Weapons of Mass Destruction: Intelligence Review Committee

– in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 3rd February 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:16 pm, 3rd February 2004

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement was as follows:

"Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement. The Prime Minister has decided to establish a committee to review intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. This committee will be composed of privy counsellors. It will have the following terms of reference: to investigate the intelligence coverage available on WMD programmes of countries of concern and on the global trade in WMD, taking into account what is now known about these programmes; as part of this work, to investigate the accuracy of the intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003, and to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict, and between that intelligence and what has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict; and to make recommendations to the Prime Minister for the future on the gathering, evaluation and use of intelligence on WMD, in the light of the difficulties of operating in countries of concern.

"The Prime Minister has asked the committee to report before the Summer Recess. The committee will follow the precedent in terms of procedures of the Franks committee, will have access to all intelligence reports and assessments and other relevant government papers and will be able to call witnesses to give oral evidence in private.

"The committee will work closely with the United States inquiry and the Iraq Survey Group. The committee will submit its final conclusions to the Prime Minister in a form for publication, along with any classified recommendations and material. The Government will, of course, co-operate fully with the committee.

"The members of the committee will be the Lord Butler of Brockwell, the chairman, Sir John Chilcot, Field Marshal Lord Inge and two senior Members of this House, the right honourable Member for Dewsbury and the honourable Member for East Hampshire, who will be made a privy counsellor.

"In setting the terms of the inquiry and its membership there have of course been discussions with the leaders of the two main opposition parties. I regret, however, that the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party has declined to support the inquiry; that, and that alone, explains the absence of a senior member of the Liberal Democrats on it.

"As the House will be well aware, there have already been three inquiries into aspects of the Iraq war. The first, established in early May last year, was by the Intelligence and Security Committee. This considered in some detail the intelligence received in London, its assessment, and use, including in the dossier. It reported to Parliament on 9 September.

"The second, by the Foreign Affairs Committee, was established on 3 June last year against the background of the controversy surrounding the Andrew Gilligan report on the "Today" programme on 29 May. It reported on 7 July.

"The third, the judicial inquiry by Lord Hutton, was established following the death of Dr David Kelly, and it of course reported last Wednesday.

"Although the terms of reference of the three inquiries varied, a central theme of each of them was whether the Government had acted improperly or dishonestly in using the intelligence available to them. Echoing the conclusions of the earlier reports, and in categorical terms, Lord Hutton made emphatic last week that such allegations were unfounded. This new inquiry will obviously not be revisiting the issues so comprehensively covered by Lord Hutton.

"Whilst these inquiries were under way, three proposals were put before the House in June, July and late October on opposition Motions calling for wider inquiries into aspects of the Government's handling of events in the run-up to the Iraq war. The Government resisted these calls, including on the grounds that the inquiries already under way should be allowed to complete their work. Later, both the Prime Minister and I referred also to the continuing activity of the Iraq Survey Group.

"Over the past week, we have seen the publication of the Hutton report and the evidence of Dr David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, to a US congressional committee. It has also emerged that the ISG may take longer to report than we had originally envisaged. All this has led the Government now to judge that it is appropriate to establish this new inquiry of Privy Counsellors.

"Lord Hutton has, as I have said, dealt conclusively with the very grave charge against the Government that we had in some way acted improperly or dishonestly in the preparation of intelligence put before the House and the public.

"But the Government recognise that there are wider and entirely legitimate concerns about the reliability of the original intelligence, which have been heightened by Dr Kay's evidence. Dr Kay, repeatedly in that evidence, emphasised his continued support for the decision to take military action and that Iraq was in clear and material violation of UNSCR 1441. But he also said to Congress on 28 January:

'Prior to the war, my view was that the best evidence that I had seen was that Iraq, indeed, had weapons of mass destruction. I would also point out that many governments that chose not to support this war—certainly the French President Chirac . . . referred to Iraq's possession of WMD. The German intelligence certainly believed that there was WMD'.

