– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 12th February 2003.
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What were the sources of the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction issued on 3rd February.
My Lords, the document contains important background information about Saddam Hussein's regime. The first section, describing the extreme lengths to which the Iraqi regime is going to hide weapons and obstruct the inspectors, is based largely on intelligence material. The second section, about how the regime is structured, is based on a number of sources including work by Dr Ibrahim al-Marashi. The third section, which describes the impact of the regime on the Iraqi people, is based largely on intelligence. The information in the document, which was placed in the Library of the House on 3rd February, is accurate.
My Lords, as the Government have been unmasked passing off an out-of-date PhD thesis as their own intelligence, will the Minister agree that the truth and their credibility have become the first casualty of war? Can she confirm that the second casualty will be the Prime Minister's press secretary?
My Lords, I could not disagree more. I draw the noble Lord's attention to the opening comment in the document, which states:
"This report is based upon a number of sources including intelligence material".
It is absolutely clear that sources other than intelligence were used. The noble Lord went on to say that the information was out of date. The information from Dr Ibrahim al-Marashi has been confirmed by him as being up to date and, indeed, was revised by him in September last year. The noble Lord may also be interested to know that Dr al-Marashi is a lecturer at the US Naval Postgraduate School, a research associate at the Centre for Non-Proliferation Studies, has worked at Harvard University on a project classifying captured Iraqi documents and has served in the US consulate in Jedda. I believe that he probably knows a thing or two.
My Lords, may I appeal to my noble friend not to supply information on sources from within Iraq as that would put at risk the lives of many brave men and women?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister acknowledged in answering a PMQ today that some of the information was based on work by Dr al-Marashi which, as has been made clear, in retrospect we should have acknowledged. But I also point out that it is always difficult to decide what provenance ought to be published. By publishing the provenance of parts of any sensitive document, inferences might be drawn about the rest. On this occasion we made it clear that in retrospect we should have said what the source was. The source was entirely respectable and the information is accurate. I urge your Lordships instead of engaging in some of the press frenzy about the provenance of the document, to read the document itself. It makes very, very compelling reading.
My Lords, the Minister makes an impressive defence, as she usually does, but does she not agree that one of the absolutely crucial elements in this whole discussion about the grounds upon which there should be a military attack or other action taken against Iraq depends upon sustaining public trust in the information provided? The difficulty with that is that the standard required is even higher than it is in normal public utterance. Would it therefore on consideration not have been better to quote directly, naming the source where that was possible—I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, very much on board—and can we have the Minister's assurance that in future any further material that may be provided will indicate the sources where it possibly can as clearly as possible?
My Lords, I hope that I have already made clear that it is not only my view but also the view of my right honourable friend that the source of this particular part of the document should have been published. I hope that all your Lordships will read the document. The part in question is a description of 13 security and intelligence organisations that operate in Iraq, as well as Saddam Hussein and his sons. I stress to your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government believe that the information in that part of the document is entirely accurate. Of course, where we can source information accurately without any damage to our intelligence, or, indeed, to those who may be called upon to fight in the interests of this country, we shall endeavour to do so.
My Lords, is it not irresponsible of members of the Opposition in both Houses to play fast and loose, as they have over recent days, on issues of intelligence when they know that the Government will never ever be able to answer in any detail?
My Lords, by way of answer I tell my noble friend that when I was in Egypt recently it was pointed out to me by a very senior member of the Egyptian Government that every time we have one of these exchanges it is brought to the attention of Saddam Hussein who, of course, is delighted to hear about any such problems over any information. He hears nothing that he does not want to hear but everything that will give him any shred of comfort is brought to his attention. We live in a free country. It is not irresponsible for proper questions to be raised but I ask noble Lords to put such questions into a proper context and look at the substance of the document and not, if I may say so, some of the spin that has been created around it.
My Lords, although I entirely understand the noble Baroness's responsibility to make the vigorous response that she did from the ministerial Bench, will she pay particular attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said? We are in very dangerous times and the credibility of the Government at this present time was never more important. I read the document and I am impressed by much of its content. But much of it is the subject of claim and counter-claim. The question as to who is believed will depend on the credibility of the Government and the involvement of government PR representatives who I believe also worked on the document. The need to make clear that there is no spin involved but rather accurate and genuine intelligence was never more important than now.
My Lords, I agree with every word that the noble Lord put before your Lordships. I reiterate that it is clear in the opening sentence of the document that it draws on material other than intelligence material. I could not agree more with what the noble Lord said and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the credibility of documents put out in the Government's name at the moment. I also point out to your Lordships, as I did in my opening reply, that the document does not seek to argue the case for military involvement. What it does seek to do is to lay out some of the background to Saddam Hussein's wretched regime.