Iraq

– in the House of Commons at 6:55 pm on 20th July 2004.

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Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Photo of Patsy Calton Patsy Calton Shadow Minister (Health), Spokesperson On Older People

The Prime Minister lays great stress on the strengthening of the JIC assessments in 2002. Was he aware, when he made his decision, of the risks of "group think" to which Lord Butler draws attention in paragraph 57 of his report? In paragraph 58, Butler says:

"The assessment process must be informed by an understanding of policy-makers' requirements for information, but must avoid being so captured by policy objectives that it reports the world as policy makers would wish it to be rather than as it is."

The Government have set up machinery whereby everyone from teachers to doctors, policemen and civil servants know that they must see the world as the Government see it or they are out. If they step out of line they pay the price, so naturally the JIC produced the reports that the Government wanted. Commenting on the first draft of the dossier to the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Defence Secretary said that it was "insufficiently dramatic", as if that were its most important feature. It is almost impossible to believe that that comment would not have seeped out.

Today, the Prime Minister quoted selectively from Butler's conclusions, and omitted the conclusion that Iraq did not

"have significant—if any—stocks of chemical or biological weapons in a state fit for deployment, or developed plans for using them."

The Prime Minister made it clear that he believed that Iraq continued to produce biological weapons and their means of delivery.

As I am running out of time, I shall conclude. As a citizen of this country and a Member of Parliament, I expect people with access to material used in the build-up to war to take individual and collective responsibility for it. It is simply not good enough to be left in a position where we do not know whether anybody has asked any questions. There is a sense of public outrage about the war. Governments cannot slide into war using dodgy, unchecked information—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Lady has had her eight minutes.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 7:03 pm, 20th July 2004

There has been a certain amount of soul searching today, and I am afraid that I am about to indulge in a little more. Those of us who could not support the Government on military action had a duty to test their case not at its weakest but at its strongest. We had to set the bar as high as possible. Had we set it as low as possible, confining ourselves to details of intelligence, we can easily see why we would have run into trouble. I always wanted to make sure, however, that I tested the Government's case at its strongest. I listened carefully to the Prime Minister many times, as he spoke about the new era and

"the security threat of the 21st century".

The connection between rogue states, proliferation and terrorism meant that one had to draw a line in the sand and take a stand. I took that case seriously and was particularly anxious not to be associated with people who were naturally deemed to be in a different camp. I did not want to be thought anti-American, and certainly did not want to be thought an appeaser who wanted to sustain a vile dictator. The Government's case therefore had to be tested at its strongest.

I read the Butler report to help me to understand the policy considerations that informed the decisions that we were asked to make. Members have found that help in different parts of "What the Butler Saw", and I found it in paragraph 429, which says that in spring 2002 the Government considered two options for future action. One was a toughening of containment and the other was a move towards military action. The report says that regime change would not be lawful, and noted the difficulty in achieving UN acceptance of military action. It says that the UN

"would need to be convinced that Iraq was in breach of its obligations; that such proof would need to be incontrovertible and of large-scale activity; but that the intelligence then available was insufficiently robust to meet that criterion."

It goes on to say that that formed the background to the Prime Minister's meeting with President Bush at Crawford on 6 and 7 April 2002.

I fear that, at that point, a strategic judgment or decision was made, making it necessary to mobilise intelligence to sustain it. As the intelligence became thinner—we know from Butler that that is the case—the advocacy for military action became stronger. Eventually, that contradiction impelled the House of Commons to action, forcing it to take a view. We can see that more clearly now than we did at the time. The Prime Minister did his very best to keep the international community together, and would have liked to resolve the situation without military action. However, President Bush and his Administration could not walk away from Iraq without taking military action. The Prime Minister could have done so—it would have been a kind of victory for him—but for President Bush, it would have been a catastrophic, humiliating defeat, given everything that he had said about the United Nations and international policy on Iraq.

When former President Clinton, who was in the country last week, spoke about those matters, he paid great tribute to the Prime Minister and his efforts to keep the international community together, but he also said that in retrospect it was clear that we should have allowed the inspectors to continue their job so that we could establish beyond peradventure whether Iraq had been successfully disarmed or not. If we had established that the policy had worked, I believe that the Government would not have come back to the House for a decision. There was not a great distance between people holding different positions.

Those of us who took a different view of military action were persuaded that it, or the threat of military action, was required to sustain the United Nations' position, but we believed that that position was working. It now seems that that was the case, and we could have kept the international community intact and disarmed Saddam. Indeed, we could have flooded Iraq with human rights inspectors, as that was rightly a consideration. That is my understanding of the policy considerations.

Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald Labour, Na h-Eileanan an Iar

That was a key point of dispute between us at the time of the decision to go to war. What makes my hon. Friend think that another two months of inspections would have clarified whether Iraq had disarmed or not, when six years of inspections had not clarified that, one way or the other?

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

The answer is that we had embarked upon a process that had that at its centre. What we did not do was to test whether it had worked or not. We now know that it had worked. That is the fundamental conclusion.

I have one more point to make, which came out of my reading of Butler. It is important for the House to reflect on it. As I read the report and many of the things that Butler said, I thought it was a vindication of what we sometimes call the awkward squad. A theme of Butler is that we did not have enough people asking the right questions as the process went along.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

I will do the list, if my hon. Friend does not mind.

We did not have the right people in Cabinet asking the right questions as the process went along. We did not have the right people among the official Opposition asking the right questions as it went along. We did not have the right people in the JIC asking the right questions as it went along. One of the few heroes in the story, by the way, is Dr. Brian Jones, who was a member of the awkward squad and did ask some of the questions.

What Butler says in his recommendations—of course, mandarins do not talk about awkward squads, but I translate the high mandarin into our kind of language—is that not only do we need the awkward squad in those places, but we need to give the awkward squad institutional and constitutional protection to ensure that those considerations are raised at each point in the process. That is embedded in a number of Lord Butler's specific recommendations.

I conclude by saying that we shall never know the answer to some of—

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

May I tell my hon. Friend that that was an excellent speech? He spelled out everything I would have wanted to say, had I been called. Will he reflect on this: had we known, about 20,000 Iraqis might still be living, we might not be poised on the verge of a civil war, and the entire huge tragedy might not have unfolded in front of us? I take my hon. Friend's point about flooding Iraq with human rights monitors. We had Saddam on his knees and weakened and we could have done that.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

Yes, I take my hon. Friend's point.

Only the historians will tell us what really happened. It is only they who will get to see the papers. It is only they who will get the real evidence that an inquiry might see, which can tease out the policy considerations, what happened when and who said what to whom. Only they will tell us the origins of the military action and what its real consequences were. All we can do is say that we probably did make a serious mistake in what we did; but having done it, we have an obligation to try to make Iraq a rather better place now than it was before.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health) 7:13 pm, 20th July 2004

If the Prime Minister's only mistake in this affair is that we went to war even though it is now clear that there are no weapons of mass destruction, it would have been right to question only his wisdom. However, because it is also now clear from the Butler report that there was a very wide margin indeed between the extent to which the intelligence services qualified their remarks when reporting to the Prime Minister and what the Prime Minister told Parliament and the country, it is also right to question his integrity and credibility.

The issue at the time was not whether regime change was desirable; it was whether Iraq's weapons of mass destruction presented a danger. It is now clear to any objective observer that the Prime Minister did not accurately relay the intelligence at his disposal. As a result, the country was duped into a war under false pretences. For it is clear that the Butler report has confirmed that the JIC's intelligence reports during 2002 were full of qualifications and reservations, yet the Prime Minister clearly stated that there was no doubt that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction justified war. But we know that that was not the case.

In justifying the case for war, the Prime Minister excluded those reservations and, with the zeal of a barrister determined to win his case in court, claimed that the facts had been established beyond doubt. Even Lord Butler, operating within the limited remit of his brief, believes that the omission of the intelligence qualifications was "significant".

Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister Local Government & the Regions

Does the hon. Gentleman believe, however, that perhaps the Prime Minister thought he ought to go down that road because he was being pushed to do so by the official Opposition, who kept accusing the Government and others of being anti-American in any criticism of what George Bush said on the middle east and on Iraq in particular?

Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health)

No, I disagree with that. I think that our Prime Minister, unfortunately, was being pushed by the Americans. That is the centre of the issue. Let us consider the 45-minute claim. That is clear evidence that we as a country were misled by the Prime Minister.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. That is the second time, I think, that the hon. Gentleman has used that word. He should be very careful with the words he uses. We have strict conventions in the House.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health)

We all remember that the claim that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was integral, if not central, to the Prime Minister's case for war. Like other hon. Members, I find it incredible that the Prime Minister did not ask the basic question whether the chemical and biological weapons that he thought Iraq possessed could be fired at targets outside Iraq or just used on the battlefield.

