and charts dossier changes, including key phrases that were taken out of the dossier in order to influence public opinion.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister, I think, told the House today that the new committee of inquiry will have sight of the whole, unexpurgated version of the legal advice that gave the legal basis for the Government to go to war. That is marvellous.
There are less satisfactory aspects of Hutton, of course, although I do not have time to go into them. Primarily, the focus was too narrow. When people give evidence to an inquiry that takes the judge outside his terms of reference, surely, in the interests of truth and justice, he should add a little footnote saying, "This is something that should be followed up." Yet Lord Hutton said that it was unnecessary for him to resolve the differences between the evidence that was given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and Alastair Campbell, without inviting anyone else to pursue such matters.
I want to finish on the question of the BBC. I sit, sometimes biting my lip, behind my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, who is always dripping venom about the BBC, and cannot consider it objectively. He did so again today. The BBC has a programme complaints unit, and it is a great mystery to me why Alastair Campbell did not take that route. His complaint would have gone to Greg Dyke and the BBC governors. [Interruption.] I invite my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley not to heckle me, because this is an important issue that goes to the heart of what we do—it is about truth and how people outside this place perceive us. If we take on the BBC, we will be the losers, because those people believe the BBC much more than they would ever believe the Government or Parliament.
It is an honour to follow such a colourful speech by Mr. Prentice.
I want to place on record my belief that Lord Hutton is an independent, noble Lord of great experience who showed fine courage during his time in Northern Ireland, when he was under daily threat of death from paramilitaries. He should also take great credit for the innovative way in which he conducted the inquiry, including making evidence available on the internet within a few hours, or certainly within a day or so, of its being given.
As he formed his views from looking at that evidence, I formed mine from looking at the same evidence. I believe that the September 2002 dossier was sexed up, and that Lord Hutton got that wrong. Dr. Kelly's death took place in the context of his involvement in Andrew Gilligan's allegation that the Government selectively used intelligence to present a better case for war in Iraq, especially in terms of weapons of mass destruction. The evidence illustrates that the basis of those allegations, for which Andrew Gilligan used Dr. Kelly, was correct. After 10 months of searching, no weapons of mass destruction have been found. As I said four months ago, it is still possible that silo doors may finally slide open, or a cave may be opened up, and shiny missiles will be rolled out to prove what we were told, and pleaded with to believe, last March, which was patently incorrect.
I want to echo what the hon. Member for Pendle said about innocent deaths in Iraq. It is too rarely mentioned in this House that to date more than 500 coalition troops have died, more than 8,500 innocent civilians have died, and more than 23,000 have been horribly maimed in a needless war. When I say that about 8,000 innocent civilians have died, that is the equivalent of killing 160 coachloads of men, women and children. To illustrate the point further, during the war I read the story of Mrs. Awaid, who lost most of her family as a result of allied bombing. I remember the photograph of her daughter, Sarah Awaid, a little girl of six; she was about the same age as my son at the time. She was dressed in a little tee-shirt on which there were 101 Dalmatians, but those black and white dogs were stained deep red because her body had been cut to ribbons by shrapnel. That is what war is about. I know that this House obtained through the great alliance of the Government and the Conservatives the vote that was needed to endorse the action, but it is clear that the decision was originally taken in Washington, in the White House, and that the Prime Minister slavishly followed the President at the very time when he should have stood up to him.
That is what war is about. When we stack that up against what happened and what Lord Hutton found, we see that there is no comparison. We are talking about one broadcast at 6.7 in the morning on
The fact is that a journalist is fully entitled to investigate and quote sources to substantiate a very important point—in this case, the suggestion that this country had been misled and that Parliament had arguably been misled by a dossier that had been sexed up, as Andrew Gilligan called it, and embellished, embroidered and so on.
In reading the evidence, I have looked at what else Andrew Gilligan said on the fateful broadcast of
"The draft prepared for Mr. Blair by the intelligence agencies, actually didn't say very much more than was public knowledge already and Downing Street our source says, ordered a week before publication, it to be sexed up to be made more exciting and ordered more facts to be discovered."
He went on to say:
"Our source says that the dossier as it was finally published made the intelligence services unhappy."