Dr Kay added:

'It turns out that we were all wrong, probably in my judgement, and that is most disturbing'.

"In the intervening period since the Iraq war began, there have, however, been events elsewhere which have greatly increased anxieties about the proliferation of WMD and of the need for reliable intelligence and effective international action. According to reports over the weekend, an individual has sold nuclear secrets to Pakistan. Iran, for a long time, did not report all that it should have reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency under its Safeguards Agreement. Libya was in breach of its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and both countries are now the subject of considerable activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency. There are other concerns, too. So we have judged it prudent for this inquiry to consider these wider issues as set out in its terms of reference. But, of course, a great focus of the committee's work will be on Iraq, and rightly so.

"It is, however, important to remind ourselves both about the significance and the limits of the use of intelligence in relation to Iraq. The September dossier made a powerful case for the world to take notice of Iraq; it did not make a case for military action. And, as the record shows, the case for military action was fundamentally based upon Iraq's breach of UNSCR 1441.

"Saddam Hussein had used WMD against his own people and against his neighbour, Iran. He had invaded two of Iraq's neighbours, leading to the deaths of a million people. For 12 years after the Iraqi army was expelled from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein defied repeated United Nations resolutions calling for him to co-operate with UN weapons inspectors to dismantle his WMD programmes. Resolution 1441 unanimously found Iraq in material breach of previous resolutions and offered it a 'final opportunity' to comply fully and immediately with UN inspectors or face 'serious consequences'. The head of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix, published on 7 March 2003 a 173-page document listing the unresolved issues in respect of Iraq's WMD programmes—a document which I placed before the House in a command paper some days later.

"All this painted a compelling picture. As the Prime Minister and I have said repeatedly, it would have been gravely irresponsible not to have acted against this. We took the right decision in agreeing military action against Iraq, and it is still the right decision today.

"For the sake of completeness, it may be helpful to give a more rounded picture of Dr Kay's evidence to Congress last week. These are some of the things that he said:

'I think, when we have a complete record, you are going to discover that after 1998 Iraq 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 with what may turn out to be a not fully accurate estimate.

'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.

'I think you will have, when you get the final ISG report, pretty compelling evidence that Saddam had the intention of continuing the pursuit of WMD when the opportunity arose'.

I shall place in the Library of the House a full copy of Dr Kay's evidence.

"Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding work of Britain's intelligence agencies around the world, often in hostile conditions. This inquiry is emphatically not an attack on that vital work, nor on the dedication and the professionalism of the people who work in those agencies. But what it should do is help the Government better to evaluate and assess the information they provide.

"The decision which this House took 10 months ago to go to war was justified, given the defiance of a regime which uniquely had used WMD and had refused to comply with obligations unanimously imposed upon it by the United Nations Security Council.

"That is a decision for which we, as elected representatives, took responsibility and will continue to take responsibility. We cannot sub-contract that to any inquiry, however distinguished. But I believe that Lord Butler and his colleagues will be able to perform a most valuable service to this House and the country, and I express my appreciation to them".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:28 pm, 3rd February 2004

My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the Minister for repeating this Statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Obviously, we welcome the decision to hold this inquiry and, in particular, we welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, as its chairman and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, as a member of the inquiry team.

It is very much in the interests not only of the Government but also of the Opposition—indeed, of all those who seek to participate responsibly in public affairs and the democratic process—that trust and confidence in government institutions should be restored, including in our intelligence services.

In this terrorist age, when failure to anticipate attacks can be fatal and when the alternative to intelligent and well informed pre-emption of threats is defeat and possible mass murder, the quality and integrity of intelligence becomes even more crucial—indeed, fundamental. So it is all the more vital to establish beyond doubt in people's minds what were the real reasons and justifications for removing Saddam Hussein and his hideous regime. As the Prime Minister emphasised and this Statement confirms, the inquiry now proposed will not go over the narrow ground covered by the Hutton inquiry. Personally, I have never doubted that the Prime Minister is entirely honourable. I am very glad that he escapes all criticism and that Downing Street is cleared of "underhand or duplicitous strategy", to quote the Hutton report, in the tragedy. Anyway, we shall debate that tomorrow.