No, the fact of the matter was that the decision to go to war had been made, regardless of the intelligence. The lesson from that must be, as other hon. Members have highlighted during the debate, that in future there must be much closer questioning of the evidence at hand. Partly because the House was not privy to the intelligence reports, which made its task extremely difficult, the assumption was that the Prime Minister knew more than we did, but that was not the case. There was no shortage of evidence with which to contradict the Prime Minister.

For example, we know that Iraq used to possess weapons of mass destruction. We know that because America and the west supplied Saddam Hussein with those weapons. However, the Iraq of 2003 was a shadow of its 1991 standing. It had been the most watched-over country in the world, yet no concrete evidence could be produced that Iraq possessed WMD. All that could be produced was the dodgy dossier, which was essentially a reworked thesis that was more than 10 years old.

Meanwhile, not enough credence was given to the evidence on the ground. Mr. Scott Ritter, one of the most aggressive UN chief weapons inspectors during the 1990s, repeatedly said that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix and the other UN inspectors in the period leading up to the war wanted a little more time to complete their task because they, too, could not find WMD.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I have been listening intently to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying and agreeing with almost all of it, but did he vote against the war when many of us were saying those things?

Photo of John Baron John Baron Shadow Minister (Health)

I can put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. I did vote against the war and I resigned from the Front Bench in order to do so.

There was no shortage of evidence from the US Government to contradict the Prime Minister. That has not been touched on much during the debate. For example, Secretary of State Colin Powell said at a press conference in Cairo in February 2001:

"And frankly, economic sanctions have worked. Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to WMD. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

On 15 May Powell went further and said that Saddam Hussein had not been able to

"build his military back up or to develop WMD for the last 10 years".

As late as July 2001, Condoleezza Rice also publicly described Iraq as weak and militarily defenceless. Yet soon, the Prime Minister was to tell us all just how dangerous Iraq was. The fact is that the situation on the ground had not changed since 2001; only the political priorities of the US Government, who had decided to invade Iraq regardless of the issue of WMD, had changed.

The collective failure identified by the Butler report also involved the intelligence services, for despite the Prime Minister's exaggeration of the threat, the JIC approved the wording of the dossier. In my view, the JIC was at least subconsciously influenced by its knowledge of the Prime Minister's desire to state the case for war—a fact that was at least acknowledged by the Butler report when it recommended that future JIC chairmen should be experienced in dealing with senior Ministers and demonstrably beyond influence. The intelligence services should be the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister, not his mouthpiece. It is tempting to conclude from this whole episode that policy indeed led intelligence rather than intelligence leading policy. That is another lesson that needs to be taken away from this affair.

We have since heard the Prime Minister justify the war by saying that although WMD might not be found, the world is a much better place without Saddam Hussein. To me, that is very dangerous talk. Civilised nations do not go goose-stepping around the world invading countries because they think that they may be a threat, then, when they find that they are not, justifying it by claiming that the world is a better place. That is the law of the jungle. It is illegal, because article 2 of the United Nations emphasises that member states cannot engage in regime change.

The Government may take refuge behind resolution 1441, as they have in the past and probably will again this evening. However, the countries that signed up to that resolution did so believing that it could justify war only if there were no alternatives. Indeed, the US ambassador to the United Nations at the time was at pains to emphasise that there were no hidden trigger points for war in the resolution. That is one reason why the US and the UK could not muster even a moral majority when it came to the second resolution. In truth, all other approaches had not been exhausted. The threat of force, deterrence and containment of Saddam Hussein were working, as was recognised by the US itself as late as 2001, and as is confirmed by post-war evidence. The same policy had worked during the cold war and when dealing with rogue states such as Libya.

Meanwhile, UN weapons inspectors wanted more time but were denied it, despite some progress being made. There was nothing to be lost by giving them a little more time to complete their task—indeed, there was much to be gained—but instead we were rushing to meet an American military timetable that had only one outcome, namely war. I should add that I am not anti-American—quite the reverse—but I believe that good friends need to point out when bad mistakes are being made.

The simple fact is that war was not justified. War must always be the measure of last resort when all other approaches have been exhausted and are futile. Indeed, war can be justified only when there is no other possibility. If we lose sight of that, we lose the moral high ground that is often a source of strength in challenging times. We will be signing up to the law of the jungle, and the world will be a worse place because of it. We all agree that Saddam Hussein's was a revolting regime, but that was not in itself sufficient justification to go to war.