He was fundamentally right. When we look at the evidence on those two claims, we see that there is no disputing it. For example, let us consider the argument that the Joint Intelligence Committee approved everything that the Government did. Let us accept that the JIC came up with a draft on
If the JIC was in total control of the document, why was it amending it at the behest of politicians and officials in No. 10 Downing street? Let me give an example. The executive summary was changed so that, instead of saying that weapons of mass destruction could be deployed within 45 minutes of the order for their use being given, it said that they were deployable within 45 minutes. That is clearly a substantial change. Alastair Campbell had to admit in his evidence that he had suggested 16 changes. Dr. Brian Jones, who should know about these matters as the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons section in the MOD's defence intelligence and analysis staff, today simply reconfirmed what he has said previously. I quote from The Independent:
"In my view, the expert intelligence analyses of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier back in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities."
So Andrew Gilligan was right. The intelligence services were unhappy. The Prime Minister has claimed that that information was not passed on to his desk, although we will never know, as I doubt whether the Butler inquiry will be able to get to the bottom of the matter. That is why I fully endorse what has been said about the reasons why the Liberal Democrats would not support the Butler inquiry. I have a quote. It reads:
"The Liberal Democrats are absolutely right to have nothing to do with this charade. The pity is that the Tories haven't taken the same robust view."
Those are not my words. They appear in today's editorial in the Daily Mail. That demonstrates the simple fact that most people have doubts about what will come out of such a private inquiry. Tony Cragg, the former deputy chief of defence intelligence, has undermined the Government's case that there was nothing that made the intelligence services unhappy. Of course they were desperately unhappy, as Mr. Cook said.
I find all the Beeb bashing this afternoon despicable. We have the finest public service broadcaster in the world. We need it more than ever to hold to account a Government who have utterly failed the British people.
Weapons of mass destruction are haunting the Government. I do not believe that the issue will be brought to rest until the big political questions are answered. There is little to suggest that Lord Butler will succeed in exorcising the phantom where three other inquiries have failed. Whatever is said in the House, the majority of the public believe that Lord Hutton forfeited his credibility by trying to lay all the blame on the BBC and none on the Government.
I do not know how the Butler inquiry can command greater confidence when the Prime Minister has already told us that the Government decision to go to war is out of bounds. He has put a man in charge of the inquiry whose background will equally incline him to exonerate the Government. Even the Intelligence and Security Committee, which backed the Government when it reported on September, was critical of the Government's assessment of weapons of mass destruction. I will remind the House of what the Committee said in its report. Referring to the September dossier, it said:
"The use of the phrase 'continued to produce chemical and biological weapons' in the foreword and the absence of detail . . . could give the impression that Saddam was actively producing both chemical and biological weapons and significant amounts of agents. However, the JIC did not know what had been produced and in what quantities".
Secondly, the first draft of the Prime Minister's foreword shows that the Government recognised that the nature of the threat that Saddam posed was not directly to mainland UK. It was unfortunate that this point was removed from the published version and not highlighted elsewhere.
The Committee went on to say that the dossier was for public consumption and not for experienced readers of intelligence material. The 45-minute claim, which was included four times, was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions, which should have been highlighted. The omission was unhelpful to an understanding of this issue.
The Committee concluded:
"We regard the initial failure by the MoD to disclose that some staff had put their concerns in writing to their line managers as unhelpful and potentially misleading."
One of these was Brian Jones, who made a formal complaint about it. Writing in today's edition of The Independent he traces in what I believe is convincing detail how he and his colleagues were overruled.
The public still want to know, and the House should demand that they be told, why the Government took this country into an illegal and unjustified war. Why was the Prime Minister so sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the weight of evidence did not merit such certainty? How can we be sure that the same pretext will not be used in future to take us to war again against Iraq, Korea or Syria?
The public think—rightly, in my view—that the Government are ducking and diving. That is hardly unreasonable in the circumstances. For months, and against all comers, the Prime Minister has been insisting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then, the day after George Bush decides that there will be an American inquiry, the Prime Minister calls for one in Britain. I have to say that it sent shivers down my spine when I heard the Prime Minister tell the Liaison Committee yesterday that whatever the outcome of the debate about weapons of mass destruction, he did not accept that it was wrong to remove Saddam Hussein. That is the beginning of an admission that weapons of mass destruction were a pretext, and the window-dressing for regime change. I believe that the new committee has already been judged in the court of public opinion, and only a full-scale inquiry, like the Scott inquiry into a previous Government's role in breaking the arms embargo, will satisfy public opinion. With that new committee, the Government are storing up problems for the future.