But our concern has all along been something wider. While we thought, and still think on these Benches, that there were good grounds for getting rid swiftly of the monstrous Saddam regime, which incidentally, Dr Kay himself concluded did pose a serious and imminent threat despite no weapons of mass destruction being uncovered, we did repeatedly question at the time the main reasons being given by Ministers for going to war as part of the coalition. That is why we have been calling for a deeper inquiry for many months past; in fact, since last June.

I have some brief questions for the Minister. First, how is it that, despite our pleas over many months past, the Government have only now changed their mind and that very suddenly indeed? Only last Sunday the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, on whose guidance we so often in this House respectfully rely, was saying:

"Little would be achieved by continually looking and re-looking at what the intelligence shows at a particular time".

Yet by Monday evening it seems that a lot would be achieved. This is a sudden and rapid U-turn without any signals, even by the erratic driving standards of the present administration.

Secondly, the terms of reference, to which I attach great importance, refer to the "evaluation" of intelligence gathered. Does that mean evaluation by intelligence officials themselves of the material they receive or does it mean evaluation by government of what they have received? The text appears to support the latter and surely it is bound to be the latter. In that case the role of government officials in handling and presenting intelligence will properly come in for scrutiny in this inquiry. I am not too clear why our Liberal Democrat friends are so convinced it will not and why they have refused, rather regrettably in my view, to take part. But we shall doubtless learn about that in a moment.

Thirdly, while the terms of reference focus on WMDs, or rather the lack of them, how far will the investigation look at other areas of poor planning arising from poor intelligence? Obviously, that seems relevant to the overall performance of the intelligence services. For instance, it was widely predicted, presumably based on intelligence, that after the invasion of Iraq there would be massive refugee problems there, mass starvation and vast spread of disease. In fact, none of this happened. But as a result of those predictions based on intelligence, resources were deployed in the wrong form, at the wrong time and in the wrong direction, with very severe consequences from which the coalition efforts are only now recovering.

Fourthly, will this inquiry look closely at the role of the Joint Intelligence Committee and its relationship with Downing Street officials, which many people felt, and still feel, was too matey.

Fifthly, could we know more on timing and procedure? I understand that it will be a private inquiry, but that, as with Franks, all the evidence that is not highly classified will be fully published in due course. Is that correct? Will it be completed in 18 months like the American inquiry which, by an amazing coincidence, was also announced over the weekend, indeed yesterday?

However, the main thing is that an inquiry which was deemed previously "not useful" by the Government is now held to be useful and necessary after all. So we on this side should be thankful that the Government have now changed their mind and agree with us, and thankful for this Damascene conversion on the road to clarity and public reassurance.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:35 pm, 3rd February 2004

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and make the comment that, paraphrasing a former Prime Minister, a day appears to be a very long time in politics. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has said. Only as long ago as yesterday the Government, in the shape of the noble and learned Lord, were repeating the lack of necessity for an inquiry.

So the first question I ask the Government is this: exactly what happened between Sunday and Tuesday that changed the Government's mind? It was clearly not Dr Kay's evidence, which was given as long ago as last Wednesday and was not followed by any similar statement by the Government.

Secondly, on what basis did the Government take us to war? In that context I quote the answer given by the Prime Minister to a question asked by my right honourable friend in another place, Alan Beith, as long ago as the last meeting of the Liaison Committee on 8 July 2003. In answer to Mr Alan Beith's question about what steps might be taken and what were the reasons for the Government's invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair replied:

"The truth is that to take action we had to have the proper legal basis and that was through the weapons of mass destruction issue and the non-compliance with the UN inspectors".