War is the ultimate responsibility and act of politicians, yet in many respects it also illustrates their ultimate failure. The crime here is that the Prime Minister turned qualified judgments into unqualified certainties. As a result, this country sleepwalked into war and the world took a step backwards as a consequence. That mistake must not be made again. Lord Butler is right to say that there was collective failure, but the Prime Minister's responsibility for that failure is paramount. His credibility, as well as that of the country, will continue to suffer as a result.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South 7:24 pm, 20th July 2004

This will be an eight-minute speech delivered in one and a half minutes. I refer hon. Members to my speech on 4 June last year, which sets out some of the arguments that I am about to make.

The situation that we are in today is fundamental to the future of the Iraqi people. Hon. Members who have argued as though this debate is entirely internal should listen to what the Iraqi people are saying. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will no doubt respond to the points that they raised. As my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd made clear, the Iraqi people are glad that they were liberated from Saddam Hussein. When I went to Iraq with the Select Committee on Defence, we flew into Basra in a Puma. Tragically, I fear that some of the people I met there may have been involved in this week's horrific crash.

Our people in Iraq are doing a fantastically important job in rebuilding the infrastructure, supplying clean water, helping with electricity supplies, training the new army and the police, and dealing with many other necessities. We have to finish that job. Let us support them, then help to build a democratic Iraq and self-determination for an Iraqi people who are free from Ba'athist fascism.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State for International Affairs, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader, International Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State, Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party 7:25 pm, 20th July 2004

I congratulate Mike Gapes on probably the shortest speech that he will make in the House for a long time.

This has been a most interesting debate, which has partly been about the situation in Iraq but also, crucially, about the Butler report and the information that it disclosed, for which the Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular must answer and be held to account. We have heard many fine speeches. I will not have time to deal with them all, but I should like to mention a few.

I shall start, if I may, with the typically humorous but percipient contribution by my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, who rightly described the whole saga as a monumental PR failure and asked whether, in the end, the intelligence mattered to the Government. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will answer that question.

As I expected, several different views have been expressed, as in the debate on 18 March. Once again, I listened to them with great respect. We have conducted our debates accepting that we have differences of opinion, and we have dealt with those differences in an exemplary way.

I listened to my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer, whose position is not new. He has always made a powerful moral argument, and did so again today. I listened to my hon. Friend Sir Teddy Taylor—he, too, has always held to his position. I listened to the Father of the House, who has been consistent in the position that he has taken, as has Mr. Kilfoyle.

Mr. Singh made some important observations about the impact that this has had on Muslim opinion, not only in this country but abroad. It is important that we consider his comments very carefully and take action to address the situation that he identified.

My right hon. Friend Sir John Stanley asked—it has been asked before—whether there was a deal between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister to back a war against Iraq and if that was why the intelligence ultimately matched the policy instead of the policy being made on the basis of the intelligence. Mr. Cook made the same point.

I repeat those points because they go to the heart of the confidence that we have in the way that the system has operated. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give us unequivocal answers.

I turn to the situation in Iraq. I welcome the handover of power to the Interim Government. Given yet another spate of car bombings, they are having to operate in a very grim situation. Their task is not easy, and my party and I wish them well.

Although we inevitably view the security situation with concern, I want to join the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard in once again paying tribute to the magnificent work that is being carried out by our armed forces. Their dedication and professionalism remains a matter of great pride.

It is worth recalling why they are serving their country in this way. They went out there to deal with a United Nations-recognised threat to international peace and security. As a result of coalition action, Saddam Hussein and the international threat that he posed are gone. That is why we supported the war and were right to do so. I still believe that, as I said in the debate on 18 March last year, had we not gone to war then, we would have had to do so in future when it might have been much more dangerous and difficult. After the war, our servicemen and women remained there to help to give Iraq the chance of democracy, freedom and prosperity. That could make it a force for stability and good within the region as a whole. Completion of that objective may still be some way off, but we do Iraq no favours by talking only about the bad side and never about the good.

The first good news is that Saddam Hussein has gone. As Ann Clwyd reminded us, the people of Iraq are delighted by that. I have always taken the view that regime change was not a reason to go to war. I have always doubted the legality of regime change, but I believe that we can all rejoice in the fact that the people of Iraq are now free from that reign of terror.

Other things are improving on the ground in Iraq. The health budget is now US$948 million, compared with US$16 million under Saddam Hussein in 2002. In education, 2,500 schools have been rehabilitated and 32,000 teachers and education workers have been trained. In terms of the utilities, which were a matter of such concern when I was in Iraq last autumn, there is still much work to be done. However, water quality has been improved for 1.6 million people, and electricity generation is at last improving. Progress towards our post-war objective is therefore real and welcome, but there is still a long way to go.