The decision to go to war was taken at a very high cost. Thousands of Iraqis lost their lives and many more were injured—and many continue to die and to be injured today. The Anglo-American occupation is almost universally unpopular, and now we see the Iraqis protesting at not being allowed to vote for their own Government. That is a far cry from what the Prime Minister said today, when he assured us that the face of post-war Iraq looked much better. I wish that we, as an occupying force, would start counting the number of dead Iraqis, including civilians, and the number of children who are injured or killed by cluster bombs. The Prime Minister may have decided that he has given up on those of us who opposed the war, but every time I close my eyes I am determined to carry on opposing this illegal war, because I get a picture of little Ali, without any arms and without any family, and of thousands more children who have suffered. I certainly will not give up arguing that this was a bad war; we might stop the same happening somewhere else.
The Carnegie Endowment report "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications", which was published a few weeks ago and may have contributed to President Bush's decision to set up an inquiry, concluded that the war on Iraq was not the best or the only option. It made wide-ranging recommendations about American policy and practice. For example, it revised the US's national security strategy to eliminate unilateral preventive war—that is, the Bush doctrine of going to war in the absence of an imminent threat.
The report proposed international action and said that the UN Secretary-General should commission a high-level analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the weapons of mass destruction inspection process. I mentioned earlier a former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, who is coming to a conference that I am organising in March. He was quoted today in the Daily Mirror and gave many examples of how false information was systematically spread in Britain.
If we are to learn anything from the WMD debacle, it should be, first, that a full-scale independent inquiry is the proper and only way to redeem the reputation of my Government and the Labour party, and we should have one before it is too late. Secondly, the task of overseeing weapons inspections should be returned to the UN, with Kofi Annan in charge of overhauling those procedures, so that in future we do not go to war on false pretences. Unlike the Prime Minister, I believe that the world is a far less safe place because we took this country into an illegal war.
Nobody could question the sincerity of Mrs. Mahon. She has held to her view throughout, she believes it with passionate sincerity, and she speaks with personal conviction. I happen to believe that she is wrong.
I voted on
I can pick many quarrels with the Prime Minister. On many things, he is profoundly wrong. His treatment of our constitution has been cavalier in the extreme, but that is not what we are debating today and it is not the point. I was very glad that both he and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition made such very good and persuasive speeches this afternoon, and I thought it right that the official Opposition supported the Government in their decision last year.
I am saddened by the fact that there has been a little flaking off. Of course, I am not referring to those such as my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer or my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke, who have always been against the war, as has the hon. Member for Halifax. But the point is that whatever inquiry we have, whatever committee we set up and however we approach this issue, they are not going to be satisfied. We had a democratic vote in the most democratic assembly in the world, and we voted by a large majority to take such action and to support the Government.
Of course, intelligence is an inexact science, as has been said many times in recent weeks. But it was appalling that the BBC should have allowed such stories to be peddled without checking their veracity. I am delighted that Lord Hutton reported as he did. I came to, and aspired to come to, this place—many Members on both sides of the House doubtless felt the same—because I believed in the essential integrity of British public life, and in the central place of the House of Commons within it. To me, the Hutton report is a vindication of both those beliefs. There are many things about the culture of spin that I do not like, and to some degree the Government are the architects of their own misfortunes, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said. But the essential point is whether the Prime Minister acted in good faith last year, and the unequivocal answer in Hutton is yes.
People say that this report is a whitewash merely because it has not come out with what they call a balanced judgment. But as my right hon. Friend Mr. Trimble said, Lord Hutton is a judge of great eminence. Indeed, he was spoken of as being perhaps the best judge of all, and certainly the best person to conduct this inquiry. He reached an emphatic verdict: he said that certain people were guilty of certain things, and that others were innocent of the charges made against them. Reference was not made to degrees of guilt or degrees of innocence. On the essential issues, the Government—I am delighted that the Secretary of State was exonerated, too—were not guilty.