The Prime Minister could not have stated more clearly the basis, as he saw it, of the decision to make war on Iraq.

The question which arises in this context is why, when we were assured by Mr Hans Blix last March that he needed only a few months to complete his work on the disarming of Iraq, nevertheless the Government, together with their American ally, decided to make war on that country?

The third question concerns an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and echoed by the Minister herself. That is the absolute importance of the credibility and reliability of intelligence. There is no doubt that in a world of terrorism, rogue states and pre-emptive policies intelligence must be as credible and reliable as it can be. Given the remit of the inquiry, there is a danger that the intelligence services may become the scapegoats. I quote the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, who said on "The World at One" on Sunday that the inquiry,

"could become a device for making scapegoats of the intelligence people and diverting the primary responsibility from politicians".

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have an interest in that happening.

I come finally to respond to the question legitimately put by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, which is why the Liberal Democrats feel unable to participate in this inquiry. It comes straight back to the remit—the terms of reference. In a letter to the Prime Minister dated yesterday, 2 February, the leader of my party in another place asked whether the subsequent presentation of intelligence could be taken within the remit of the inquiry and whether,

"the political judgments based on that intelligence which led us to go to war in Iraq", could be included within that inquiry. Both were refused. I am surprised that the leader of the Conservative Party did not throw his weight behind widening the remit of the inquiry in that way which I believe would have made it difficult for the Government to refuse. But it was refused and we believe that, by placing the remit where it is, by above all excluding the political judgments about going to war from the terms of that remit, the Government are once again risking a loss of public trust. Without public trust, which must include the question of the judgment of politicians, we believe that from the very beginning this inquiry is jeopardised and will not bring to an end the serious questions asked about the United Kingdom's involvement in the war against Iraq.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:40 pm, 3rd February 2004

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for welcoming, if not the contents of the Statement, the fact that I repeated it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, I also welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will be chairing this inquiry and that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who is well known in this House, will be a member of it.

I agree with the noble Lord; it is now very much in our interest that any vestige of mistrust or lack of confidence in the intelligence and the way it was gathered, evaluated and used by the Government before the conflict, is now laid to rest. This inquiry is a means of attempting to do so.

I also agree with the noble Lord about the importance of confidence in the evaluation and gathering of our intelligence. It is not just a question about WMD, although this inquiry is about WMD. Questions are of course raised, as the noble Lord pointed out, in relation to terrorism, but he and other noble Lords will have noticed that this inquiry is about the gathering of intelligence in relation to WMD.

The inquiry will not go over the Hutton points any further. The Hutton points have been exhausted in one of the most public exposures of the workings of the intelligence agencies that I can recall, in terms of what was put in the public domain. I thank the noble Lord for what he said about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Downing Street. I am glad that he was pleased that they were exonerated in the way that they have been. Similar views have been expressed from many sides of this House—not just on my own Benches but from Benches right around your Lordships' House, and I welcome that.

The noble Lord said that the concerns went wider than the Hutton remit and that they repeatedly questioned, during the run-up to the war, the basis for going to war with Iraq; I believe that he referred to wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein. On most occasions when we discussed this, if not every occasion, I reiterated to your Lordships that the basis for our going into a war was the flouting of the United Nations resolution over a very long period. I am sure your Lordships will recall the unanimous passing of UNSCR 1441—my right honourable friend referred to it in his Statement in another place—and the fact that that was passed unanimously. It gave Saddam Hussein's regime one last chance to conform with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised the question, "Why now?" and referred to my noble and learned friend's intervention in the media this week. I fully acknowledge that I stood at this Dispatch Box only last Thursday and said that the Government had no plans in this regard. I shall say it before any of your Lordships point it out to me—I did indeed do exactly that. Let me try to explain.

First, we had indeed got Hutton out of the way; that was an important point. In government, despite what the noble Baroness implies, there are not instant decisions based on "we have done this and now we turn to that". The Hutton issue is important and it was only got out of the way last Thursday.