Too much of the current instability is caused by unemployment. There is not enough investment, there are not enough jobs and, in too many cases, having no wages leads people to believe that they have little or nothing to lose through unrest. The Government must accept a good degree of blame for this situation. Before the war, I pressed them for assurances that a comprehensive plan for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq was ready to be put in hand. I was assured that there was such a plan. I also asked for assurances that the Government had made adequate provision for the swift delivery of humanitarian aid and, again, I was assured that they had. It was only after the successful military action that we discovered, as my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt reminded us, that those assurances were not worth the breath that they were given with, because there were no comprehensive post-war plans in place.

Only now are many of the things that should have been happening then beginning to happen. I believe that, in time, Iraq will come good. Unlike the leader of the Liberal Democrats, I think that we have a duty to stay there and to help the Iraqi people until it does. It would be a sign of good faith to those people if the Government at least acknowledged their failure to plan and acknowledged the time that has been lost. Perhaps that is too much to expect, however, from a Government and a Prime Minister who have never acknowledged their failures in the run-up to the war and in its aftermath.

The Prime Minister has been in denial again today. This is not some party political game. This is about a decision to go to war; it is about grave issues. These are matters in which confidence in the Prime Minister, and in what he tells Parliament and the country, is central. Yet, once again, he brushes aside the issues of trust and confidence—issues that even Alastair Campbell, in his notorious diaries, described as "huge stuff". Once again, the Prime Minister seems to assume that, because we supported—and continue to support—the war, he should somehow be beyond our criticism. Let me tell him: he is not.

The fact that the war was justified does not mean that the manipulation or enhancement of intelligence is beyond reproach; it is not. Even if I did not need the Prime Minister's rhetoric to persuade me of the justification for war, I still have the right to believe that his interpretation of the intelligence was accurate. At moments of national or international crisis, the Prime Minister is the conduit to the public and to Parliament on matters of intelligence. Great care must be taken to ensure that what the public are given is the unvarnished truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Butler report clearly demonstrates that, in relation to WMD, those standards were not met. As my hon. Friend Mr. Baron pointed out, the emphatic picture of their current and threatening existence that the Prime Minister painted at the time quite simply ignored the caveats, warnings and qualifications on the quality of the intelligence on which his assertions were based.

We have asked the Prime Minister why he failed to disclose those crucial caveats and why he did not temper his certainty as a result of them. We have received no answer. Let me remind him again of the speech that he made on 24 September 2002, when he said that the intelligence

"concludes that Iraq has"— not "had", but "has"—

"chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them".—[Hansard, 24 September 2002; Vol. 390, c. 3.]

When I asked the Foreign Secretary in the debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee on 8 July whether, in the light of that statement by the Prime Minister, the intelligence had shown that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at that stage, the Foreign Secretary replied that

"the analysis of that question is the focus of the Butler inquiry, which will be subject to full parliamentary consideration."—[Hansard, 8 July 2003; Vol. 423, c. 1099.]

Yet another clear and informative answer from the Foreign Secretary. This debate is the only parliamentary consideration that has been made available and, so far, we have not had an answer. The Foreign Secretary owes the House one.

The JIC report talks about capability. It does not talk about the existence of the weapons themselves. That is a crucial difference. We know from Butler that the intelligence was flawed; in his own words, it was "sporadic", "patchy" and "limited". We now know that it could not have supported the statements of the Prime Minister that the current existence of the WMD was "beyond doubt". The Prime Minister is a lawyer, and he knows that the words "beyond doubt" have a particular significance. He used them then, he has used them again today, and he used them in an interview that he gave to Sky more than a year ago. We now know that the judgments in the dossier of 24 September 2002 were not "beyond doubt". Butler said that they

"went to . . . the outer limits of the intelligence available."

We already knew that the second "dodgy" dossier of 3 February 2003, which the Prime Minister told the House was "further intelligence", simply could not justify that description. There may be explanations for these discrepancies. If so, we have not been given them. As a result, we are left with the conclusion that there was a conscious attempt to enhance the intelligence in order to minimise dissent in the House and the country.