We also believed—I certainly implied as much, although I did not say so definitively when I spoke before your Lordships' House last week—that the ISG report would be ready at some point. I did not say "in the near future" but it was certainly in my mind that it would be in the near future and I understand from my right honourable friend that it is now likely to be somewhat delayed. Again, that is an important point, because, as the noble Lord made clear, questions about trust and confidence must be addressed; they cannot be allowed to run.

On my part and that of many of my right honourable friends, the evidence that Dr Kay gave last week was a very important factor. Some noble Lords may have heard my right honourable friend the Prime Minister speaking at the Liaison Select Committee this morning. I found the detailed reading of the evidence before the Armed Services Committee on 28 January important in relation to the decision-taking that has come to pass.

That is an honest explanation. Those three factors were involved and for me—I do not speak for my honourable and right honourable friends elsewhere—the Kay evidence is an important factor. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said he would put the evidence in the Library of another place; I will ensure it is put in our Library too.

The noble Lord talked about the evaluation of intelligence. This is a point that I have also raised today in relation to these terms of reference. Evaluation of the intelligence is not undertaken by government Ministers. In this sense "undertaken by government" comprehends Ministers and Civil Service agencies. Ministers occasionally see raw intelligence but mostly, as the noble Lord will know, by the time intelligence reaches Ministers it has gone through some evaluation process; it has been assessed. A variety of different bodies—agencies, civil servants or the JIC—might do that. It is important that we understand that Ministers do not go through that evaluation process; I am sure that the noble Lord is as aware of that as I am.

The noble Lord went on to ask whether this implied that the WMD inquiry would go wider because of what he claimed was poor planning because of poor intelligence. Again, I refer your Lordships back to the terms of reference and suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will be able to look at the precise areas that he wants to investigate within the terms of reference. These questions were raised earlier in another place.

The noble Lord asked about relations with the JIC. That question was partly addressed by the Hutton inquiry, although that very much involved the allegation with which the Government had some dispute. Those matters can be looked at by the noble Lord's inquiry if he wants to consider specific areas. No doubt he will make his views clear.

On the question of timing, the Statement makes it clear that we hope that the report will appear before the Summer Recess. As I understand it, the privacy will be analogous to that afforded to the Franks committee. We will publish what we can but that has to be consistent with security considerations.

The noble Lord said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that it was an amazing coincidence that this had happened this weekend. I do not think it is an amazing coincidence—I have tried to be as frank as I can. My right honourable friend in another place frequently said today that he had discussed the matter with the American Administration. Of course he had; that is right and proper. The Kay evidence has obviously played its part in terms of thinking on both sides of the Atlantic. I make no apologies for that. It is an entirely reasonable position for the Government to have articulated.

I turn to some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness and the basis on which the Government went to war. We discussed that very thoroughly both here and in another place. Indeed, there was a vote taken in another place before the military action began. I very much agree with the remark of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary that it is not for an inquiry, however distinguished, to sub-contract that decision from politicians. That is a very important point in a democracy. The fact is that there is an elected House and there is your Lordships' House, which also has oversight. It is for the Houses of Parliament, not the inquiry, to look at those decisions.

I turn to the statement that the noble Baroness quoted. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister stood by that statement this morning in the Liaison Select Committee.

My 20 minutes are up, but, if your Lordships will indulge me, I want to make a final point about the question of political judgment. The noble Baroness said she was surprised that the Conservatives had agreed with the Government on that. I am bound to say to the noble Baroness that I find her surprise really quite astonishing. When one has been in government dealing with these very difficult issues, one knows that the responsibility must lie with government. The noble Baroness knows that from her own period in government. The responsibility and accountability lie with government. The Government are not flinching from that. My right honourable friend made that clear today in another place.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 3:50 pm, 3rd February 2004

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which has already reported on some of these issues. Is it not clear from the reactions to the Hutton report that any inquiry these days is liable to be rubbished by those who do not find its conclusions to their liking? Are we not in danger of running out of distinguished public figures who are prepared to give their time and energy to produce further reports simply to attract further ill conceived criticism?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the comments of my noble and learned friend. I believe that the thanks we give to those who are willing to serve on this inquiry should be unstinted. Certainly, I do not envy them their task. My noble and learned friend is right. The problem with any report of this nature is that people commit themselves to a definitive view before the report is published and then find it difficult to depart from that view.

That is one of the penalties we pay for open government. The evidence is given in open session. Everyone assesses the evidence as it goes along, leaps to conclusions, writes them down, publishes them, talks about them and then finds it almost impossible to consider the matter in the round. Perhaps one of the benefits from conducting the inquiry in this way will be that that kind of running commentary may not feature quite so much.

Photo of Lord King of Bridgwater Lord King of Bridgwater Conservative

My Lords, in inviting the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and his colleagues to undertake this extremely difficult task, is it not imperative that before they start there is no uncertainty about the meaning of the terms of reference? I have already identified that that uncertainty seems to exist at present.

Of course there is ministerial responsibility for taking a decision, but intelligence, and the decisions taken on it, is a seamless process. In that connection, the Statement says that this is to assist the Government better to evaluate and assess information that the inquiry will provide. This has nothing to do with Hutton and whether the intelligence was improperly or dishonestly used, but perhaps I may ask what was the quality of evaluation and assessment by Ministers. The Statement reads:

"to examine any discrepancies between the intelligence gathered, evaluated and used by the Government".

Are we to understand that the committee is entitled to consider how it was used by the Government?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I hope that there will not be doubt about the terms of reference. If the noble Lord means that the committee has still to explore the terms of reference, he is entirely right. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is not in the country at present. However, I am sure that he will want to look closely at the terms of reference with his colleagues on the committee. Of course, they have been acquainted with the terms of reference, but the noble Lord will know that very often in setting up a committee the chairman will explore the terms of reference with the committee members to decide the appropriate limits of the remit.

As regards the quality of intelligence, it is enormously important that we visit the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, regarding confidence in the gathering, quality, and evaluation of intelligence and, indeed, as the terms of reference make clear, the use of intelligence by government before the conflict and how that compares with what has been discovered now on the ground.

I assure noble Lords—I did not have the opportunity to do so in answering the noble Baroness—that there is no question of scapegoating the intelligence services for shortcomings. We rely on our intelligence services. As the Minister responsible for counter-proliferation and counter terrorism, I have a great deal to do with them and have the utmost admiration for them.

Photo of The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford Bishop

My Lords, I very much welcome the setting up of this inquiry. The quality of our intelligence services is crucial to the long-haul struggle against terrorism that lies ahead. I speak as someone who was not able to support the military action because I did not believe that the threat was so imminent and serious. However, I did believe, for two reasons, that there were weapons of mass destruction, and my questions are related to that.

First, when the United Nations inspectors left in 1998, they reported that although Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons had been destroyed, as had his means of delivery, his biological weapons were still there as were a great number of chemical weapons. Will the inquiry, as I very much hope, consider the reports of the United Nations inspectors as well as those of our own intelligence services?

Secondly, I believed that weapons of mass destruction were there because of some of the reports of the highly respected independent think tanks, such as the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Where did that organisation get its information, or did it rely simply on government sources? I very much hope that the inquiry will be as wide-ranging as possible and include those two issues.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for his remarks. He made it very clear that he did not support the Government in the military action, as did many others in your Lordships' House, many in my own party. I respect that view, as I have made clear over and again. This was a genuine disagreement with many not only in your Lordships' House but elsewhere and throughout the country.

The right reverend Prelate is right to remind the House about the UN inspectors. My right honourable friend was right to remind us about what Mr Hans Blix said in the 173 pages of unanswered questions that he published before the military conflict. Not only were WMD thought to be there by our own intelligence services and the United States intelligence services but also by the intelligence services of those who did not agree with the military conflict, that is, France and Germany.