For democracies, war must always be a serious option. It should never be a matter for spin, but tonight we are left with the conclusion that in this case it was. It has been argued that the decision to go to war was taken with our support, that the war is over and that none of this really matters any more. I totally disagree. What is at issue is not only the judgment of the Prime Minister but his credibility, and that is crucial. This is a matter of trust, and once that trust is breached, it is gone. The next time the Prime Minister purports to advise the House and the country on matters arising from intelligence, on what basis can we be confident that the intelligence has not once again been enhanced? As a number of my colleagues have already pointed out, that is a situation that this country cannot afford.

That is why the questions posed to the Prime Minister today have been of such importance. So what answers have we had? What has happened to the WMD? We did not hear anything about that today. I remind the Prime Minister that, in his interview for Sky on 31 May last year, he said:

"I certainly do know some of the stuff that has been already accumulated . . . What we are going to do is assemble that evidence"— again, he knows the importance of the word "evidence"—

"and present it properly to people . . . I have no doubt whatever that the evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction will be there."

Well, a year and a half later, where is that evidence of which he was so certain? Why did he ignore the caveats? He has admitted today that they existed; why did he not qualify his language as a result of them? Butler criticised the way in which the Downing street team worked. The Prime Minister told us that he accepted the findings of Butler, yet we have heard nothing today about changes being made in that regard.

Of course, we have still to hear from the Foreign Secretary, who may yet provide us with the answers to some of these questions. Indeed, one strange feature of the run-up to the war was the difference of tone struck by the Foreign Secretary throughout, in relation to weapons of mass destruction, compared with the categorical assertions of the Prime Minister. The Foreign Secretary was always careful to found the case for war on the United Nations resolutions and Hans Blix's reports, rather than on direct assertions of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps he took the caveats more seriously. Perhaps he could explain to the House what he knew at that time.

I would like the Foreign Secretary to explain something else as well. We have heard today about the intelligence that was withdrawn, which we read about in the Butler report. The Foreign Secretary knew about that intelligence as long ago as last September. Is it not the case that the head of MI6 informed him of the withdrawal of that intelligence on 8 September 2003? If so, will the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why the Prime Minister was not told about it? If it was important enough for the Foreign Secretary to know about, I would have expected him to tell the Prime Minister. Perhaps he will tell us why he did not.

Butler shows what a sorry mess the run-up to the war was. Many misjudgments were made at many levels. Some people have paid for those misjudgments with their jobs, among them the chairman and director-general of the BBC. Butler speaks of "collective blame" at Government level, yet no one here pays the price—indeed, one person gets promotion. In the end, the responsibility rests with the Prime Minister—not just theoretically or semantically, but in a very real way. The buck stops with him. Today he has failed to restore his credibility, and it is unlikely that he will be trusted in the future, when that trust may be crucial. That is the reality that he must face up to; that is the dangerous vacuum that he should urgently be seeking to mend.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary 7:39 pm, 20th July 2004

As Mr. Ancram has said, this has been a wide-ranging debate with some very good speeches. With apologies to those whose speeches I do not mention, I want to mention particularly those of Mr. Hague, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cook, my hon. Friend Ann Clwyd and Sir Patrick Cormack.

Since a point of order was raised by my hon. Friend Mr. Dalyell, I should apologise for the fact that I was absent for some of the speeches. I am afraid that one has to blame Cabinet Government for that, and, I might add, without approval from the Cabinet, the new hours—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] On that, I speak entirely in a personal capacity. I had to chair an important Cabinet Committee, the timing of which had been rearranged twice to accommodate changes in the order of speeches and the timing of this debate. I apologise to those right hon. and hon. Members whose speeches I missed.

I want to begin this wind-up by paying tributes to two groups of people. The first group are our armed forces and civilians who have been working in Iraq over many months and who continue to do so. The reputation of British forces is second to none in the world: I do not happen to believe that that is a cliché; I happen to believe that it is true. All that I have seen of the British forces confirms the truth of that—they are the finest and bravest forces anywhere in the world. I have also had the privilege of going to Iraq three times and seeing the extraordinary work by civilians, too. Although they were not putting themselves directly in harm's way as our forces were, they too showed great courage in working in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere. Our colleagues in the armed forces and civilian British officials are still there helping to rebuild a better Iraq.

The second group to whom I want to pay tribute are those who work in our intelligence and security agencies. Over the past seven years, I have had the privilege first of being responsible for the Security ServiceMI5—and, for the past few years, for the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ. From my direct, day-to-day, comprehensive dealings with all three agencies, I have been profoundly impressed by their professionalism, by their commitment and, as questions have been raised about this, by their complete integrity.