Photo of Lord Lloyd of Berwick Lord Lloyd of Berwick Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, if, as the Statement says and as the Minister has confirmed, the justification for the war was the breach of UN Resolution 1441 which called on Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, and if by November 2002, the date of that resolution, Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction as now seems very likely, how could it dismantle what it did not have?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as I am sure the noble and learned Lord is aware, Mr Hans Blix raised a number of questions, including the non-co-operation in establishing what was on the ground in Iraq. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will recall that we had a very lengthy process with the Government of South Africa, in which we considered ways in which they were getting rid of their capabilities. We discussed that at the time. That is the way to engage: in an open and transparent way. Indeed, at present we are considering ways of engaging similarly with Libya on outstanding questions in relation to its weapons of mass destruction.

The point here is the lack of co-operation in dealing with these issues and the material breach of UN Resolution 1441, which was unanimously found to have occurred. That was not just the view of the United States and the United Kingdom. The whole of the United Nations Security Council found that Iraq was in material breach.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Shadow Minister, Defence

My Lords, the Statement says that the Government will evaluate evidence that has been discovered by the Iraq Survey Group since the end of the conflict. The evidence given by Dr David Kay was that the two mobile weapon laboratories that we heard so much about—indeed, the President of the United States mentioned them in the State of the Union address as evidence of weapons of mass destruction—were no more than hydrogen producers either for hydrogen balloons or rocket fuel. Will the Minister immediately release the information about who produced the equipment that was on the back of these vehicles? They were Iraqi produced, although some of the equipment was British. Who produced this British equipment, and when did they do so? I have asked the Government this question a number of times. They have refused to answer it. I took the Government to the ombudsman, and we are waiting to receive that report. However, in the light of Dr Kay's evidence, the Government could report it. I hope that they will be able to give us that information now.

The fact that the Government could not release information to the British people about equipment that was produced in Britain, and that they used exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to say that the Americans did not allow us to use that, gives the impression that there was collusion between the British Government and the American Administration to suppress the information that there was nothing untoward about these two vehicles in the case of weapons of mass destruction. I request that this issue be part of the report. If that is the case, the Government have a case to answer.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I do not have details about these two vehicles with me at the Dispatch Box. The noble Lord is pushing his luck in thinking that I do. Let me be clear with him. I will release whatever information that I can that is consistent with security. The noble Lord is shaking his head, but he must understand the nature of releasing this sort of information. It is not just that you tell people how your security services work, you may also be exposing sources and putting people in jeopardy. This is not a game; we are not playing some elaborate game of how much I can withhold and how much the noble Lord can winkle from me.

This Government have put more information on intelligence into the public domain over the course of this year and the Hutton inquiry than any government that I can recall. I have been in and around Whitehall for some 25 years, and I have never seen openness of government the way this Government practise it. I will look at anything that can be released sensibly, but I will do nothing that I think, or that others advise me, is against the security interests of this country.

Photo of Lord Merlyn-Rees Lord Merlyn-Rees Labour

My Lords, I am one of the few remaining members of the Franks committee, which investigated the origins of the Falklands War. Will this new committee have the power to call any body or any individual that it wishes to give evidence?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I believe that that will be the case. The powers of the committee will be similar to those of the Franks committee. They are not exactly the same, because these are different circumstances, and it is a different conflict in different times. I hope that the committee will be able to make full use of those powers.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Croy Lord Campbell of Croy Conservative

My Lords, I am glad that the Government have decided to set up an inquiry of Privy Counsellors. I was the Secretary of the first Privy Counsellors' conference on security, which looked into the disappearance and reappearance in Moscow of Burgess and Maclean. In that case, our report had two parts; one was open and the other was top secret. I remember delivering the top secret part to No. 10 Downing Street. Will the same procedure be carried out on this occasion, with an open part of the report and a secret part?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, as I understand it, that is the case. There will be an open report, and there will be parts of the report that cannot be put into the public domain, because of the nature of the evidence that will be taken. The noble Lord has reminded us of the enormous wealth of experience that there is on these issues in your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Shadow Minister, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

My Lords, the legal basis of the military action was UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which was based on the belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that he was concealing. Should the committee consider whether we really had a legal case for military action, particularly in the absence of the second Security Council resolution, which we never managed to obtain? Will the committee be shown the Attorney-General's full opinion, which the Government have so far refused to disclose?

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, on that last point, it is the convention that the Government do not expose the advice of the Attorney-General. We have been over this point many, many times before. Had the noble Lord's party been on the committee it could have argued vigorously on that point.

As far as UN Security Council Resolution 1441 is concerned, the legal advice was based—as I remember debating at some length in your Lordships' House, when the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was a robust interlocutor—on not just Resolution 1441, but Resolution 1441 in relation to Resolution 678 and Resolution 687. If the noble Lord is really suggesting that we revisit UN Security Council resolutions, our poor committee will not be reporting by this summer's Recess, but by many summer Recesses from now.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I think it is the turn of these Benches, and then the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this is not the first time, sadly, that the Liberal Democrats have refused to participate on a tri-party basis in examining issues of national security? Will my noble friend, even at this late stage, make a special plea to the Liberal Democrat Benches to reconsider their decision? They have excluded Mr Alan Beith MP from this committee. He is one of the members of the committee with the most experience, as he has been on the committee since its inception in 1993. He knows the security services through and through, and he has extensive knowledge of every aspect of their operations. He has a formidable brain, and he is exactly the kind of person required on that committee—to act like a ferret to find out where the truth lies. I appeal to them to reconsider.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I have enormous sympathy with what my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said. I very much regret this. After all, as the noble Baroness has told us on a number of occasions, the Liberal Democrat Benches have a different view of the rights and wrongs of what happened in relation to Iraq. That has been a valuable contribution, which has kept us all up to the mark. The noble Baroness never has any nonsense about anything—not that she gets nonsense from this Dispatch Box—she is very clear in the way that she pursues these issues.

I am not as well acquainted with Mr Alan Beith MP as my noble friend, because he had experience in the other place. Nevertheless, I regret enormously that the Liberal Democrat Benches will not be making the sort of point that the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was able to make to us a moment ago. It is sad that they will shout from the sidelines and not in the heart of the debate. That is to be regretted.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, it would be churlish not to admit that the Minister has given a formidable exposition of the latest turn in the Government's policy, although with a little more contrition than she showed last Thursday.

The reality has already been indicated by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater. Plenty of arguments are going on before this inquiry has even begun about its terms of reference, and the like. It is not a shortage of discussion or a shortage of committees that we have in the prosecution of this war; it is a lack of confidence on the part of the British public.

Absent spectres from this evening's miserable feast are Robin Cook and Kenneth Clarke, who, in their respective positions, have been able to give voice to the powerful feeling that there is throughout the country that we are fighting an American war, on American terms, in a sequence of events dictated by Americans. That is no position from which to summons national support, whether through further meetings or further committees, or by a more direct appeal on the part of the Prime Minister to the public at large. The truth is: we are in this position, and it is a miserable position in which to be.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Middle East), Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Lord's question was. I did not detect one in the exposition that he just gave us. I am sorry if I appeared to be contrite today; I did not mean to be. I meant to offer your Lordships a clear explanation of the Government's position. I hope that I did that. I shall have to watch my step.

Was it an "American war"? No, it was not. It was not an American war, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister fought for his point of view over and over again in another place and was the first Prime Minister to subject that point of view to a vote of the House of Commons. There was nothing "American" about that; it was very British. If I may say so, it was very much in tune with the way in which my right honourable friend conducts himself.