As we spelled out in the dossier, intelligence rarely offers a complete account of activities, which, by definition, are designed to remain concealed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spelled out in his foreword that gathering intelligence—in this case, inside Iraq, but, I might add, almost anywhere—is not easy. Certainly, that is absolutely true. But in chapter 2 of the Butler report, the Butler committee spells out details of intelligence-led operations in respect of A.Q. Khan, the nuclear proliferator, Libya, North Korea and Iran. I have been familiar over the past three years, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been familiar over the past seven years, with the nature of those operations. We have had an opportunity more recently, certainly in respect of A.Q. Khan and Libya, and to a degree, in respect of North Korea, to make an assessment about whether that intelligence has turned out to be right or wrong. Butler and his committee say in terms that they have been very impressed by the quality of the intelligence and by its provenance.

In many circumstances, the only defect of that intelligence has been that it has underestimated the scale of what we have subsequently found, rather than overestimated that. I say that because Ministers and the intelligence services' assessment of the intelligence and developments needs to be seen in that context: it was the very same people who were supervising, and in some cases obtaining, the good intelligence in respect of Iran, Libya, North Korea and A.Q. Khan who were also doing the very careful assessment in respect of intelligence in the case of Iraq. They were doing their best, we had every reason to believe that they were doing their best, and their track record is one of the best.

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

Could my right hon. Friend explain why GCHQ intercept information, which we are told by the Intelligence and Security Committee existed, was not passed on to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as was required under Security Council Resolution 1441, whereby member states should pass on all relevant information?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

My hon. Friend knows very well that we never, ever, give details of interception, and I would not begin to do so. As she also knows, or at least I hope that she does, I wrote to her and signed off this morning—so that she would get it in time for this debate—a detailed letter replying to her specific concerns. Her specific concerns related to uranium yellowcake, which has been the cause of controversy. As I set out in the letter, I invite her to examine the conclusions of the Butler inquiry in respect of uranium yellowcake from Niger. As to whether the claims made by British intelligence—not those made elsewhere—were well founded, as Butler points out, they were indeed well founded.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury)

What about the withdrawal by the Secret Intelligence Service in July last year of two reports, because the sources had been discredited, on WMD generally and on the 45-minute claim specifically? When were the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister informed of that withdrawal, and whom did they then tell?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

The withdrawal about which I was informed in September, which took place in July, did not relate to the 45-minute claim but to other intelligence to which Butler refers in the body of his report, which had not been directly included in the dossier or the JIC assessment but, as he spells out, gave some comfort and backing to the assessments that had been made. I was informed about that on 8 September last year. On the next day, the intelligence reports were passed on to the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Intelligence and Security Committee had been told orally by the head of the Secret Intelligence Service in July about the nature of that intelligence and the fact that it was being withdrawn. What I was asked, on 8 September, was whether I agreed, as I am required to do by law, to authorise the passing of the intelligence to the ISC, and I duly did so.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I want to answer some of the other points that have been made in this debate.

I have mentioned Iran. My right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston raised two key issues. First, he raised an issue about Iran and referred to an interesting report that appeared in the The Times on Saturday. All that I can say to him is that I do not believe that what is suggested in that is United States policy, but that is a matter for the United States Administration. Certainly, it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

My right hon. Friend also raised the wider and critical issue of pre-emption. He asked for a commitment that we would never again agree to pre-emptive action. We did not, in my judgment, agree on 18 March last year to a pre-emptive action. Pre-emption implies rushing to judgment—I do not believe that 12 years involves rushing to judgment, and it took us 12 years in respect of Iraq. The truth is that since the United Nations charter and chapter VII—which is the chapter authorising military action—were drafted, circumstances have changed, and we in the House, and the international community, must take account of those changed circumstances. We faced that over Rwanda and Bosnia in the mid-1990s, and we did nothing. I applaud my right hon. Friend for the fact that by 1999, when we faced similar genocide and ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, he took the lead—in the international community and the House—in arguing for action, although we did not have a Security Council resolution and could not get one because we knew that one country would veto it. Let me also say that the action that we authorised in the House on 18 March was no more pre-emptive than Operation Desert Fox in 1998, and was based in part on non-compliance with the same resolutions.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have taken a different view from the Government—and many Conservative Members—in respect of Iraq have said that containment and sanctions were working. It is extremely important—because it goes to the heart of whether there was a real alternative in March last year—to spell out the truth of that situation. Operation Desert Fox took place shortly after the inspectors had effectively been kicked out at the end of 1998. In 1999, we finally secured Security Council resolution 1284 to get the inspectors back in, but that resolution was not unanimous. Some of those who had said they would support it in the UN failed to do so. The resolution was wholly defective, in that it watered down previous requirements on the Saddam regime in respect of the admission of inspectors. The inspectors, for example, had no power to enter various key sites in Iraq, including vast presidential palaces, without the permission of Saddam Hussein himself.

Not only was the resolution defective, it simply had no effect. Despite the fine words of resolution 1284, Saddam simply thumbed his nose at the resolution and at the international community and refused to comply with any of the terms. In the intervening period, containment absolutely failed to work. Containment required at least some element of co-operation from Saddam, and he absolutely refused to co-operate at all.

Alongside that, it is said that sanctions were working. Sanctions were not working in terms of the objective set for them. Sanctions were hitting the poor of Iraq, making them poorer and less well. Sixty per cent. of Iraqis were on food aid. Sanctions were not working to hit the regime or to undermine its own capabilities and prominence. They did not hurt the rich and the powerful, who continued to be able to divert huge resources—which should have gone to the poor of Iraq—for their own ends.

A number of Members have referred to 11 September

Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

Before my right hon. Friend deals with that, may I take him forward to the period between January and February 2003? Hans Blix had told us that he had visited the sites most likely to harbour weapons of mass destruction. He did not find any, and he had a telephone conversation with our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 20 February. Why was there no re-evaluation of the intelligence following Hans Blix's statement?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I shall deal with that in a second. I was not listening in to the telephone conversation with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—just to reassure my hon. Friend Lynne Jones—but my right hon. Friend had many conversations with Dr. Blix. So did I. I went to the Security Council five times in 10 weeks over that period, but we did not require a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister to let us know what Dr. Blix thought; nor did we require any intelligence about Iraq. What we did have were Dr. Blix's reports on the Security Council table—on 27 January 2003, on 14 February 2003, on 28 February 2003 and on 7 March 2003. Each of those statements from Dr. Blix made it clear that the Iraqi regime was simply not co-operating.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

No, I will not give way. I have already given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak. What I will do—as my hon. Friend Mr. Prentice has raised the issue of non-compliance—is refer the House to pages 188 to 196 of the Butler report, which explain how Iraq had failed to comply with resolution 1441.

I respect most of those who disagreed with the House's decision on 18 March to go to war, but I ask colleagues to remember that—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out so eloquently earlier today—once resolution 1441 had been passed, the argument was not about intelligence. Once the resolution had been passed, the argument about intelligence fell away. I scarcely, if at all, remember referring to intelligence of any kind, still less to 45 minutes.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Foreign Secretary

I have already given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak.

The issue was whether there had been compliance with resolution 1441. Resolution 1441 laid down, in very specific terms, very clear obligations on Saddam Hussein—first, for a full, complete and accurate disclosure of everything he had by 9 December. Saddam failed to make that full, complete and accurate disclosure by 9 December. So that the House understands the transparency with which we dealt with the issue before it, let me say that I submitted to the House a lengthy statement about Iraqi non-compliance with resolution 1441, giving chapter and verse of how Iraq had failed to comply.

There is only one respect, in this document, in which what I said was based on intelligence. It is contained in 10 pages. It concerns the requirement for Saddam Hussein to allow scientists to be interviewed—without tape recorders, without bugs in walls, without five minders turning up with the scientists, which was what happened to begin with—and in certain circumstances to allow them to be interviewed outside as well as inside Iraq. We said that that requirement had not been met. That was patent to everyone: intelligence was not needed. However—I own up to this—we went on to say

"There is evidence that Iraqi scientists have been intimidated into refusing interviews outside Iraq. They—and their families—have been threatened with execution if they deviate from the official line."

The other 10 pages arose from facts that were known publicly. I do not think anyone would seriously dispute that Saddam was a murderer, ready to threaten execution for far lesser crimes than he would have had in mind—and he most certainly would have done so.

Moreover, what is absolutely the case is that Saddam did refuse to allow scientists to be properly interviewed. He did refuse compliance. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, I was in the Security Council five times, and on none of those occasions—not on 20 January, not on 27 January, not on 5 February, not on 14 February, not on 7 March—did one of the other 14 members of the Security Council ever say that Saddam was in compliance with the terms of resolution 1441. That is what we need to remember. That was the basis on which we put a motion to the House on 18 March, and the basis on which we went to war.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

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

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 41, Noes 255.

Division number 234

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Eight o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.